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INSIDE THE #'S: DBU ISSUES, GROWING PAINS OR THE WRONG PERSONNEL?

Updated: Sep 28, 2023

By LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN


DBU is under massive fire after its disjointed, at times ghastly, and always porous start to the 2023 season: surrendering 228 passing yards per game, 9 TDs caught vs our DBs, 901 total receiving yards from 70 receptions, just below 13 yards per catch, and an average of 3.0 aerial touchdowns suffered per game.

Many are looking for Tigers to single out & blame in order to justify their replacement. The DBs they're looking to replace are the Tigers DBs Coaches Robert Steeples and Kerry Cooks trusted the most through 4 games: transfer corners Zy Alexander and Duce Chestnutt, with specific emphasis on Alexander.

Zy Alexander

While Chestnutt hasn't had the best of starts to life as a Tiger (getting picked on badly in the 2nd half vs Florida State), Duce produces aesthetically pleasing plays that hide more of his rougher edges.

Duce grabbed an awesome interception on his LSU debut vs Florida State (set up by Greg Brooks Jr's frenzied pressure & QB hit), although outside of assisting a few tackles for loss (including this past Saturday, slowing down KJ Jefferson at the feet), Chestnutt has struggled (9 targets, 7 grabs, 1 TD vs FSU, 1 INT vs FSU, alongside 0's for PBUs or forced incompletions).

Still, Alexander remains the chief culprit of the fanbase's ire:

A lot of talk radio and podcasts are bombing away at the transfer from Southeastern, barking about his lack of SEC experience, and much of it is impossible to argue.....yet, there is something intriguing about Alexander's 2023 season that makes me wonder:

A nonstop yin and yang that hints at a higher caliber cornerback or a complete bust....a player who shows promise but just can't play with any of the required consistency to make it happen so far....

Alexander's stats are a lot of next level data utilized in a non-biased context to give you a fuller (easy on the Pepsi) picture:

Overall: 20 targets (most on the team), 11 receptions allowed (also #1), 218 yards (also #1), 2 TDs surrendered (#1), 87 yards after catch allowed (#2 by 2 yards), 3 passes broken up (tied for #1), 3 forced incompletions (#1), 1 INT (tied for #1), giving up 19.8 yards per reception (#1) from 12.6 average depth of target (1st for defenders with more than 5 targets), and a 55.0% completion rating (lowest among LSU defenders with more than 5 targets).

In reality, Zy Alexander actually played his best game of 2023 on Saturday vs Arkansas, facing 5 targets, allowing 2 catches, intercepting 1 pass and breaking up another; Additionally, the 2023 transfer lowered his allowed completion percentage from a 2023-best 55.6% down to 40% vs the Razorbacks.

Still, the big plays hurt #24 and undid a lot of his hard work throughout the night: both catches on Zy went for 1st down yardage, but the real backbreaker arrived on Hasz's 59-yard TD, generated due to his busted coverage which accounted for the majority of his 73 total yards allowed.....eyes lingering towards the QB as his body edged forward, right as Hasz broke his route long into empty space down the sideline.

Overall, now having seen all sides, the good, bad and the heinous, #24 is beginning to wake up, displaying more reaction to the ball, in addition to an INT, Alexander supplied a crucial PBU while being the only Tiger to generate a forced incompletion.

Should we see young, raw but elite skilled corners LT Welch or Ashton Stamps given an opportunity to take hold of Zy's starting job???

Freshman CB Ashton Stamps

I think both Welch and Stamps need to be given some kind of opportunity vs Ole Miss (Welch: 11 snaps, 0 targets; Stamps: 14 snaps, 5 targets, 0 catches allowed, 1 Forced Incompletion, 1 PBU); Against Kiffin's squad, we're up against a pair of 300+ yard receivers, and a more dynamic offensive attack than Arkansas....a team that sliced and diced our secondary with intermediary throws, before gassing our front late on the ground until we gave up over 400 yards.

So.....who are DBU's top performers through 4 weekends?? Or have we even seen them play yet?

Greg Brooks Jr was definitively our best performing and most valuable defensive back at the time his brain tumor was discovered, but in his absence, one of the names we constantly hear as a top performer is Andre Sam.

Andre Sam (#14)

While Sam has popped off the screen far more frequently than Alexander and made more eye catching plays, Alexander and Sam produced nearly the same exact coverage numbers, all while Alexander faced 6 more targets than Sam....a fact which should spin the heads of any Tiger fan who thought they'd just found DBU's purple and gold lining.

