College football continues to evolve, and LSU must evolve with it. LSU coach Ed Orgeron knows that the Tigers must be able to adapt and blend their scheme to compete for SEC and National Championships.
This past season is a great lesson. Despite the talent running onto the field, despite the level of coaching expertise, when opposing teams know what you want to run and it’s straight forward, it’s likely your defense will be gashed consistently.
Mississippi State, Missouri, Ole Miss, Auburn, Alabama and Florida all scored at least 34 points when playing LSU.
Considering how many times LSU gave up big plays, the days of running just Cover One are probably all but over. Teams exposed LSU even when it would tweak it’s scheme with a safety over the top, etc. So what’s the bottom line to helping LSU become a great defense once again?
"You gotta be multiple nowadays, I don't think you can only play one or the other," Orgeron said. "You see all the great defenses out there. The better defenses are playing both, you gotta play some 3-4 to stop the run, you gotta play some nickel package and most of the nickel package is in the 4-3. I think if you can remain flexible, which we have the talent to play both, I think you need to remain flexible there."
There are more complexities to what Orgeron said that one can count. Practice time, proper personnel, injuries, experience, and the opposition are all good starting points for calculating what the LSU defense needs to do versus any one given opponent. Still, there are bigger themes to consider such as continuity between coaches and players, COVID-19 and how it impacts spring practice, utilizing technology to quickly learn the schemes, and finally buying into not only the new scheme but the new defensive coordinator.
With that, it’s pivotal to remember what happened this past season.
When it came to yards given up per game, the LSU defense ranked no. 124 overall this past season. Keep in mind, there are only 127 teams in the country. That means that teams such as Eastern Michigan (No. 122), Arkansas State (No. 115), and Kansas (No. 108) ranked ahead of the Tigers.
Needless to say, none of those three teams comes even remotely close to LSU’s defensive talent. That leads to the first major point: players and coaches must be on the same page, i.e. continuity.
That sounds so simple. It’s really not. Think back, how often did an opponent hit a big play and the camera pans towards a few LSU defenders all looking at each other with complete surprise. It happened all too often. Now it’s time to look at those three important factors mentioned above.
The Tigers were often confused as to which wide receiver or tight end they needed to cover. That’s a recipe for giving up a grand total of 492.0 yards per game, and that’s literally what the Tigers allowed this past season. The lack of defensive continuity was an ugly theme throughout the 2020 season.
Players need to work with each other this season, and the coaches need to earn their trust as well. After last season, there needs to be a fresh start. Once the players trust one another, and the coaches, that’s when progress can be made. If there’s a lack of trust and continuity, even LSU’s fantastic defensive recruiting will be shredded by talented SEC offenses week after week.
Second, balancing time restraints with the need to introduce new schemes will not be easy. To Orgeron’s point, there does need to be more of a multiplicity to keep opposing teams off balance. That begins with meetings prior to spring ball, and it will work its way through until fall camp when everything must finally come together.
While that sounds good long term, that may be quite difficult within the short term. With COVID-19 still in progress, it’s really hard to say how many spring practices the next LSU defensive coordinator will have to install his primary system, let alone which players will be out with COVID-19 during spring practice and/or at other times.
That’s a disaster for any first-year coordinator, especially when there’s a plan of multiple defensive looks. Still, that’s the challenge the LSU coaching staff must face this spring. How do they implement different packages (can’t stress enough how time consuming this can be) without knowing how much practice time will be available for each player?
It’s a nightmare, but that’s where the third key starting point begins. At least technology can help the players study when they are not even at the LSU Football Complex, or practicing. In fact, that may be the biggest jump start that the LSU players and coaches will utilize to overcome the learning curve.
Time will tell, but this spring will be a challenge for the entire LSU coaching staff and players to get the defense back to playing good football. There’s work to be done, but the talent is there. Now, one other key component before beginning to discuss the actual schemes, and that’s the ‘buy in’ factor.
No matter which coach or coaches come into LSU before spring ball, keep in mind that the current players were recruited, at least in part, by coaches that are no longer in Baton Rouge.
Will the new defensive coordinator be able to get the players on the same page before spring football arrives? If not, how long does it take? If this particular point fails, even if for a few weeks of spring practice, it could place the LSU defense at a major disadvantage moving forward. The Tigers need to come together with each other and their coaches before a very talented defensive roster can come together.
Tomorrow will be a look at some of the schematic concepts that the Tigers are likely to implement.