Pelini Knows LSU Defense Needs To Find Itself

Considering the way the season started out, the defensive unit LSU has put on the field the last few games isn't exactly what was expected by most.

Heck, ESPN analyst Lee Corso last week even went so far as to call the Tigers defense a "fraud."


After not posting a sack against Florida or Kentucky and giving up 24 and 43 points, respectively, to those two teams, LSU's defense finally put visible pressure on a quarterback. Against Auburn's Brandon Cox, the Tigers recorded two sacks, three quarterback hurries, and broke up seven passes – three of which were balls batted down at the line.


All-in-all, the Tigers held Cox to an 18-of-28 passing night for 199 yards and limited Auburn's rushing attack to 97 yards on 35 carries. The latter of those two statistics averages out to 2.8 yards per rush. Total, Auburn amassed 296 yards of offense.


A shocking statistic, considering the aggressive nature of LSU's front four, only the third holding penalty of the season was thrown on a Tiger opponent's offensive line.


There most certainly could have been more holds called against Auburn, and there was definitely some that could have been called in the weeks previous. A potential career-ending illegal chop block on Glenn Dorsey was missed by referees in the Auburn game as well. Dorsey escaped with only a sprained knee, but the intent was no doubt malicious.


At times, it has seemingly looked like the referees are giving opposing offenses the means necessary to compete with LSU's defense.


At other times, however, LSU has simply looked sluggish, unsure of what to do, and soft in the middle of the secondary. That was certainly true against Auburn when the visitors used their opening possession to drive 63 yards on 11 plays for a touchdown after eating up 4:50 off of the clock.


"We started slow," said LSU defensive coordinator Bo Pelini. "We started slow, and we just had a lot of missed tackles. I think maybe our guys were too emotional. We were there. We were there to make some plays early, and we missed them. And we got more right as the game went on. They kept fighting and, to their credit, we made enough plays to win the football game. "


Discounting a touchdown that was the result of a three-yard drive set up by Ryan Perrilloux's fumble, LSU's defense allowed 17 points in the game. Those points, however, came on sustained drives of 63, 90, and 83 yards that lasted a total of 32 plays and consumed over 14 minutes. The last of those drives, a nine-play, 83-yard affair, gave Auburn the go-ahead score with 3:21 to go in the game.


"We knew it was going to be that kind of a game," Pelini said. "Every time we play Auburn, that's a heck of a football team, well-coached football team. It's always the same kind of game. You know it's going to come down to the end."


All four of Auburn's scores came in the red zone, a place that has been unkind to LSU. Opponents are a perfect 19-of-19 when getting inside of the Tigers 20 yard line. But that's something that doesn't worry Pelini.


"No, not really," Pelini said. "I'm not real concerned about that. Teams haven't got down there a lot and you know a lot of those have been field goals. No, it's not really concerning. What we do – our job is to do enough to win the football game. We're not into statistics and all that other crap. It's about wins, losses, and doing what we have to do in any given football game to win the football game."


Actually, 14 of those19 scores have been for touchdowns, just five for field goals. But even so, against Auburn, LSU did only allow its opponent to score on three of 10 possessions when the three-yard touchdown drive is thrown out. In the second half, the defense forced four punts and three three-and-outs.


LSU's defense has been beat on for eight consecutive weeks now without a break. With Alabama looming to potentially decide who will represent the SEC Western Division in the SEC Championship Game, Pelini knows the non-stop schedule from the end of August up until now has taken its toll.


"We've been through a lot," Pelini said. "This conference, it has a reputation that's well-deserved. You go through – what is this, game eight? We were nicked up. We were nicked up going in, and we got nicked up during the game. That was a physical contest. We fought through it and the bye week couldn't have come at a better time. We've got some things to work on and get better at. Our guys need a rest. They need to get healthy, and get right, and get back on track."


Getting back on track may be the most important aspect of that comment.


The starting quarterbacks of the first five opponents LSU faced didn't last the entire game. Florida's Tim Tebow, Kentucky's Andre Woodson, and even Brandon Cox to an extent, have made the Tigers defense look a little pedestrian. Of course there have been contributing factors – injuries, fatigue, a lack of referees paying attention to the interior lines and when LSU defenders are chasing down opposing quarterbacks with lineman holding them back for all they are worth. But the fact is, after allowing 32 points and posting two shutouts against their first five opponents, the Tigers have seemingly leveled off.


LSU's last three foes have scored 91 points, an average of 30-plus per game, and 48 of those points have come in the first halves of games. In the beginning of the season it was the defense that was holding opponents at bay so that the offense could catch up. As of late, LSU has found itself in mini-shootouts that have required the offense to outscore opponents in the end.


There are only so many last-second touchdown passes though. If LSU's march is to make it all the way to Atlanta and eventually New Orleans, Pelini is right. There needs to be less scoring by opponents, and the defense needs to get right.

If the Tigers want to be feared again like they were in August and September, the ghosts of October will have to be exorcised. LSU needs to get back on track.

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