Derick E. Hingle - USA Today

LSU defense among the best, yet underrated in grand scheme of things

LSU's defense has been among the best in the country, but hasn't gotten the attention it deserves. With Ole Miss ahead, now is the time to start giving them respect.

Offensive explosions are fun for fans. Makes for a lot of interesting conversation at church on Sunday and a rehash around the water cooler on Monday at work.

So the fact that LSU rolled past Southern Miss 45-10 Saturday night with an offensive about-face in the second half has understandably been the hottest of hot topics.

Because of the Tigers’ 368-yard, 35-point second-half outburst, another impressive defensive performance remains off the radar, and you kind of get the sense that’s 100% fine with the LSU players on that side of the ball.

While the Tigers’ offense caught fire, the defense quietly plugged away and slowly suffocated Southern Miss’ high-flying offense.

The Golden Eagles grabbed an early lead with a drive that ate up 8:02, but even then, it was a laborious march that LSU aided with a pair of penalties that led to first downs.

After that, the Tigers rarely bent, never broke and slowly suffocated a high-octane USM offense.

Linebackers Kendell Beckwith (15 tackles, 2 tackles for loss) and Duke Riley (11/1) clogged up every hole that Southern Miss tried to wiggle through.

In the secondary, Jamal Adams and Dwayne Thomas combined for 18 tackles and spearheaded an effort that made life miserable for Eagles’ QB Nick Mullens.

USM came in churning out 532.2 total yards and 40.1 points a game and left Baton Rouge fortunate to have hung up only the sixth offensive touchdown that the Tigers have allowed all season – the fewest in the country.

Southern Miss scored 10 points on two of its first four possessions, using 26 plays to cover 137 yards on those two drives. Other than that, the Eagles managed only 105 yards on 46 plays – 2.3 a snap.

Hard to do a lot when you can’t even generate 3 yards before the cloud of dust.

Field position became an issue as well. In the second half, USM snapped the ball four times in LSU territory for a total of 9 yards, and on the last two plays couldn’t even carve out a yard needed for a new set of downs. Meanwhile, 12 Eagle plays came from inside their own 20-yard-line.

In a game that never really resembled a shootout in the first 30 minutes, there was always a possibility it could have evolved into one after halftime, in part because the Tigers found their offensive groove so quickly in the third quarter.

Like a baseball pitcher who answers a big inning by shutting the other offense down, LSU’s D never let things get dicey. In fact, instead of one shutdown possession, the Tigers kept hanging up one after the other. USM fumbled right after LSU’s first TD of the third period, and then ran 19 plays on the next four possessions but scratched out only 50 yards.

By the time the Eagles showed any offensive consistency in the second half, the Tigers were in firm control, 31-10.

LSU’s defense has operated quietly most of the season, perhaps reflecting first-year coordinator Dave Aranda’s low-key personality. But the results have spoken loudly, especially in the two games since the calendar turned to October.

Missouri came into Tiger Stadium with one of the SEC’s most prolific offenses and never got rolling on the way to season-lows in yards (265) and points (7).

After a promising start, Southern Miss didn’t fare any better because the LSU defense simply refused to waver.

As much as anything else in this perforated, and at times disjointed, 2016 season, the Tigers’ defense has become an important and necessary storyline.

Maybe not the one that gets the headlines or dominates many discussions, but with a rugged stretch starting this week against Ole Miss, maybe it’s time to start talking about how good this LSU defense has been.

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