LSU hurries to fix pass rush
At least there wasn’t a lot of finger-pointing after LSU’s first loss of the season last week at Florida.
Sure, the offensive line took some blame for the way quarterback Joe Burrow was repeatedly harassed.
But it wasn’t like the other side of the trenches was feeling smug.
For the first time in the last three seasons, the Tigers didn’t register a sack of their own. They also gave up 215 yards rushing to the Gators.
LSU had a lot of question marks coming into the season.
Defense wasn’t supposed to be one of them. But issues have gradually popped up, and it will probably have to get a lot better with No. 2 Georgia (6-0, 4-0 Southeastern Conference) due in to Tiger Stadium on Saturday.
“We started very well,” LSU head coach Ed Orgeron said of holding three of the first four opponents under 100 yards rushing. “But 150 yards rushing against Ole Miss and 215 against Florida was disappointing.”
Dave Aranda, the defensive whiz who’s the highest paid coordinator in college football, finds himself in unfamiliar territory.
The No. 13 Tigers (5-1, 2-1) are ninth in the SEC in total defense, sixth in rushing defense, seventh in scoring defense and ninth in passing defense.
“We do feel we will finish strong,” Orgeron said. “I believe in what Coach Aranda is doing, but we have to coach better at some positions and execute better.”
No time like the present.
“This is the best offensive line that we have seen so far,” Orgeron said of the Bulldogs. “Lamont Gaillard is the best center that I’ve seen in a while.”
With a stable of running backs keyed by Elijah Holyfield (the son of former heavyweight boxing champ Evander Holyfield), Georgia leads the SEC in rushing with 245 yards per game.
It’s a different tactic than Florida and Ole Miss, which spread the field to open up lanes.
“They’re going to line up and try to maul you and run right at you,” Orgeron said. “And then they have speed sweeps; they can get around the edge to bunch toss. They’re very much a pro-style running team.”
LSU has been missing its best pass rusher, outside linebacker K’Lavon Chaisson, since he went down with a knee injury in the season opener. And he’s not coming back until next year.
But the sackless game was mystifying to Orgeron — and a little misleading.
“We didn’t have the sacks that we wanted but … we had some pressures and we had some guys that had some good rushes,” he said.
In fact, the Tigers got to Florida quarterback Felipe Franks often — he knew they were there — and they did have nine hurries, a high number for a game.
“But it wasn’t good enough,” Orgeron said.
Help may be on the way.
Linebacker Jacob Phillips, the Tigers’ second-leading tackler who dressed out for Florida but wasn’t able to play, will be back this week, Orgeron said. And the Tigers might have found something in junior college transfer defensive end Travez Moore, whose only other action before last Saturday came against Southeastern Louisiana.
“He’s going to help us,” Orgeron said of Phillips. “I thought (true freshman replacement) Micah Baskerville played well, but he had five missed tackles and he had some missed assignments. I think Jacob is experienced, and that’s going to help us there. He should be full speed on Saturday.”
Moore will also see more action.
“Right now (just for) pass rush,” Orgeron said. “But he has the talent.
“He has the skills to be a three-down player and one of our best guys. I think it’s a matter of learning how to be in the right place at the right time. But as soon as he gets that, he can be one of our best players at defense.”
LSU might also reexamine its defensive rotations.
It was noted by many that leading tackler Devin White was on the sidelines, healthy, during Florida’s first scoring drive with LSU up 10-0.
“We have to keep our guys fresh,” Orgeron said. “But we have to make sure that the guys that we rotate can handle the player that they’re playing against. It’s a fine line there. We just can’t rotate to rotate. We have to look at the matchup when we put some guys in.
“We have some defensive linemen that have done a good job — not a great job, but they can go in. We are thin at linebacker, we’re thin at outside linebacker. So it all depends on what position you’re talking about. We’re going to have to mix and match the things that we do on defense … It’s going to be another chess match.”
LSU Tigers defense, from left, Breiden Fehoko, Michael Divinity and Andre Anthony drops Miami Hurricanes quarterback Malik Rosier (12) for a loss during the Advocare Classic at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas on Sunday, September 2, 2018. For the first time in three years the Tigers did not register a sack in a game when they came up empty against Florida last (Dennis Babineaux/Special to the American Press)