For 40 years, Ed Orgeron has always been a defense first kind of coach. He grew up playing the defensive line and immediately started coaching the position out of college.
The tired saying "defense wins championships" has been in circulation for decades but as these college football offenses start to become more of a modern fit to the NFL, it's becoming harder and harder for defenses to be considered "good." Long gone are the days that LSU's defense could carry the team to a 9-6 win in Tuscaloosa over Alabama.
Offenses are so explosive in the passing game these days that it's extremely difficult for defenses to consistently stop. During his SEC Media Days, Orgeron was asked about the ever changing game of college football and why defenses are having such struggles against opposing offenses.
"These offenses are on fire right now, and I think what you're seeing is guys are coming back, running the same plays, doing the same thing, skill positions," Orgeron said. "The unskilled positions are loaded, just like other schools, seven-on-seven, there's no more fullbacks. So all those things, I think you're going to see some explosive offenses. On defensive guys, we've got to catch up. We're a little behind."
Offenses are scoring more and more points and putting up gaudy, record breaking numbers seemingly by the week. That LSU team in 2019 really kicked it off, with Joe Burrow and company scoring the most points of any team in NCAA history during that championship season with 726. In 2020, Alabama scored an absurd 630 points in two less games than the purple and gold en route to a championship win.
Even the final game of the regular season, LSU freshman receiver Kayshon Boutte set a conference record with 308 receiving yards against Ole Miss, a record that likely won't stand for very long. These are not easy times for defenses in college football as offenses plan to air the ball out more.
Of course LSU's defense was simply one of the worst in program history in 2020 and Orgeron, as well as defensive coordinator Daronte Jones want to make sure that was a blip and not a trend. The comminication was poor between the players in the back half of the defense and the unit paid dearly for it with the number of explosive plays surrendered.
It's a big reason why Orgeron felt it was important to bring Jones in, a young coordinator who can get through to the defensive players about what exactly it is they're supposed to be doing. While the Tigers plan to stick with the 4-3 in 2021, Orgeron says there will need to be a few adjustments made.
"We're going to simplify stuff. We want our players to have their cleats in the grass," Orgeron said. "We're going to play a lot more zone. They're not going to be switching off of this level, switching off of that level. We want our guys to play, keep the ball in front of us, and make plays."
LSU has a lot to prove on the defensive side of the ball in 2021 but it helps that the Tigers return perhaps the deepest defensive line in the conference and a top duo at cornerback in Derek Stingley and Elias Ricks and plenty of young, exciting safeties.
The pieces are there for the Tigers to see immense growth from this unit and it'll be up to Jones and his staff to make sure they're all connecting.