No. 10 LSU (2-0) gets another chance to sharpen the sword Saturday night in Death Valley when in-state foe ULM (2-0) comes to town for a 6 p.m. kickoff. ESPNU will have the live television broadcast.
Yesterday TSD’s Hunter Paniagua took a look at the Warhawks’ offense, which has finished off two straight comeback wins to start the 2014 campaign.
Today I’ll round out our ULM Scouting Reports with an examination of their 3-3-5 defense under sixth-year coordinator Troy Reffett.
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP
NT: Gerrand Johnson (Jr., 6-0, 280)
DE: Joey Gautney (Sr., 6-2, 244)
LB: Ray Stovall (Sr., 6-2, 220)
LB: Hunter Kissinger (Jr., 6-2, 227)
LB: Cody Robinson (Jr., 6-1, 213)
HYBRID: Mitch Lane (Jr., 6-1, 209)
CB: Lenzy Pipkins (So., 6-0, 192)
S: Cordero Smith (Sr., 5-11, 192)
S: Justin Backus (So., 6-2, 183)
CB: Trey Caldwell (Jr., 5-9, 189)
Key Backups: DE Jacob Tyson (R-Fr., 6-0, 258) and LB Michael Johnson (Jr., 6-2, 225)
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
Eight of 11 starters from 2013 return to this year’s ULM defense, whose first team brings to the field six juniors and three seniors. And while the Warhawks struggled defensively a season ago, sometimes mightily, the unit has been solid through two games in 2014, holding Wake Forest and Idaho to an average of 268 yards of offense.
That’s good enough to rank the Warhawks tied for 19th nationally in the FBS in total defense (for comparison’s sake, LSU has conceded an average of 262 yards per game this season).
Their preferred 3-3-5 scheme, something the Tigers don’t see much in SEC play – but have seen semi-recently from the likes of West Virginia (2011), is predicated upon generating pass rush and attacking the run from different and multiple angles every play.
The stats speak to the level of success Reffett’s bunch has enjoyed two contests in: ULM has accumulated 14 tackles for loss, 10 sacks (contributed by eight different defenders), 12 quarterback hurries and three interceptions.
Perhaps the biggest cog in this ULM defense is linebacker Ray Stovall. The senior is second on the team with 12 tackles but has gotten behind the line of scrimmage for 2.5 sacks and two QB hurries. Stovall’s ability to play downhill aids a veteran three-man defensive line led by nose tackle Gerrand Johnson (11 tackles, 1.5 sacks this season).
The player given the most leeway for Reffett, who previously coached at New Mexico and UTEP, is rover Mitch Lane, a junior who plays a hybrid role between linebacker and safety. Lane has notched 12 tackles through two games while also hauling in one of the Warhawks’ three picks.
In the secondary ULM has a number of experienced players, led by senior safety Cordero Smith. But it’s been the two youngest members of the back five who’ve made the biggest mark so far in 2014. Sophomore safety Justin Backus leads the team in tackles with 15 to go along with three pass deflections. Fellow sophomore Lenzy Pipkins, a starter at corner, has been versatile given his position, totaling two tackles for loss and a sack.
In all this defense will provide LSU a better test than did Sam Houston State, if for no other reason than the Warhawks’ personnel is simply a cut or two above that of the Bearkats. It also doesn’t hurt that ULM possesses more experience and size than SHSU’s bunch.
Still the Tigers should take into Saturday night’s meeting sizeable advantages. It will be interesting, however, to see how Cam Cameron decides to attack that 3-3-5 look in the run game and, specifically, how Jeff Grimes’ guys block it up front and communicate with so many moving pieces. Not a bad test of mental flexibility for LSU center Elliott Porter, who will return for his first game action on Saturday.