No. 5 LSU dramatically ramping up defensive pressure on QBs
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) If anyone can appreciate how hard it has been to slow down Lewis Neal and the rest of LSU's defensive line this year, it is Tigers offensive tackle Vadal Alexander, who has had his hands full with them in practice since last spring.
''I saw it in the offseason, just the way they were always working on get-offs and pass-rush moves, playing blocks and just working hard - working their butts off - to get better,'' Alexander said. ''That's why I think you've seen it on the field this year.''
LSU defenders have racked up 17 sacks through the first six games this season, putting them on pace to easily eclipse last season's total of 19 sacks (in 13 games).
The fifth-ranked and unbeaten Tigers (6-0, 3-0 Southeastern Conference) had five sacks against Florida in a 35-28 victory last Saturday night that dropped the Gators from No. 8 to No. 13 in the national rankings. Defensive end Lewis Neal had three sacks, increasing his team-leading total to seven this season.
The ability to sustain that kind of pressure could be a significant factor this Saturday, when LSU hosts Western Kentucky and Hilltoppers quarterback Brandon Doughty, who has averaged 387 yards passing this season.
Neal credits new defensive line coach Ed Orgeron - who has been an assistant in the pros and a head coach at the major college level - with infusing the Tigers' defensive front with energy and passion, while at the same time refining their techniques.
The result, the Tigers say, is a defense which plays with relentless aggression, but also with the discipline required to avoid getting caught out of position.
''Intensity and attention to detail,'' Neal says when asked about Orgeron's influence. ''We study NFL defensive lines all the time. We get and learn technique that NFL players use all the time. Those things help us a lot.''
Davon Godchaux has three sacks this season, while freshman end Arden Key has a sack-and-a-half. But even when defensive linemen are not being credited with sacks, Neal said, they're helping flush QBs into the arms of fellow defenders.
''What people don't realize,'' Neal says, ''is it takes all four defensive linemen to get a sack.''
LSU coach Les Miles credits Orgeron's ''enthusiasm for play and technical expertise,'' for the dramatic increase in sacks this season.
Orgeron arrived at LSU to find defensive linemen who not only had talent, but in some cases were also just acquiring the maturity to apply what coaches are teaching, Miles says, adding that something similar occurred when he hired offensive coordinator Cam Cameron in 2013, as quarterback Zach Mettenberger entered his final season.
''Mettenberger had a really strong arm and capabilities, but really, Cam unlocked the back end of his career - his best play,'' Miles said. ''And really, I think that Ed's doing the same thing for some of those guys on the defensive line, guys that were in position to have really fine development. Ed got there at a time when they could understand what he was saying and could take it in full flow.''
Against Florida, Neal explains, LSU pass rushers were mindful of quarterback Treon Harris' mobility. So when the Tigers beat blockers and got into the backfield, they feigned like they would keep charging, but then pulled up to ensure they didn't lose containment.
''I knew when he wanted to run, so I made him try to run,'' Neal explained. ''I show my presence and then wait for him to make his move ... then I go get him.
''That strategy worked all night long,'' Neal continued. ''You see, quarterbacks get nervous, especially when they are mobile.''
NOTES: Miles says tight end Dillon Gordon, who left Saturday's game after re-aggravating an Achilles tendon injury, likely will miss the rest of the season. He had only one catch for 8 yards in four games. Miles is unsure if Gordon qualifies for a medical redshirt. ... LSU has sent SEC officials video of plays in which Tigers coaches were concerned about Florida defenders piling on running back Leonard Fournette. After the game, Fournette spoke of being grabbed, poked in the eye and pushed after the whistle by Florida players. ''The drive him back and fall on him - I think there's a point in time where that's got to be called a personal foul,'' Miles said.
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