The LSU Tigers gave up 37 points and 614 yards to Ole Miss this past weekend. The numbers look bad on defense, but with Joe Burrow roaring to a Heisman Trophy win, just how much do those defensive numbers matter?
By Matt Zemek
LSU never led by fewer than 14 points after it built a quick 14-0 lead in the first quarter. LSU was never seriously threatened. The Ole Miss game felt more annoying than it actually was, only because LSU had a 28-point lead reduced to 14. For a little while in the second half, the Tigers hadn’t fully sealed a victory.
Yet, in the bigger picture, LSU didn’t let down its guard UNTIL it had built a 28-point lead. Past LSU teams under Les Miles might have let down their guard at the beginning of the game, creating a stressful night and an always-tense game which went down to the wire. The new LSU, with Burrow crafting one of the most dominant seasons by any college quarterback in the sport’s 150-year history, transcends letdowns. This offense doesn’t take a week off. Auburn’s excellent defense kept it in check, but even on that day, LSU wasn’t BAD. It was merely inconsistent.
LSU’s defense is like Oklahoma’s defense in recent years, in the sense that it doesn’t have to be spectacular to win; it just has to make a handful of timely plays. As long as those timely plays are part of the mix, Burrow can be trusted to bring home a win. With all this in mind, let’s look at Arkansas, a program in search of a new head coach:
1 – First-half fury
LSU wants revenge next week against Texas A&M. It needs to be prepared for the SEC Championship Game against Georgia on Dec. 7 in Atlanta. The Alabama game was draining, so the Ole Miss game did not figure to be an easy game to prepare for on a mental level… and it wasn’t. The Tigers have endured a lot to get to this point, and they have two big battles coming up against A&M and Georgia.
What does this team need against Arkansas? A breather. How do you get a breather? You kick the bejeezus out of a horrible Arkansas team in the first half. Lead by 28 or more points at halftime. Give Ed Orgeron a valid and legitimate reason to bench all the starters for the second half to rest them for the road ahead. Get a regular-season result within an NFL preseason-style context of giving starters the whole second half off. LSU needs this.
2 – Simple scheme
Partly because the opponent is Arkansas, partly because recent defensive results haven’t been great, this is an ideal week for coordinator Dave Aranda to dress down his playbook and simplify as many concepts as possible. Let players react and adjust. Let them figure out solutions. Let them make some mistakes if they have to. Arkansas won’t punish LSU’s mistakes to the tune of 35 or 42 points – at least, that’s not likely. LSU can score 49 points in its sleep against Arkansas’ defense. An allowance for simplified defensive concepts – not putting too much of a burden on players this week – will freshen up this defensive roster before the more complicated tasks facing the Tigers against A&M and Georgia. Allow this week to be less burdensome for everyone involved. Allow this week to be less intense, so that the fuel tank will be full on Nov. 30 and Dec. 7.
3 – Relaxation
There are times when a coaching staff has to challenge its players, and there are times when a staff needs to lay off. This is a week to lay off. There is no crisis on defense – not during a period of the season when this team needs to mentally regroup. College athletes won’t play with the same intensity every week. The staff needs to know that and not apply pressure when it isn’t warranted.