The Good: Starting off with defensive end Arden Key is a good move. While LSU is a base 3-4, the Tigers have used their 4-man front more and more with Key keying that (too easy). With that move, guys like Davon Godchaux and Greg Gilmore have paired together inside in more natural defensive tackle positions with Tashawn Bower on the other side to wreak havoc on opposing offenses. Now, Bower sees limited time in some cases as LSU is in the nickel, but with Bower and Key off the edge, it's an impressive front four that gets a lot of pressure on opposing quarterbacks. LSU's rush defense is also ranked No. 12 in the country and allowing under three yards per carry. That's tough running for the opposition.
The Bad: There's really not much bad to point to along the defensive line outside of Travonte Valentine falling out of favor with the staff briefly. Valentine has not see the same time he saw earlier in the year and he sat out the Southern Miss game. Valentine's big body is a great fit for Aranda's traditional 3-4 look, but when LSU goes with the 4-man front, it doesn't make too much sense for him to be in the game. LSU isn't struggling without him, but having a big body that the staff and team trusts in the middle would help a lot. Valentine is still working towards that.
What’s Next?: A lot of people's eyes are on Valentine to see how he bounces back, but I'm interested to see how Key does against some of the best competition he's faced all year. Key leads the SEC with eight sacks, but to be honest, hasn't faced incredible offensive lines. In all likelihood, he'll be able to continue his streak of tremendous production, but he's 12 off his season goal of 20 sacks with four games to go. It's a lofty goal to reach, but Key has to produce in these huge games to help the other linemen and linebackers get free to make plays.
Grade so far: A
The Good: If I were to include Key with this group, I'd imagine it'd be a higher grade, but Key is too much of a defensive end at this point. Manning the middle have been Kendell Beckwith and Duke Riley, who outside of a little zone-read trouble, have been outstanding. Riley even grabbed his first interception as a Tiger against Ole Miss. The linebackers haven't seen as much rotating as the defensive line has and that's allowed Beckwith and Riley to be productive.
The Bad: Against read-option teams, Beckwith and Riley let their eyes wander and that allowed offensive linemen to get up on them. With two of the last four teams in the regular season likely to show that, that's an area of potential improvement. Devin White has been chomping at the bit to get into the game, but really hasn't been ready as evidenced by his lack of playing time. LSU struggled with linebackers matched 1-on-1 with quicker skill players. Not surprising overall, but something I'd imagine LSU would like to avoid against some potent offenses up ahead.
What’s Next?: Next week will be this unit's toughest test against Alabama, but can they rise to the occasion? LSU will have to rotate defensive linemen to keep them fresh, but the Tigers also need production out of their two middle linebackers in a big way. Moving forward, two of the leaders on this defense need to produce while bringing along White in a good way so he can step in if need be.
Grade so far: A-
The Good: Tre'Davious White has nearly had a perfect season. Outside of a few short completions against him, not much is coming his way and not much of that has been caught. He's been incredible. Donte Jackson came back down to earth last week with two pass interference penalties early, but this season, Jackson has been great as well. LSU's top two cornerbacks are great and there's no worry there. Kevin Toliver has manned the outside when White moves inside admirably, but hasn't put it together consistently enough just yet.
The Bad: I'm always a little harder on the secondary just because they are hard on themselves too, but LSU has to find a legit answer at nickel when White isn't there. I'm not a huge Dwayne Thomas fan as I think he gets beat too much, but that's another story. If you're going to move White, I'd rather get Kristian Fulton or Saivion Smith in there more often. Both are uber-talented. LSU got worked a bit at times when the defensive backs were put in 1-on-1 situations outside of White and Jackson. It can happen, but if you start allowing the big plays, it won't be good.
What’s Next?: Finding that next man up to help John Battle next to Jamal Adams will be key for this defense. LSU will face some teams that really like to throw it around and if the team can get others to step up, that'll be huge for them. It's going to be interesting down the stretch as LSU will likely give up more yards to teams through the air, but it'll be the ability to force turnovers that will be most important.
Grade so far: B+