This is part two of a three day series previewing the LSU-Florida game this Saturday. Today, the Defense.

by Mark McLeod


When the LSU and Florida defenses look across the line of scrimmage at practice, they must be thinking along the same lines. Offensively, the Tigers returned only two experienced offensive linemen and a plethora of talented and experienced skills position players. Their most decorated lineman will miss Saturday's game to injury.


Veteran offensive guard Will Arnold will miss the next two to three weeks with an ankle injury. Arnold was a pre-season first team All-Southeastern Conference selection on every publication in the country. He will be replaced in the Tigers lineup by sophomore Herman Johnson who played in all of the Tigers games in 2005, but started only once.


The Tigers offensive line has drawn criticism for not blowing open holes for running backs Justin Vincent, Alley Broussard, Jacob Hester, or Charles Scott. They're likely to find that road difficult against a Florida defensive front that is very good.


The Tigers have been very good in pass protection though. They have given up fewer sacks than anybody in the conference. Tucked safely in- JaMarcus Russell has time to hit standout wide receivers Craig Davis, Dwayne Bowe, and Early Doucet . LSU has one of the nation's premier passing games.


"A little bit about LSU," Meyer said. "They have done a great job recruiting. They are loaded. Last year there was no question in my mind that they were the most talented team in the Southeastern Conference. I can't say that yet because we haven't seen all the film on them yet. It's gonna be hard to beat this talent and they lost a lot of guys a year ago. So that kinda tells you how well they've done. It's a great way to evaluate recruiting and they've done a great job of it the last four or five years. They are a very talented team and we are gonna have to play our very best to win this one. I think this is two very good teams going at each other at this time of the year."



The Big Uglies


Florida has a wealth of experience, speed, and athleticism throughout their defense. That is not lost on opposing offensive coordinators who have adjusted by shortening their passing game. The two and three step drops by quarterbacks hitting receivers who run a bevy of quick slants, screens, and skinny posts have cut into the Gators ability to sack the quarterback. Make no mistake though, the pressure has been constant.


Last week, senior Ray McDonald moved back to his defensive end position. Seldom used sophomore Javier Estopinan (6-1 282) got his first career start for the Gators at defensive tackle. He recorded three tackles. Estopinan was named to the Florida champions club for his performance. He had a 45-0 record as a wrestler at South Miami High School. The wrestling in south Florida is among the best in the south. He has the on-field temperament coaches absolutely love.


Playing alongside Estopinan is senior tackle Joe Cohen (6-2 296). Signed as a running back out of Palm Bay High School, Cohen has accumulated 10 total tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, ½ a sack, a forced fumble, and has broken up a pass. Reserve Steven Harris (6-5 285) is a former starter at defensive tackle. He has three tackles and has been credited with half a sack. Both Cohen and Harris possess great strength, athleticism, and speed.


The Gators are set at defensive end. Experience coupled with strength, speed, and good quickness on one side. There is tremendous speed and athleticism on the opposite side.


McDonald (6-3 280) has returned from having both knees surgically repaired. The senior appears to be fast approaching his potential. McDonald has 15 tackles, including two sacks, and three tackles for a loss. His leadership has been a boon for the defense.


You can't begin talking about tremendous quickness, speed, and potential without mentioning the name of defensive end Jarvis Moss (6-6 251). His first step off the ball is unreal. Moss' quickness is reminiscent of Georgia's Quinton Moses. Obviously, Moss hasn't yet produced to the level of Moses. Furthermore, the junior bulked up over the off-season and plays against the run very well too. Moss has 21 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, which includes 2.5 sacks, and seven quarterback hurries.


Redshirt sophomore Derrick Harvey (6-5 252) adds a nice blend of speed and quickness off the bench. He doesn't have Moss' first step, but he can run. However, his experience is even more limited than Moss. Harvey has nine tackles, three sacks, and six quarterback hurries.


Weakside linebacker Earl Everett (6-3 234) is one of the centerpieces to this extremely talented defense. He was named the SEC Defensive Player of the Week for his monster play against Tennessee. He led the Gators with 11 tackles and a quarterback hurry. Everett can run, hit, and has a nose for the football as evidenced by his 31 tackles, two tackles for loss, and two quarterback hurries. Everett is second on the squad in tackles. He should garner plenty of votes for the all conference team after the season.


Brandon Siler (6-2 235) is one of the Gators tremendously experienced linebackers. Describing Siler is rather easy. The All-SEC selection is simply a great football player who might even be a better leader. He had terrific game against the Volunteers with seven tackles, two for a loss, and a sack. He is currently third on the team with 27 tackles, including five tackles for loss, including a sack, two quarterback hurries, and a forced fumble.


