LSU’s Swiss Cheese Defense

Last Saturday afternoon in Oxford, Mississippi, the LSU Tigers gift wrapped a 55-49 victory to the Ole Miss Rebels.  LSU surrendered a colossal 706 yards in Saturday’s game at Ole Miss.  Believe it or not, the Tigers (now 3-2) actually led by nine points at 49-40 halfway through the final quarter.

It was the third defensive meltdown for the LSU Tigers this season.

In the opening game against Florida State in Orlando, LSU led the Seminoles 17-14 at the half.  Unfortunately, the Tigers’ defensive unit was a no-show in the second half.   Florida State reeled off 31 straight points in the third and fourth quarters to claim a convincing 45-24 win.  The LSU defense gave up nearly 500 yards against Florida State in the game.

LSU’s second game came against an in-state FCS rival, Grambling State University.

The G-Men were no match in Tiger Stadium as LSU rolled to an easy 72-10 win.  LSU’s defense was tested a bit in the opening quarter, but the Tigers’ offense overwhelmed Grambling over the remaining three quarters.

Game #3 of the season for LSU featured a sparkling overall effort by the Tigers.  The offense sliced Mississippi State’s defense like butter in front of their 65,000 cowbell clanging fans.  Even the LSU defense warmed up to the task and held the Bulldogs to less than 230 yards of offense.  Those Starkville cowbells were almost quiet before the start of the fourth quarter in LSU’s dominating 41-14 win.

After the first three games, there was no doubt that the LSU offense was one of the nation’s top units.  Even with the Tigers’ defensive lapses, the Associated Press voters continued to show confidence in 2-1 LSU by awarding them with a top 15 ranking.

LSU returned to Tiger Stadium for Game #4.  SEC rival Arkansas came to Baton Rouge for their annual contest in which the winner goes home with the humongous “Battle for the Boot” trophy.

The Razorbacks were not intimidated by over 100,000 Tiger Stadium supporters as the Hogs jumped to 13-10 halftime advantage.

Then the second half was played.  Just like in Game #1 against Florida State, the LSU defense left its second half intensity back inside of the locker room.

Fortunately for the Tigers, quarterback Jayden Daniels matched touchdowns with the Razorbacks during the second half.   With a few minutes to go in the game, the Tigers opted to run the clock down and attempt a game winning field goal with seconds remaining.  At the time, the Tigers were close to the end zone and had a chance to score a late touchdown.  However, that would have allowed Arkansas to have one final possession and a chance to win the game with a touchdown and two-point conversion.

Though it was a smart gamble by Coach Brian Kelly, it also showed how little trust he places in this year’s LSU defensive unit.

LSU escaped with a 34-31 nail biter in which the LSU defense again surrendered more than 400 yards for the game.

The Tigers improved to 3-1 with that win over Arkansas and set their sights on an important two-game SEC road trip to Ole Miss and Missouri.  If LSU managed to win both games, their chance of getting into the College Football Playoffs retained a glimmer of hope.

Game #5 for LSU at Ole Miss last Saturday evening was definitely one for the ages.

The Ole Miss Rebels have played football for more than a century going back to 1893.  In last week’s game in Oxford against LSU, the Ole Miss offense established an all-time team record for most yardage gained in a football game.  The Tigers’ defense gave up 706 yards, 32 first downs, and a whopping 6.5 yards per carry to the Ole Miss running backs.

The LSU defense also surrendered a nine point lead in the final minutes.  The result was a train wreck 54-49 road loss to Ole Miss.  Ole Miss improved to 4-1 while LSU dropped to 3-2 after this disappointing defeat.

Once again, the LSU’s offense did its part against Ole Miss.  The Tigers passed for more than 400 yards as it rolled-up 637 yards of total offense.  LSU gained 33 first downs and averaged six yards per carry by its running backs.  With this offensive output, LSU should have easily won the game.

According to one source, LSU had been a stellar 95-1 in games where the Tigers scored 49 or more points.  The team’s only other loss when scoring more than 49 points occurred in November, 2018.  You might remember the epic “Rock ‘em, Sock ‘em” seven overtime 74-72 loss at Texas A&M.

LSU is currently ranked fourth in the nation in total offense with an average of 551 yards per game.  The three teams ahead of LSU (Washington, Oregon, and USC) are each 5-0 on the season.  LSU, though, is 3-2.

Just how bad is LSU’s defense?

The Tigers’ defensive stats are as just as bad as you might expect.  LSU is giving up 31 points per game and allowing nearly 450 yards per opponent.   Those defensive numbers include LSU’s 72-10 breather against FCS Grambling State University Tigers.

The LSU defense is currently ranked #108 out of the 133 FBS teams.  The 25 teams with worse defensive rankings feature teams which have two, one, or zero wins in the 2023 season.

Opponents have been slicing and dicing LSU’s defense as if they have been gifted boxes of Ron Popeil’s Ginsu knives prior to kickoff.

But wait…there’s more!

The LSU Tigers were generously assigned a #5 preseason ranking by the national media of the Associated Press back in August.   And why not?

