Daronte Jones came to LSU with a reputation.
LSU's new defensive coordinator was going to be no nonsense. He was going to improve the defense. Last year's issues? No chance they repeat.
Well, that’s what we thought at least.
Through the first few games of the year, Jones’ defense fell victim to the same blown coverages and basic blitz packages of the last regime.
Everywhere Jones went, he improved things drastically. With the Minnesota Vikings, he led a top-10 secondary. He developed Darius Phillips into having a career year in Cincinnati, and he coached Reshad Jones into a Pro Bowl appearance in Miami.
With the dark cloud of Coach Ed Orgeron’s firing looming over the future of the LSU Tigers, …
What was happening at LSU? Over the bye week, Ed Orgeron said something clicked with the defense. After Saturday night’s overtime loss to Arkansas, he stated that they switched to a more 3-4 focused defensive approach, and got a lot more looks that they liked. Even in a loss, they held Arkansas to just 16 points. LSU’s front seven accounted for three sacks and 10 tackles for a loss. This came a week after LSU made Alabama’s signature offense look mortal. The defense has kept LSU in the game the past two weeks. If the Tigers want to keep the streak of 20 straight seasons finishing above .500 alive, they will need the defense to stick to this new trend.
Whatever adjustments were made should without a doubt stay in the defense.
LSU’s defense was relentless in their attempt to shut down and attack Arkansas quarterback KJ Jefferson. We saw more complex blitz looks in their package this week for the defense, using the new looks to their advantage to get through the Arkansas offensive line. It felt like more of what I was expecting out of this defense. Jones learned a lot under Mike Zimmer, the head coach of the Minnesota Vikings. Zimmer is known for his blitzing, and it was puzzling when LSU came out with such basic looks to start the year.
In particular, the play of LSU’s linebackers as of late has been outstanding. If you ask Mike Jones Jr, as I did, the linebacker play has been top-notch all year. According to Jones and fellow linebacker Damone Clark after the game, linebackers coach Blake Baker has done a great job in the past few weeks in his preparation and approach to defense. Both spoke very highly of Baker, who is rounding out his first year at LSU, much like a lot of this staff. Clark and Micah Baskerville in particular have been outstanding. Clark was recently named a semifinalist for the Butkus award, which is given to the top linebacker in the country. Baskerville is the highest graded linebacker on the team, according to ProFootballFocus, with a 70.1 overall grade.
While the front seven has arguably been the Tigers’ best unit on the field this season, it has also been the source of one of the biggest points of frustration for fans. They seem to have an issue getting quarterbacks down who start to scramble, once the play breaks down. We saw it a lot against Auburn and Bo Nix, and was a repeat issue against Jefferson. The Tigers allowed Jefferson to extend plays on numerous occasions, and could have ended up much worse than it did. Luckily, they bent, but did not break, only giving up the one touchdown on a busted coverage early in the third quarter.
LSU saw a good effort from their secondary, which of course helps the front seven in their search for sacks. Treylon Burks entered the game as a consensus top-five wide receiver in the upcoming NFL draft. He is an athletic 6-foot, 3-inch, 232 pound player who not many people have been able to figure out this season. Despite trick plays trying to get him incorporated, the highly regarded receiver was only able to finish with four catches on seven targets, gaining 16 yards in the process.
Arkansas was only able to muster a total 142 yards through the air. There is a lot to like about the secondary, considering the crazy amount of injuries that have amassed back there.
I asked Orgeron about the emergence of Dwight McGlothern, and he raved about him. He said he has been a fantastic leader for the defensive back room, having stepped up after injuries to other veterans. He was supposed to be a backup this season, but has been thrust into a centerpiece role for the secondary.
“Phenomenal,” Orgeron called the defense’s performance. “I think the defense has been playing lights out. We missed some plays tonight but overall, I just think the defense has been playing really well.”