In today’s edition of “Six Graphs,” the TSD staff shares its takes on which player has been the most valuable to LSU defensively during the team’s recent three-game winning streak.
Ben Love: To me this one’s more difficult to pin on one player than the offensive side of the ball because it has felt like such a comprehensive turnaround for John Chavis’ defense, an improvement of the unit as opposed to a few select players. But I’ll tab one guy I think is playing at an extremely high level of late – defensive end Danielle Hunter. The junior from Texas was actually one of the few defenders flying around and making plays in the blowout loss at Auburn, racking up a career-best 12 stops on the Plains.
Hunter carried that momentum over to the past three games, registering a combined five of his team-best 10 tackles for loss this season in that window. He’s gotten to ball-carriers behind the line of scrimmage, chased down rushers from sideline to sideline and, most notably, has begun to bat balls down at a much higher rate. It’s taken two-and-a-half seasons, but Hunter has finally blossomed into the type of all-around player his physique has long suggested he could be. No longer just a pass rusher off the edge, Hunter is giving the defense a more balanced player at one of the most important positions on the field.
A list of other players I considered includes freshman safety Jamal Adams and sophomore middle linebacker Kendell Beckwith, two young players getting better by the game, as well as an old hand in Jermauria Rasco, Hunter’s bookend mate. Rasco has been very consistent during LSU’s win streak, which is perhaps the only knock on the senior from Shreveport during his career. It’s amazing what the Tiger defense can do when both ends are playing at a high level simultaneously. One final guy I haven’t mentioned yet who has played well all season – weakside linebacker Kwon Alexander. He may be the emotional MVP of the 2014 defense as well as one of the group’s most talented players.
Hunter Paniagua: When the defense just looked so absolutely pitiful against Auburn, we wondered what could the coaches possibly do to right the ship? Were there really guys waiting in the wings that could change things around? We knew Kendell Beckwith had more talent than D.J. Welter, but would he have it in him to handle the demands of the most important position in John Chavis’ defense?
Well he’s proven that he is capable of exactly that, and I point to him as the MVP of this defense’s resurgence. Beckwith has played a large part in solidifying the middle of the field. The same facet of this defense that was absolutely gashed against Mississippi State and Auburn now looks like a legitimate strength. It’s not like LSU has made a change at defensive tackle, so while those guys are playing better, you can look at Beckwith as a reason why they’re looking more the part.
Beckwith has filled up rushing lanes, playing downhill and aggressive. He’s getting in the face of the quarterback, featuring heavily in blitz packages. He’s obviously been able to handle the mental aspect, because the defense hasn’t fallen apart with him in control of it. We all knew replacing Welter with Beckwith was the right move, and the sophomore from East Feliciana is proving everyone right.