Fifth year senior Brian Crum (6-3 235) mans the strongside linebacker position as a first year starter. Crum has seen significant action on special teams throughout his career, while playing as a reserve at tight end moved to linebacker in '03 where he saw very little action. He played pretty well against Tennessee. Crum has 12 tackles and one and a half tackles for loss. He also has a quarterback hurry.


While there is plenty of talent playing behind the linebackers, experience is virtually non-existent. True freshmen Brandon Spikes (6-3 240) and Dustin Doe (6-0 215) have been impressive in practice and are beginning to see playing time off the bench.





The strength of an interior defensive front that was among the best in team history suffered a major blow with the loss of Marcus Thomas. Joe Cohen and Steven Harris are still very good football players. Adding Estopinan has provided the Gators with a quality player and depth against an LSU offensive line that hasn't run blocked well at all. The Tigers who are averaging only 2.46 yards per carry in conference play figure to struggle against the Gators as well.


The numbers certainly bear that out. Opponents are averaging just two yards per carry and 50.2 yards per game rushing against the Gators. That is tops in the conference and fourth best in the nation.


The speed and athleticism at the defensive end position blend perfectly with Florida's strong inside game. The premier battle will be between Jarvis Moss and redshirt freshman left tackle Ciron Black.


Siler (23 starts) and Everett (34 starts) are the only experienced linebackers at Florida. They must stay healthy.


LSU has proven to be outstanding when the chips are down. In red zone, they've covered 20 of 22 (90.9%) opportunities with 18 going for touchdowns. The Tigers are fifth in the nation in converting third down conversions at 56%.


Florida has been pretty good defending the red zone, allowing three touchdowns and three field goals in ten opportunities. However, the Gators have allowed far too many third down conversions against quality opponents. When combined, Tennessee (6 of 13) and Alabama (8 of 15) converted on 14 of 28 (50%) attempts.







The Florida secondary has allowed an average of 227 yards passing in conference play. Erik Ainge of Tennessee and Andre' Woodson of Kentucky had solid passing performances against the Gators. The pair have combined for 44 of 71 (61.9%) for 441 yards and a pair of touchdowns with two interceptions. Alabama's John Parker Wilson had a tremendous first half, but struggled mightily in the second half against Florida.


Florida received a tremendous boost when cover corner Ryan Smith (5-10 165) graduated and transferred to Florida from Utah this summer. He has been a blessing in the wake of the Avery Atkins departure. There was no learning curve as he has a fine understanding of the defense. Smith has 18 tackles. He intercepted two of Wilson's passes last weekend against Alabama. He should have had a third, which he would have taken it to the house if not for getting a little too excited when he realized that nothing lay ahead of him but green grass. .


Playing the opposite corner is senior Reggie Lewis (5-10 196), who is best remembered for making the play of the game against Vanderbilt a year ago. Lewis has good speed, has improved his cover skills dramatically, and solid hands. Lewis is a former wide receiver who started several games in place of the injured Vernell Brown last year. He has an interception, which he returned for 35 yards. Lewis has also knocked down three passes.


Strong safety Tony Joiner (6-0 208) leads the team with 32 tackles. He also has two tackles for loss, has broken up two passes, an interception, and safety to his credit. The junior packs a wallop. Joiner is a first year starter, who has seen quite a bit of time on special teams and as a reserve.


The most feared member of the Florida secondary is free safety Reggie Nelson (6-1 193). The junior is a fantastic football player who brings speed, quickness, football savvy, and hits like a brick. Furthermore, Nelson can do it all- play cover corner, strong, free, or nickel equally well. He is the Southeastern Conference Defensive Player of the Week for his play against Alabama. He returned a Wilson interception 70 yards for a touchdown. Nelson is tied for the Southeastern Conference with four interceptions.


Reserve safety Kyle Jackson (6-1 200) was a starter as a freshman, who struggled last season. However, he is playing well and figures to be the first man out playing safety when Florida goes nickel.




Alabama quarterback John Parker Wilson completed 10 of 15 passes in the first half against the Gators. However, he was only able to complete 11 of 25 in the second half. Kentucky and Tennessee were able to utilize a short passing game to keep the chains moving. Neither was able to do much in the second half either, as the heat was significantly been turned up on Ainge, Woodson, and Wilson after the intermission. LSU has very talented wide receivers and throws the ball down field more often. While every week is an opportunity to prove yourself and evaluate, this weekend should provide some keen insight into the Florida secondary.







Fine adjustments by the staff, the second half fire of the defensive unit, and seemingly some tiring by opponents has allowed Florida to allow just one touchdown in the second half. 


