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LSU Football Needs Major Defensive Schematic Changes If It Hopes to Turn 2020 Season Around

LSU’s schematic issues glaring in loss to Missouri

Will LSU be the highly aggressive 4-3 defense that so many believed it would be, or will it continue to mix-and-match man and zone defense like it did against Missouri?

Looking at the Missouri game on television, as well as the play-by-play chart, showed that LSU’s defense was never comfortable, especially the defensive line. Part of the issue is playing against a complex offense like Missouri—which just so happened to find its next long-term signal caller—but LSU looked out of sorts in Columbia.

With a trip to The Swamp to face Florida up next, LSU coach Ed Orgeron and defensive coordinator Bo Pelini have to try to figure out how to create more havoc in the opponent’s backfield. This first stat from the Mizzou game stands out above all else, against a pocket passer no less: LSU registered but one sack. All that speed, all that talent, and one sack?

Were the Tigers not aggressive enough? Did they not disguise what they were doing well enough? There are a bunch of questions and very few answers. Here’s another statistic that will catch your attention: Missouri quarterbacks were 29-for-35 passing for the game. Those are Joe Burrow-type numbers. It’s mind blowing. Keep in mind, this was a new starting quarterback, in a first-year scheme. How in the world does that happen to a program with the talent of LSU?

Congratulations to everyone at Missouri, but LSU simply did not come close to applying enough pressure to quarterback Connor Bazelak, the young man from Dayton, Ohio, who lit up the LSU defense all game long. From a team perspective, however, that’s more about LSU’s failures than Missouri’s triumphs.

Can LSU quickly turn this around? Probably, but there are issues at hand. The primary area to fix is creating negative plays. The drive chart showed LSU did a poor job of creating those negative plays early in the game, and that led to problems in the second half as well.

First Half Drive Chart: Missouri

The tone of the Missouri game was set in the first and second quarters in large part due to LSU’s lackluster defensive aggressiveness and busted schemes. The Missouri game is proof of what LSU should not try to do again.

Missouri scored touchdowns or field goals on four of the six drives it had in the first half. By halftime, Mizzou believed it was going to win. It did not always seem that way.

There was hope for LSU to run away with it late in the first quarter when the Tigers recovered a punt deep in Missouri territory, true freshman BJ Ojulari recorded a sack and Ali Gaye recovered a fumble. LSU went on to score 10 points from those two turnovers, but that’s when Missouri actually started to play good offensive football.

LSU let Missouri off the hook and Missouri really started to consistently move the football. It racked up 27 points from the 11:16 mark of the second quarter until the end of the football game, simply carving up the LSU defense, three, five, 10 yards at a time. Piece by piece. Meticulously.

All the while, LSU did not really do a good job of being aggressive. Everything about LSU’s first-half defensive effort was seemingly a step slow. The film does not lie. The second half saw much of the same.

Missouri stymied LSU’s defensive front and finished with 180 yards rushing. Of course, that allowed Bazelak to spin the football to the tune of 406 yards passing as well, because the LSU secondary did not fare much better than the front seven. A balanced attack kept LSU on its heels for much of the game. It also caused LSU to miss out on big negative plays.

Creating More Tackles For Loss

With Missouri as proof, LSU needs to work toward making tackles for loss, especially during the early portion of the contest. This defense needs a confidence boost.

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Some might say, why bring up this stat? LSU recorded eight tackles for loss—isn't that solid? Yes and no. The one sack is the biggest issue, as noted above. The lack of penetration, overall, probably caused fewer sacks.

It certainly caused fewer chances for LSU to simply go after the signal-caller, especially during the latter portions of the first half when Missouri really got its offense rolling.

For the vast majority of the game, and especially in the first half, LSU could not consistently pressure the Missouri backfield. That caused LSU to play with what almost seemed to be a lethargic level of energy on defense. Just no sense of urgency.

When you allow an offense to start out with four or more yards during first down, it makes it more difficult to turn loose the pass rushers. The offense then dictates to the defense. That’s a big reason LSU recorded only one sack against Mizzou.

Missouri was in several second-down and third-down situations that were manageable. It was also consistently moving the football. The result was a plethora of manageable third-down situations where Missouri could run or pass. That truly hindered LSU’s pass rushers for most of the day.

Perhaps it's time to play a faster brand of LSU defense. The first half of the Missouri game is proof it's time to change LSU’s defensive strategy.

More Aggressive Play Starts With the Front Four

The defensive front needs to be better. Just a little bit of improvement from the defensive front four means more chances for turnovers. LSU has to get home to the quarterback against future opponents, and it must do so with its down linemen alone. Through three games, LSU has done a decent job of creating turnovers.

The Tigers have recovered five fumbles and recorded four interceptions so far this season, ranking No. 1 in turnover margin in the conference.

But allowing plays of 10 or more yards has been this team’s biggest issue, as the defense allowed close to 20 of those against Missouri.

Blitzing over and over can allow offenses to gash the LSU defense. With LSU’s front-four talent, there’s reason to believe there will be improvement in the games ahead. After the front four gets going, that’s when Pelini can dial up more pressures and be consistently effective.

If nothing else, the LSU defense can create some havoc and hit talented Florida quarterback Kyle Trask enough to create a few errant throws that end up in the hands of a Derek Stingley Jr. or Jacoby Stevens. Bottom line, quarterback pressure should be goal No. 1 against Florida.

Get after the quarterback. If Florida beats LSU, make it do so with the Tigers defense being aggressive and in the Gators’ backfield. Trask is not overly mobile, so the LSU defense can be exotic with a handful of its blitz packages, too.

Perhaps simplifying what LSU wants to do, sans a few specific defensive calls that LSU works on all week in practice, will be the remedy for playing a much better brand of defense. LSU’s talent is not the issue. There’s plenty of that. Scheme and comfort appear to be the bigger concerns. The two go together.

Start with the basics, that’s the old saying. LSU usually does well with a defense that plays fast and challenges an offense. No reason to believe this group of Tigers is any different.

Mixing it up simply did not work against Missouri. Florida is a new challenge. Let’s see how the Tigers front four lines up and plays defense this next Saturday in Gainesville.