by LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
The transformation of Daronte Jones' 2021 LSU defense is a marvel to behold, from an off-season of promise & hype to a dreadful start of dismay..... before a wall of endless injuries took their toll, whispers of opt outs or transfers abounded, and then, finally, historic redemption against the best opponents when everyone least expected it.
The wild ride began with an amateur hour beat down from Chip Kelly's UCLA, a combination of running game weaknesses & an inability to cover a TE buried LSU at the Rose Bowl in brand-damaging fashion;
After a few gimme games, our defense opened the meat of our schedule by making Auburn QB Bo Nix & Kentucky QB Will Levis both look like Johnny Manziel, being massacred in the same manner as we'd seen across 2020, recalling Bo Pelini's worst of all time unit.
With meetings against Alabama, Florida, A&M etc on the horizon, it seemed as if there could be no escape from mediocrity this season.
Even after surprising signs @ Mississippi State, this group played scared, appeared stressed, distracted, and were schemed into fear; there were no blitzes, just predictable four man rushes up front from the same 4-3 alignment every time;
Despite avoiding many of the same 2020 pitfalls, the level of talent on the field stood in stark contrast to the spineless stature of their coaching on the sidelines.
Then, LSU's defense lost one elite player, one team leader, one All-American after another in what became a catastrophic injury spell:
Both All-American and future top 10 NFL Draft pick CBs Derek Stingley Jr and Eli Ricks as well as LSU's two starting DEs Andre Anthony & Ali Gaye were knocked out for the season within a week; then, starting safety Major Burns, senior safety Todd Harris, freshman 5 star DB Sage Ryan (2 apps.) all experienced lingering issues which kept a substantial bulk of their seasons on hold, while DT Joseph Evans opted out to pursue a potential (though still unconfirmed) music career, freshman DE Landon Jackson opted to undergo ACL surgery on a high school injury, and finally senior DL Glen Logan could only muster 2 appearances all season due to a toe problem.
That's only counting the injuries which knocked players out for 5+ games....we didn't even count Jay Ward missing 3 straight games early on due to a concussion, Cordale Flott getting knocked out for the Alabama & Ole Miss games....the in-game injuries Neil Farrell Jr and Micah Baskerville battled through...
It was historic depletion....desecration....desolation....
It appeared the very fabric of LSU Football was tearing apart at the seams; the brand was now under attack....Would LSU's traditionally superb defenses become a relic of the past, following a pair of heinous seasons?
Though our team would have all the excuses in the world to fold, losing so many leaders & key Tigers, Defensive Coordinator Daronte Jones regrouped after his defense displayed a gritty effort at home vs Florida. Regardless of the fact they allowed 42 points, LSU's key leaders stepped up.
Based around a spine of DT Neil Farrell Jr, LB Damone Clark and Safety Jay Ward, Daronte Jones molded this unit back into what they should've been all year.
Finally free from Coach Ed Orgeron's defensive front meddling, Daronte Jones was now able to dial up exotic 3 man fronts and mix in his Zimmer-esque philosophies at the back-end, all of which is dependent on the front 7's ability to change into multiple alignments, obviously; This was, of course, a philosophy the 4-3 obsessed Orgeron was vehemently opposed to in the weeks prior.
No wonder Orgeron's firing coincides with the rise of Daronte Jones' defense.
Finally free from these shackles, over the past month & a half, LSU's hungry, but depleted defenders have been a blistering theater of doom against the SEC's top offenses:
From limiting & brutalizing Alabama QB Bryce Young, shutting down Saban's running game to a staggering 6 total yards, while becoming the first team to hold the Tide under 31 points in 36 games, halting Florida's top 5 rushing attack to their season low (no Gators rusher totaling above 40 yards), and most recently blasting Arkansas' ground attack from their 244 yards per game average down to 141, all as Razorbacks' QB K.J Jefferson's passing arm could only muster one more yard through the air....
The numbers are impressive....however, the trash talking, in your face, kick your ass mentality we've witnessed from every single member of this unit is a throwback revelation every Tiger can enjoy.
Throughout their greatest campaigns wearing purple & gold, 2019 title-winning veterans Jay Ward, DT Neil Farrell Jr, and linebacker Damone Clark made themselves superstars for their take no prisoners, legion of pain theatrics across 2021, all backed up by their calculated, elite-level play vs bitter rivals Florida & Alabama.
Although these veterans paved the way, these three weren't the only 2019 mainstays, fringe squadmen or future stars who contributed to LSU's recent turnaround.
Senior LB Micah Baskerville rose from the shadows of 2018-2020 with one assured display after another, pushing Damone Clark as the team's top tackler for back to back campaigns. Micah has set himself up as a late round Draft pick boasting a hell of a lot of experience and confidence.
