This has been a long season for LSU on defense and one that, five games into the season, saw defensive coordinator Bo Pelini at the brunt of much criticism and rightfully so. The Tigers, quite literally had the worst defense in the history of the program and while the issues haven't evaporated, the last two performances out of the LSU defense have been a vast improvement from where this unit was back in October.
It was impossible for LSU coach Ed Orgeron and even Pelini to not hear the outside noise coming from the media and fans about the constant communication and assignment issues that plagued the unit all season. LSU simplified its schemes and simplified some more, until there was not much left to make the schemes any easier on the players.
Orgeron said that those corrections started to take form over the three week absence on the field and that it's a combination of Pelini adapting to the players and the players in turn picking up what Pelini is preaching.
"We have to control our own mindset within the building. Got to believe in each other, fight for each other. Coaching staff and players together," Orgeron said Monday. "I think it's a combination of Bo learning what our players can and can't do, and our players learning what they can and can't do, understanding the scheme better. You can see it working."
The explosive plays remain a problem as the Tigers did surrender eight against the Razorbacks and Aggie running back Isaiah Spiller broke free on runs of 52 and 32 yards last weekend. However, in its last two contests the Tigers have held opponents to a combined 2-of-26 on third down.
That'll get the job done nine times out of 10, unfortunately for LSU the defensive improvement was sandwiched in between the worst performance of the year by the offense. While the explosive runs were an issue in Saturday's loss to the Aggies, Orgeron said one of the big takeaways were the lack of explosive passing plays down the field.
"I think the biggest thing that came out of the game was no explosive passes. That was a big improvement for us," Orgeron said. "We had some explosive runs, but didn't have mistakes where guys were running free down there scoring touchdowns. I thought our man-to-man coverage was great."
Against a stout offensive line, Orgeron also thought the front four had a solid outing in College Station and facing another elite o-line this weekend, it'll be important for the defensive front seven to continue to play at a high level. Orgeron said the defensive improvement, particularly on third down, has been a combination of a great pass rush and man-to-man coverage.
"It all starts with the four-man rush, tight coverage. The quarterback doesn't have a long time to throw the ball. We had some good pressure on the quarterback, five-man blitzes. Our man-to-man coverage was pretty good," Orgeron said of the performance the last two weeks.
Against a stout Alabama offense which is top five in the country and features high end talent like Najee Harris and Devonta Smith, it'll take a complete effort from all levels of the defense to hamper the explosive Crimson Tide.
"This is the best offensive line we see come into Tiger Stadium in years. This is going to be a challenge," Orgeron said. "One of the best running backs. He's very physical. They know what they doing. The margin of error is going to be very small."