Wednesday, September 14, 2011
LSU can lean on defense for a long time
By Edward Aschoff
Through the first two weeks, LSU has proved it doesn’t need star power on offense to get the job done.
In fact, the second-ranked Tigers haven’t needed much offense at all as it has relied on its high-flying, dominant defense.
Against Oregon’s flashy juggernaut of an offense, LSU’s defense surrendered 335 total yards, but allowed just 95 on the ground. The Tigers also got a defensive touchdown and forced four turnovers. Last week against Northwestern State, the Tigers allowed just 95 yards, including -4 rushing.
The Tigers have one of the fastest, most athletic defenses in the country and while the offense hasn’t been tremendously exciting to look at, it might not have to be this season.
LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne said the defense has done what has been expected. It doesn’t need a high-powered offense at its side to be effective. All this defense does is focus on its play and the players understand that everything else will fall into place as long as they are hitting their assignments.
LSU's defense has limited opponents to just 91 yards on the ground so far this season.
“We know what we can do as a team,” Claiborne said. “As a defense, we come out, we fly around and we make plays.”
Fly around they have and make plays they’ll continue to do. But playing so physical up front has been a major reason for the Tigers’ success. Those rushing numbers from before can be hard for offensive coaches to stomach, but LSU’s linemen take pride in their carnage.
After all, this unit did lose the likes of Drake Nevis and Lazarius Levingston from the interior.
“We’re just trying to be physical and dominant this year,” sophomore defensive tackle Michael Brockers said. “We’re trying to fill in those gaps that Nevis left and Levingston left and show what we have. It’s time to show the world who we are.”
People have seen … and they’re scared.
But can the defense continue to be the backbone of this team? Well, it’s not as if LSU hasn’t dealt with the defense overshadowing the offense before. Last season, LSU surrendered just 307 offensive yards a game, while generating just 341 of its own. And how about 2008? That year, the Tigers won the national championship with a defense that allowed 288 yards a game and an offense that pounded the ball and was pretty average through the air.
Sounds familiar, but things could be changing for LSU’s offense.
The offense was more efficient against Northwestern State -- as it should have been -- but coach Les Miles was happy with the growth from Week 1 to Week 2. LSU increased its offensive outage from 273 yards against the Ducks to 400 last Saturday. A week after Jarrett Lee threw for just 98 total yards, he and Zach Mettenberger combined for 225 yards and two touchdowns.
The running game was solid as well. After the Tigers pounded the Ducks for 175 yards and three touchdowns on the ground, LSU hit that number again and registered five touchdowns from its stable of running backs.
The Tigers haven’t been extravagant offensively, but their methodical approach has worked.
“We would like to be balanced, period,” Miles said of the offense.
“We’re confident that we can throw it and run it. That is really what we want to accomplish.”
Wide receiver Rueben Randle, who enjoyed a five-catch, 121-yard outing against Northwestern State, said the offense expanded more in the second week and expects the playbook to open up more Thursday against Mississippi State and beyond.
He isn’t worried about the low offensive numbers (LSU ranks ninth in the league with 336.5 yards per game) because he’s confident the coaches will start letting the passing game fly more as the trust builds.
Should the Tigers’ really worry about the offense? Their defense is giving up 215 yards a game and has sent two offenses home banged up and bruised. More offensive production would be nice, but it isn’t a necessity.
For now, the Tigers will lean on their defense and the only people who should be worried are their opponents.