In the absence of Stingley and Ricks, CB Cordale Flott has made himself yet another star of DBU, sending his name among the top coverage men of 2021 by way of his scandalously great performances vs Miss St, Auburn, UCLA, and most recently Arkansas this past weekend, among other memorable showings.
Once a backup and symbol of future DBU promise, Houston-born CB Dwight "Nudie" McGlothern started his 7th game in a row vs Arkansas, fast becoming a seasoned Tiger. Though Nudie started the season on the injury list, missing UCLA and McNeese, McGlothern found his first major reps vs Central Michigan. The next week, Dwight was suddenly forced to start the rest of 2021 when Derek Stingley Jr went down.
The DBU Superstar responded with pure greatness, including a pick six vs Florida, a forced fumble vs Arkansas, strong tackling in space, plus elite coverage ratings when facing top opposition (leading all Tigers in PBUs with 5).
After Dwight's trial by fire as LSU's starting corner, McGlothern now possesses a season of experience starting vs SEC competition.....
McGlothern hasn't had it all his way, surrendering a couple TDs and some catches, however, this near-pressure free runout at CB is an opportunity he wouldn't have had the chance to experience without an injury to at least one of Stingley or Ricks.
Safety Cam Lewis stepped up at nickel, before returning to his natural safety position when Major Burns was knocked out for an indeterminable length of time. Ever since the move, Lewis continues to wreak havoc, enjoying the greatest Tiger performances of his career, exhibiting a strong all-around game, and a new-found penchant for creating turnovers, such as his strip-sack on Bryce Young deep into the second half of a narrow loss @ Alabama.
Elsewhere, we've seen sophomore DL B.J Ojulari & Jaquelin Roy rise up on the front, combining for 13.5 TFL, 2 fumble recoveries, 1 forced fumble & 6.5 sacks. Freshman DL Maason Smith had his own 3 sack game ("sacktrick") vs McNeese earlier in the year, another sack against Florida, and looks to be a madman in the future. Freshman nickel Sage Ryan belonged as a debutant starter at DBU, more than holding his own out there across his only 2 appearances.
Even Clemson transfer LB Mike Jones Jr proceeded to grab a sack vs Alabama when starting for the first time all year, looking like a pretty damn good addition to the team.........suddenly, a curiosity arises: "Why wasn't this guy playing a good portion of reps all year?"
So many of these issues derive from the same reason why LSU only blitzed 7% of the time before the past few games.....
After weeks of hell under the thumb of a mindless, careless, reckless Head Coach loose & out of date at the wheel, Daronte Jones has finally regained control of his own squad, now able to deploy defensive fronts in the manner he first designed, now able to take chances with blitzes, finally able to utilize the Tigers' multi-faceted athleticism / versatile playmaking ability across the board, 4-5 men deep at each position.....as has been proven over the past few games.
Win or lose....mostly lose, without LSU's defensive transcendence, even in the face of defeat, this team would be unwatchable, thanks to their offensive ineptitude under two different quarterbacks.
Instead, these defenders are displaying heart, courage, fight, and most of all, elite playmaking to back up the on-field trash talk, whipping players to the ground, throwing ball-carriers away like they were used condom wrappers, violently blasting QBs or WRs with primeval force....they hated Alabama...they wanted to go Gator hunting....they wanted revenge on Mike Leach....and they had no problem letting everyone know about it.
And we fucking love it.
This group, led by Daronte Jones, accomplished what the 2019 defense wasn't able to pull off:
A string of performances replicating an authentic and complete throwback to the 2010-2011 era of LSU defense.....and the fact they pulled off the turnaround without seven starters for 3/4 of the season is beyond remarkable.......it speaks to supernatural Tiger vibes....
Because of their undying grit & unbelievable performances, this 2021 LSU defense will be remembered........not just by their teammates, coaches or the fans, but by the opponents who still feel the impact of their stone cold violence...
Even more, this moment seems far heftier than a past throwback....it feels like the start of something special on the defensive side of the ball.
LSU DEFENSIVE STATS:
INTs: 7 INTs
DEF. TDs: 2
-LSU have 4x players with 8.0+ TFLs: Damone Clark (10), Neil Farrell Jr (8.5), B.J Ojulari (8.5) and Micah Baskerville (8.0).
UGA's defense do not have a single player with more than 7.0
-UGA's defense only have 4.5 more sacks than LSU (35.5)
-UGA's defense have the same amount of FF & FR as LSU
By LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
Copyright 2021 Uninterrupted Writings Inc
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