LSU's D sets its own blistering pace

August, 31, 2011
8/31/11
9:26
AM ET
Everybody talks about Oregon’s speed and explosiveness.

The Ducks are fast, and they play even faster. When a lot of teams are just trying to catch their breath at critical junctures in the second half, Oregon is trying to figure out a way to squeeze in a few more offensive plays.

“If you let them get on a roll, they’re usually going to run you into the ground,” LSU senior safety Brandon Taylor said.

The Tigers’ defenders are confident they can match the Ducks’ speed on the field. LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis thinks this might be the fastest defense he’s ever coached.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Taylor
John Reed/US PresswireSlowing down Oregon's offense will be important for Brandon Taylor (15) and LSU.
It’s not just in the secondary, either.

“We’ve got defensive ends who run like they should be playing back there with us,” said Taylor, entering his third season as LSU’s starting strong safety. “I think we match up with these guys in speed.

“What it’s going to come down to is making sure we get our plays in and getting lined up on time.”

LSU geared a portion of its offseason conditioning program to handling Oregon’s blistering offensive pace and actually worked against two different scout teams. That way, the defense was always working against a fresh offense that was at the line and ready to snap the ball as soon as the last play ended.

One of the other things Taylor says this LSU defense has going for it is a keen understanding of Chavis’ system, not to mention a deep bench. This is Chavis’ third season in Baton Rouge, and if the preseason was any indication, Taylor said this defense will be the Tigers’ most proficient yet.

“We know this defense inside and out now,” Taylor said. “There’s no hesitating on this defense. If you’re out there hesitating and playing slow, you’re going to get pulled, and the next man behind you is going to be in there.

“We’ve all seen what happens if you hesitate against Oregon. You better hit them before they hit you.”

The Tigers have worn out the game tape from last season’s BCS National Championship Game.

Oregon averaged 303.8 yards rushing in its first 12 games last season, but was held to 75 yards on the ground against Auburn in the championship game.

“Auburn’s front seven did a great job of pursuing up the field and tackling the backs and quarterbacks,” Taylor said. “If you don’t tackle these guys, they’re going to break a long one.”

Nobody in college football was better last season than Oregon at scoring from long distance. Oregon tied with Auburn nationally for the most touchdown plays of 25 yards or longer (27).

The Ducks’ 45 touchdown drives of two minutes or less last season were nine more than the No. 2 team nationally. Boise State had 36.

“It’s an offense that commands your attention every snap,” Chavis said.

One of the best things the Tigers did on defense last season was keep teams out of the end zone. They finished 11th nationally in scoring defense. They also led the SEC and tied for eighth nationally in forced turnovers (32).

What the Tigers didn’t do as well was eliminate the big play, and it caught up with them in their two losses.

In fact, three big plays in particular might have cost them a shot at the national championship. In the Auburn game, Cam Newton scored on a 49-yard touchdown run, and Onterio McCalebb broke a tie game in the fourth quarter with a 70-yard touchdown run.

Then in the regular-season finale against Arkansas -- and with Taylor sidelined after injuring his leg against Alabama -- the Hogs hit the Tigers with an 80-yard touchdown pass on the final play of the first half.

If that wasn’t enough, Arkansas also scored on touchdown passes of 85 and 39 yards in that contest.

Taylor’s absence was a huge blow, and Chavis said the LSU defense also was never the same after end Sam Montgomery went down with a knee injury at the midway point of the season.

“We’re all ready to go now, back to 100 percent,” Taylor said. “I feel like I’m faster than I was last year.”

The Tigers also get another shot at a spread offense after being shredded for 440 rushing yards by Auburn and Newton last season in that 24-17 loss on the Plains. It’s the most rushing yards ever allowed by LSU.

“That’s a game we didn’t tackle well in, so we know what can happen if we don’t get guys on the ground when we have a chance to make a play,” Taylor said.

Chavis likes to play his “Mustang” package, which makes an already fast LSU defense even faster with six defensive backs on the field.

A former safety, Karnell Hatcher, is also playing some at middle linebacker for the Tigers.

“We’ve got enough depth that we’re going to be able to rotate players in,” Taylor said. “We know they’re going to keep coming at us, but we’re going to keep coming at them with a lot of fresh legs.”

Chris Low | email

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