DE Jermauria Rasco (No. 59): LSU’s other starting end, Danielle Hunter, gets a lot of the pub. A freakish athlete, Hunter is better at tracking down ball carriers behind the line of scrimmage and will be a higher pick in the draft whenever he declares. But Rasco, the senior, knows how to get to the quarterback. The 6-foot-3, 247-pounder led the Tigers in sacks in the regular season with four and finished with a team-high eight QB hurries. Playing against a quarterback in Everett Golson with a penchant for fumbling, Rasco is one of LSU’s most likely sources to generate a turnover in that fashion.
And while Rasco has contributed to John Chavis’ defense ever since his true freshman season, never has he been better than in the final half of the 2014 campaign. His presence against the run has allowed Rasco, who finished with 63 total tackles (fifth on the team), to stay on the field for all three downs. He’s definitely the lead-by-example type, and is on the quiet side, but the Tigers will miss this durable defensive end in a big way once the bowl games is over.
MLB Kendell Beckwith (No. 52): You can directly attribute LSU’s turnaround on defense, in particular defending the run, to Beckwith’s insertion as a starter at middle linebacker six games ago. His impact has been that tangible and consistent, and the sophomore has quite simply been that good. After the Tigers were mauled on the ground by Mississippi State and Auburn, Chavis finally made the switch from redshirt senior D.J. Welter to Beckwith in advance of the Florida game. Since then he’s been a tackling machine, making 42 tackles compared to only 26 prior to that point as a platoon player.
At 6-foot-2, 245 pounds, Beckwith is playing middle linebacker in a defensive end’s body. He isn’t the fastest player, but Beckwith still tracks pretty well laterally and when he gets his mitts on defenders, they go down. He finished the season with 68 tackles (second on the team), 6.5 tackles for loss, an interception returned for six, two forced fumbles and four passes defended. More importantly, from the time he began starting, LSU is yet to concede more than 137 yards rushing to any one team. That’s borderline miraculous considering Auburn and Mississippi State averaged 300 yards rushing on the Bayou Bengals earlier in the fall.
FS Jalen Mills (No. 28): The beauty in Mills’ game is his versatility. A starter from the day he walked on campus three years ago, Mills began his LSU career at cornerback, now starts at free safety and all the while has been the Tigers’ primary nickel back. For my money it’s that last role where Mills (6-0, 194) excels the most. And, given how much Notre Dame likes to chunk it around the yard, I suspect the Irish’s formations and personnel will dictate a lot of Mills in the box in Nashville.
The byproduct of that: Stud freshman Jamal Adams – Scout’s No. 1 safety prospect in the 2014 class – replaces him in the back, and the LSU secondary gets even more athletic and hard-hitting. That’s how LSU’s defense lined up the entire game at Texas A&M Thanksgiving night, and all that speed proved to be too much for Kevin Sumlin’s offense. Mills, a junior, ended the regular season with 54 total tackles, three for loss, an interception and six passes defended. He’s a big part of the defensive communication process, too, ensuring others are lined up properly. Mills is rarely spectacular or flashy, but he plays all over the field and plays an important role for the LSU defense.
CB Tre’Davious White (No. 16): Unquestionably the Tigers’ lead corner, White (5-11, 191) has continued to thrive no matter who LSU puts on the opposite side. At times this year it’s been Rashard Robinson – now indefinitely suspended and not playing in the bowl game – and at other times it’s been Jalen Collins. Hasn’t mattered. White just lines up at his right cornerback spot and plays aggressive man coverage against whichever receiver the opposition sends his way. (That’s something important to note – LSU doesn’t run White all over the field to match up on the best receiver. He’s got his side.)
For the season White’s registered 32 tackles, three for loss, a sack, seven passes defended and is tied for the team lead with two interceptions. The sophomore is also LSU’s primary punt returner, accounting for 24 of the team’s 25 returns this fall and finishing with 264 yards (11.0 yards per return) and a touchdown. He’s been an integral part of one of the nation’s elite secondaries in 2014 and LSU’s best cover corner since Mo Claiborne left campus following the 2011 season.
DT Davon Godchaux (No. 57): The Tigers’ woeful attempts at run defense to begin this season have been well-documented. A big part of the problem was the lack of a presence at middle linebacker (see above with Beckwith), but the other recurring issue was inconsistent play in the middle of the defensive line. LSU starts a true sophomore, Christian Lacouture, and a true freshman, Godchaux, on the interior, and while it did take them almost half a season to jell, the duo is playing at a high level these days and has reversed LSU’s fortunes against the inside or power run.<
Godchaux, 6-foot-4 and 298 pounds, started nine of 12 games in his debut season. He’s learned how to leverage his body and with improved technique has come a player who regularly gets a surge from his defensive tackle spot. He concluded the regular season with 34 tackles, 1.5 for loss, three quarterback hurries and a forced fumble. It’s not often a true freshman can come into the SEC and start in year one at defensive tackle, but Godchaux continues to show he’s ahead of the curve.
On the Spot: CB Jalen CollinsThe redshirt junior has been on his game this season, stepping up after a subpar 2013 campaign, and is now set to parlay freakish size for a corner (Collins is near 6-3 and 198 pounds) and solid tape from 2014 into becoming an early-round draft pick, should he decide to go. Collins split time as LSU’s second corner with Rashard Robinson before the latter was indefinitely suspended three games ago. Since Collins has taken over the No. 2 spot and lined up opposite a number of talented wide-outs, including Alabama’s Amari Cooper and a slew of established Texas A&M targets.
He’ll draw some tough assignments going against Notre Dame’s Will Fuller and Corey Robinson, and it’ll be interesting to see if Collins can keep it going. He led the Tigers with 10 passes defended during the regular season and notched 33 tackles, two for loss, and a big interception to end the A&M game several weeks back. Very few predicted Collins would have the impact he’s had prior to the season. He’s got one last chance to make believers of critics facing a high-volume Notre Dame passing attack.