Last week, every Florida defensive player received nomination into The Champions Club. The Champions Club is a weekly recognition for outstanding play. That followed the previous week when no Florida defensive player received nomination into the club. Their first half performance against Kentucky was enough to warrant the coaches' decision. The players admitted that they came out flat and made numerous mental mistakes. A bevy of mental errors in the coming month will cost them dearly.


LSU seemingly employs the running back by committee system, which has proven largely ineffective to date, except in the red zone. Florida has faced two feature backs- Southern Mississippi's Damion Fletcher, who is currently eighth in NCAA rushing averaging 122.8 yards per game. Fletcher gained just 89 yards on 18 carries for the Golden Eagles against the Gators. Last weekend, Alabama's Kenneth Darby gained just 77 yards on 14 carries in a game where Florida's tackling was average at best. Still, LSU will be hard pressed to gain yardage on the nation's fourth rated run defense.


LSU quarterback JaMarcus Russell has made tremendous strides over last year. If given time, he is very dangerous. They'll have to find ways to pressure him and knock him down when they do. He is an enormous quarterback at 6-6 252. Disguised coverages worked well at times against Wilson, but Russell is a veteran. He is currently second in the nation in passing efficiency. The Tigers also have three outstanding wide receivers, who are the best tandem that Florida will see in the regular season. Florida will need Smith, Lewis, Nelson, and McCollum to be at their best. 


The Gators are 13th nationally in total defense. They are currently fourth nationally in run defense. They have given up very few big plays. LSU is one team that will challenge them deep.



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Darry Beckwith (48) and Ali Highsmith (7)


by Matt Deville


Remember when people used to live and die by the theory of "defense wins championships."


Well if you listen to the national media these days, you'd think defense wasn't necessary to win a championship. All you have to do is put up 40 points a game and you're considered a national championship contender (see Notre Dame).


Well, they do things a little differently in the SEC.


The so-called experts can dis on the style of football played in the south, but defense is a staple in the SEC – always has been, always will be. That's why it is no surprise that seven of the top 35 defensive units in the country hail from the SEC.


In order:


1. LSU – 193.4 ypg

6. Georgia – 233.6 ypg

13. Florida – 248 ypg

17. Auburn – 258.6 ypg

29. Alabama – 290.4 ypg

31. Tennessee – 284.2 ypg

35. South Carolina – 291 ypg


For the LSU Tigers, it is nothing new to be rated among the best defenses in all of college football. After several years under the tutelage of defensive genius Nick Saban, defense is no doubt king in Bayou country.


Many felt like the emphasis on defense would fade when Saban left and Les Miles took control of the program in 2005. However, that was not the case. Miles hired one of the most respected defensive coordinators in the country to assume the reigns of the defensive machine at LSU – and Bo Pelini hasn't looked back.


Fact is, Pelini may even be outdoing the mighty Saban. Pelini finished his first year in Baton Rouge with the No. 3 rated defense in Division I football. The Tigers surrendered just 266.85 yards per game a year ago, third behind Virginia Tech and Alabama.


Through five games this season, the Tiger defense is surrendering just 193.4 yards per game, that's 21 fewer yards per game than No. 2 rated Missouri.


Talk in Baton Rouge is that this defense rivals – or is better than – the suffocating unit Saban put on the field in 2003, a defense the Tigers rode all the way to the national championship. That year, LSU limited Oklahoma, a team that averaged 439 yards per game, to a mere 152 yards in the BCS title game.


And they're better now?


Senior free safety LaRon Landry thinks so. Landry, who was the starting free safety on that 2003 defense as a true freshman, says the current system allows a player to be more aware of what's going on around them. In the previous (Saban's) system, Landry said each player was assigned one certain duty or area of the field.


The amazing thing about the 2006 LSU defense is that the Tigers lost a pair of all-SEC defensive tackles in Claude Wroten and Kyle Williams. Also gone is Peach Bowl Defensive MVP (defensive end) Melvin Oliver. Two linebackers – Cameron Vaughn and Kenneth Hollis – had to be replaced as well as veteran cornerback Ronnie Prude. In all, five of the front seven on defense are newcomers this year.





As stated above, LSU had to completely re-tool its defensive line replacing a pair of defensive tackle standpoints in Wroten and Williams. Oliver was no slouch either.


At least one of those spots was pretty much locked up because everyone knew Glenn Dorsey was good. ‘But just how good' was the question.


The 6-2, 295 pound Dorsey, known to teammates "Putt," has grown into a ferocious pass rusher and has become the next great tackle in a long line of standout tackles – Anthony "Booger" McFarland, Chad Lavalais, Williams and Wroten. He is second on the team in tackles with 23 total (4 solo, 19 assists). Dorsey has six tackles for loss and two sacks totaling 15 yards. He was named the SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week following the Tigers 7-3 loss at Auburn.