-14 targets (2nd behind Zy's 20)

-9 catches allowed (2nd behind Zy's 11 / tied with Burns)

-167 yards (2nd to Zy's 218)

-18.6 avg (2nd to Zy's 19.8)

-64.3% (completion allowed %)

(Zy lower at 55%)

-130 Coverage Snaps (Zy at 129)

-89 YAC (Zy at 87 YAC)

-1 TD allowed (Zy at 2 scores given up).


So....what I'm trying to say is......

2023 DBU are going through adjustments, bad moments, poor performances, a few individual displays that make you beat your chest, but mostly a pathetic far cry from where we should be.....and it's all due to the big picture lack of depth at the position, a devolution established by former DBU impresario Corey Raymond's putrid recruiting cycles between 2021 & 2022 (just 2 total CBs signed by Raymond from both classes combined, only 1 still on roster), a problem that was massively compounded when LSU lost Stingley, Ricks, Flott, McGlothern, and Evans all during the span of a month and a half to the NFL or the portal (all were underclassmen).
For the past 2 seasons, LSU were forced to place transfer portal bandaids on the depth issue and hoped for the best, getting solid results at major points in 2022....but weren't we asking these same questions at this point last fall, too?
Or is DBU in a far more uncertain spot due to their youth, inexperience and lack of proven players at corner, nickel, and to a lesser degree at safety???
Are we playing the versatile guys in the right places? For example, are we getting the best out of Sage Ryan at nickel?

I don't think so.

In fact, a swap with Sam (Andre down to nickel, Sage Ryan moves back to his original position of safety) might be just what this defense needs.

Could Javien Toviano press pause on his safety development and go back to corner for 2023??

Denver Harris

Is Denver Harris settled and solid as one of two starting cornerbacks, despite allowing 5 catches from 5 targets this past week (as well as his 2nd touchdown over just 3 starting appearances and 88 coverage snaps)?

Will debutant DB Ryan Yaites' snap count continue to climb at nickel as well as safety?

Could lengthy freshman corner Jeremiah Hughes get an opportunity after a few asskicking tackles on special teams? His athletic build and range is something that's missing within DBU's current set up.

I believe it's time for Steeples & Cooks to find out who they've got....throw 'em out there, mix and match the strengths of this lineup with the needs we're missing:

Right now, DBU lacks true playmakers who can battle through the hands of a top receiver, they don't possess the length to hang with 'em aerially, they haven't shown the aggression required to dominate, and just true top tier talent....you cannot deny that when you see how fearful our secondary formations are.......corners lined up 10 yards back on every play....soft coverage to the tenth degree, nearly a damn prevent defense....

.....That's how worried Steeples and Cooks are of letting receivers and quarterbacks beat them over the top or in behind.....

It's either keep everything in front, allowing solid offenses to drive up and down the field on us, hoping we'll stiffen up inside the red zone or play man coverage and get eviscerated like Keon Coleman on repeat....

So.....what could go wrong if DBU were to change the equation completely, by introducing new personnel housing different skill sets, potentially finding the right mixture at the back????

...it can't be worse than what we're doing....and if I'm accurate concerning LSU history, then there's a high probability one or two defense-changing players are actually standing right on our sideline....biding their time for a shot.


By LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN

©️ 2023 Uninterrupted Writings Inc, a subsidiary of Uninterrupted Media LLC

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Lonn Phillips Sullivan
Lonn Phillips Sullivan
Sep 28, 2023

LSUOdyssey incorrectly listed LSU's passing yards per game at 328 per game. It was a simple typo, this was 228 per game, 912 total over 4 games.

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This really outlines the uncertainty surrounding our defensive backfield. I am beginning to think these db coaches are part of the problem. They have seen these guys for long enough. They are afraid to play the really young talent, they are uncertain where to place the more experienced players, and they are letting the offenses dictate play because they are playing so passively and reacting. Our offense will win some games, but I still see this as a mid level SEC team. I love our Tigers, but that’s what I see so far.

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Lonn Phillips Sullivan
Lonn Phillips Sullivan
Sep 27, 2023
Replying to

But also, as you said, what worries me and what we wrote about and you deduced from your reading, watching, thinking and feeling, it's hard to say THAT'S the #1 guy with anyone among our secondary right now.

We had that in Greg Brooks Jr....I wasn't always sold on him until his performance vs Alabama last year and Florida State this season solidified him as the best defender on the team this season so far alongside Mekhi Wingo and Greg Penn III.

He was so impressive.

Now.....it's hard to say Major is, because he gets devoured in big moments and I think it's messing with him right now, even tho he racks up tackles, he's missing all over.

We simply…

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