LSU’s starting quarterback, Jayden Daniels, had a tremendous junior season in Baton Rouge in leading the Tigers to a 10-2 regular season record and the SEC West title in 2022.   The Tigers lost to eventual national champion, Georgia, in the SEC Championship game.

In 2023, LSU has dropped games to Florida State and Ole Miss.  These 3-2 Tigers somehow have remained in the AP’s poll this week at #23.

I totally disagree with LSU’s current ranking.

In my College Football Top 25 rankings released early this week, I have LSU ranked at #69.

Don’t laugh.

LSU’s best wins this year have come at 2-3 Mississippi State (45-14) and at home against 2-3 Arkansas (34-31).   LSU’s two losses are two more than 22 other major college football teams have after last weekend’s games.

Next up – a very important trip to CoMo!

The correct name of the city is Columbia, Missouri.  Co, MO.  Get it?

It is the home of the surprising 5-0 Missouri Tigers from the SEC East.   The Mizzou Tigers were admitted into the SEC from the Big 12 Conference in 2012.  The Bayou Bengals last trip up to Missouri resulted in a 45-40 loss in 2020.

This Saturday at 11AM on ESPN, the Missouri Tigers football team (rarely seen on national television) will be fired-up as they attempt to become the next squad attempting to run-up the score on LSU’s Swiss cheese defense.

The unbeaten black and gold Missouri Tigers are scoring 32 points per game.   Quarterback Brady Cook and wide receiver Luther Burden are a dynamic passing combination.  The Mizzou defense has allowed just 20 points per outing over the first five games.

The crowd in Missouri will be sky high trying to help their team remain undefeated and move to 6-0 this season.

For LSU to improve to 4-2, though, Louisiana’s Tigers must produce another stellar offensive output.  They must hope that the defense improves after allowing 42 points per game over the previous two weeks.

Why is the LSU defense so pitiful this season? 

Historically, LSU has fielded a better-than-average defensive team for several decades.  Until Joe Burrow came onto the scene a few years ago, the LSU offense was generally a much bigger annual concern for most fans in Baton Rouge.

This year’s 2023 LSU football team has the same defensive coordinator, Matt House, who arrived on the scene along with Head Coach Brian Kelly over a year ago.  After LSU finished 10-2 in the regular season in 2022, perhaps there was not enough attention focused on the Tigers’ defensive needs during the offseason.

In this age of the NCAA Transfer Portal and NIL cash being waved at potential transfers, LSU  had ample opportunities to address any perceived defensive weaknesses for several months.  After last week’s loss at Ole Miss, Coach Brian Kelly acknowledged that the LSU defense has several younger underclassmen who must quickly improve.  More specifically, players need to sharpen their ability to make a tackle.

This week, LSU dusted off an 82-year old long-time defensive coach, Pete Jenkins, to work with the team on its defensive fundamentals.  That could turn out to be a very savvy move.

Basic “old school” tackling techniques are lacking in many high school programs.  Any improvements which Coach Pete Jenkins may impart to help the LSU defense will be a positive.

There has been another recent concern which no one within the LSU program has addressed.

The internet has speculated that LSU’s defensive coordinator, Matt House, is a top candidate for the vacant Michigan State head coaching job after Mel Tucker was fired.  House graduated from Michigan State and began his coaching career at his alma mater, too.

It should not be an excuse to explain the woeful defensive effort against Ole Miss.   It also doesn’t explain the 45 points allowed to Florida State in Week #1 or the 31 points scored by Arkansas in Week #4.

Whether LSU has a shortage of defensive talent (possible) or a problem with the defensive coaching staff and schemes being played (likely), the LSU defense will be the primary reason why this year’s team will either rally down the stretch or fail to live up to preseason expectations.

Can LSU still win the SEC West?

The purple and gold Tigers must win every remaining SEC game beginning Saturday at Missouri to have a chance to finish with only one conference loss in 2023.  After losing to Ole Miss, LSU also must hope that the Rebels don’t finish in a tie for first in the SEC West with the same conference record.  By virtue of its head-to-head win, Ole Miss wins that tie.

After this week’s road game at Mizzou, LSU’s remaining schedule is quite favorable.  There are two consecutive home games in Tiger Stadium against Auburn (October 14) and Army (October 21).  After a week off, the annual game with Alabama will be played in Tuscaloosa on November 4.  The Tigers then return home to finish the regular season with three straight home games against Florida, Georgia State, and Texas A&M.

Let’s say that the Tigers’ defense is able to improve its performance by allowing one fewer touchdown per game for the remainder of the season.  That would mean LSU’s defense would go from allowing 31 points per game to “just” 24 points.  With its stellar offensive firepower, LSU might be able to run the table, finish 10-2, and have a chance to win the SEC West.

Will a more focused and disciplined LSU team show-up Saturday morning at 11AM on ESPN to play against Missouri?

With a hostile crowd at Missouri and LSU’s defense playing its worst in recent decades, don’t bet on it!