Playing alongside Dorsey is Marlon Favorite. Not the tallest of D-Lineman, Favorite (6-1, 291) is a tenacious run-stopper and has stepped up to the plate as a key player on the Tiger defense.


Chase Pittman was the line returning defensive lineman for the Tigers starring at right defensive end. Playing with a nasty demeanor, Pittman has amazing speed for a player of his size (6-4, 270).


On the other end is Tyson Jackson (6-5, 281). Jackson has been the biggest surprise this season on the LSU defensive line. Jackson has 16 tackles on the year, six for loss and five sacks. It was Jackson who put the punishing hit on Arizona quarterback Willie Tuitama on the first play of LSU's 45-3 domination of Arizona.


While the starters are all playing lights out, it is the Tigers depth across the defensive front that makes LSU's D-Line so scary. Rickey Jean-Francois (6-3, 266), Charles Alexander (6-3, 285), Tim Washington (6-3, 270), Rahim Alem (6-3, 240) and Al Woods (6-5, 325) all will play in the game and there seems to be little dropoff when any combination of these 10 players are in the game.





Another position thought to be in a rebuilding/retooling stage was linebacker. But the LSU backers seem to be one of the strengths of the team.


While LSU lacks little depth at the position, the first teamers are extremely good.


Ali Highsmith (17 tackles) was a star a year ago, but sophomore Darry Beckwith has emerged as the standout this season. At 6-1, 230, Beckwith is the team's leading tackler with 30 stops on the season. He is, no doubt, the team's hardest hitter too.


Luke Sanders is one of the biggest linebackers in the league standing 6-4 and 235 pounds. On the year he has 17 tackles and a sack.


Past the starters, LSU has former fullback turned linebacker Jason Spadoni, who has been a quality sub at key times. Past Spadoni are only true freshman, the only one to see significant playing time in Jacob Cutrera.





The LSU secondary has been touted as the nation's top unit and you'll get little argument anywhere.


The Tigers are loaded to the gills with depth and talent in the secondary and like the defensive line, Pelini will trot out as many as eight defensive backs in this game.


The LSU secondary all begins with the safeties, both of whom are all-American candidates. LaRon Landry (6-2, 204) is the best free safety in the country. A four-year starter, Landry has 18 tackles on the season, one interception and a clock-cleaning sack of Arizona's Tuitama. (If you saw this hit on SportsCenter, you know how vicious it was).


Jesse Daniels (5-11, 203) is a three-year starter at strong safety and plays with equal skill and aggressiveness. Daniels ranks third on the team in tackles with 21 stops.


The corners are locked down by Jonathan Zenon (6-0, 179) and Chevis Jackson (6-0, 189). Zenon has three interceptions on the season, two of which were returned for touchdowns. Zenon was knocked out of the Auburn game early in the first quarter and missed the rest of the game with a concussion. Jackson is LSU's best cover man and has 18 stops on the season.


As stated above, the Tigers depth in the secondary is the strength. The first to come into the game include Daniel Francis (5-11, 183) and Craig Steltz (6-2, 203). Francis will sub at nickel or dime or even can step in at corner. Steltz is a hard-hitting, physical player who will come in at safety. He leads the Tiger team with four interceptions, one in each of the last four games.


LSU leads the SEC in pass interceptions with nine in all. The Tiger defense also leads the SEC in sacks with 19.





LSU defens versus the run:


Florida is a pass-first offense, but they do run the ball fairly well, mostly out of Urban Meyer's spread formation. The Gators will most likely be without the services of tailback DeShawn Wynn, who severely sprained an ankle in the win over Alabama. Quarterback Chris Leak likes to get out and run on the outside from the shotgun formation, but he had better be careful with LSU's tremendous speed on defense, especially on the edge. The talented Florida quarterback has been asked to run more this season. LSU's team speed on defense is the best you will find anywhere and the Tigers have knocked four of the last five quarterbacks they have faced out of the game. Look for Leak to run less this week. The Tigers rank 11th in the country against the run, allowing just 69 yards per game. The only team better against the run than the Tigers – Florida.


Advantage: LSU



LSU defense versus the pass:


Leak comes into his senior season at Florida rated as one of the best quarterbacks in the nation. He is also getting consideration for the Heisman Trophy. While Leak seems to be more comfortable in Meyer's spread offense, he cannot totally forget about the Gators' trip to Baton Rouge in 2005. Leak was held to just 107 passing yards, the worst game of his career as Florida's starting quarterback. The Tiger secondary is the best Leak will face this season, as they hold opponents to 124 yards per game, third nationally.


Advantage: LSU




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