BATON ROUGE, La. – LSU’s media sites and blogosphere are already loaded with analysis about new defensive coordinator Dave Aranda.
What makes him special? And how will Aranda’s coaching style mesh with the talent already on the Tigers’ roster?
We posed those questions and more to ESPN Big Ten writer Jesse Temple, who gained an up-close understanding of Aranda’s methods while covering his teams at Wisconsin. Here is what Temple had to say:
Wisconsin’s defensive stats under Aranda were impressive. Why were those defenses so effective?
Temple: Players praised Aranda for his ability to put them in position to succeed on the field. Part of that was Aranda maximizing his team's strengths, but the other part was having the confidence to know he could drastically change the way Wisconsin's defense operated. He immediately moved from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4, and the focus was always on using athleticism to pressure quarterbacks and confuse opposing offenses.
It really took into his second year at Wisconsin in 2014 for Aranda to have the type of players he wanted for the scheme. Aranda tried to disguise which players might blitz and which might drop into coverage, and his teams generally won that game-within-the-game battle. He had only one first-team all-Big Ten player in 2015 -- linebacker Joe Schobert -- but his defense showed the whole was greater than the sum of its parts.
There is lots of talk about Aranda’s intelligence and ability to communicate complex ideas. Did you sense that was a strength from speaking with him and Wisconsin’s players?
Temple: I have spoken to a number of players and former coaches, and this is generally one of the first things mentioned about what separates Aranda from others in the business. He obviously has one of the great football minds in the college game right now and still maintains a stack of notebooks with plays and ideas that he's acquired from years as an assistant. But, really, what good is acquiring all that knowledge without the ability to share such wisdom in easily digestible bites for his players?
Also, Aranda isn't afraid to listen to his players’ ideas. Wisconsin cornerback Darius Hillary told me that before the Minnesota game that some guys in the secondary asked Aranda about allowing the cornerbacks to be more aggressive so the safeties could play more over the top. Two days later, Aranda installed a coverage based specifically on his players' feedback. Wisconsin intercepted three passes against Minnesota.
How big a loss was this for Wisconsin?
Temple: Huge. During Aranda's three seasons at Wisconsin, the Badgers ranked first nationally in total defense, second in scoring defense, third in passing defense and fourth in rushing defense. No matter who replaces Aranda, those numbers will be almost impossible to beat. At the same time, Wisconsin has a history of putting together some really solid defenses, even before Aranda arrived. Pretty much everyone around the program knew Wisconsin was on borrowed time with Aranda, who deserved the opportunity to move up the coaching ladder.
Badgers head coach Paul Chryst said he will keep the 3-4 defense established under Aranda because it best fits the team's personnel. Wisconsin returns seven starters on defense in 2016, so the Badgers should still be good. But not having Aranda in team meeting rooms will hurt because he was so beloved by players. Linebacker Vince Biegel said on multiple occasions -- quite seriously, too -- that he would take a bullet for Aranda. Players felt much respect and admiration for everything Aranda did.
While introducing Aranda last week, Les Miles discussed how difficult it was to scheme against the Badgers’ defense in 2014 because of the unconventional things they did. How well do you think that style will translate to the SEC?
Temple: I don't have any concerns about Aranda's defensive style working in the SEC. When he became Hawaii's defensive coordinator in 2010, the team led the nation in turnovers caused (38). When he went to Utah State, his defense ranked eighth in the country in scoring defense. He had no trouble moving from the Mountain West to the Big Ten.
Yes, the SEC is considered the strongest league in the country, and the SEC West can be especially daunting. But no matter where Aranda has been, he has found a way to excel. And let's not forget the talent he'll work with at LSU will be as good as he has seen. He'll likely be able to take advantage of two key elements -- speed and pressure -- more than ever before.
There are typically growing pains under new coordinators as players become accustomed to a new style. LSU is playing with its third defensive coordinator in three seasons. Should fans expect a smooth transition with Aranda taking over the defense this year?
Temple: That's hard to say, given that Aranda hasn't even been there long enough for spring football to start. Aranda obviously is motivated to succeed, and he is excellent at getting players to buy in. He isn't afraid to merge some of the old with the new to ease the transition. In his first season at Wisconsin in 2013, he relied on some of the base defense principles from the previous staff because it best fit those players. The Badgers ranked in the top 20 in all four major defensive categories that season. He'll do what's best for the team.