Updated: Nov 9, 2021
by LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
Led by DT Neil Farrell Jr's massive impact up front, Butkus Award frontrunner Damone Clark's surgical precision at LB, or Safety Jay Ward's hard-hitting brilliance in coverage, LSU's 2021 defense played their best game of the season at the most unlikely time, against the highest ranked opponent on the Tigers' schedule, and without their most decorated players.
Heading into Tuscaloosa without All-American / elite level NFL talents such as Derek Stingley Jr, Eli Ricks, Andre Anthony, Ali Gaye, Cordale Flott, Sage Ryan, & Major Burns among others, somehow some way, this unexpectedly hard-nosed defense produced a throwback performance, limiting Alabama to only 20 points, 4.9 yards per play (only 0.9 more than LSU's own offense) as well as continuously giving Jake Peetz's offense multiple opportunities to win the game during the 4th quarter.
Holding #2 Alabama's Bill O'Brien offense to just 6 yards rushing, Daronte Jones' defense came out of the gates like eleven heat seeking missiles drunk on plastic explosive.
Although they would later succumb to 302 passing yards by Alabama sophomore QB Bryce Young, LSU's depleted defensive unit did everything possible to win this game.
Forcing 2 fumbles, sacking Young on 4 occasions, racking up 8 tackles for loss, while shutting out Alabama clear until the 3 1/2 minute mark of the 2nd quarter, these Tigers came to play and made everyone proud with their astonishing display of heart, grit, and badass "last man standing" ethos......the very essence of LSU defense.
Here, at long last, was the "violence" our defensive coordinator promised us.
As if we turned back the clock to LSU's John Chavis era, Jones deployed loads of blitzes through the gaps, stunts, creative disguised blitzes all aimed to destabilize the soft center of Alabama's O-line; We witnessed fantastic tackling technique in space, the best we've seen in a single game since the 2019 National Championship Game....all due to being in the right alignment...it was beautiful....but it made me annoyed....
Where was this all season...when we were fully healthy?
Without DBU's two starting corners, and now down backup corner / nickel Cordale Flott, LSU moved Darren Evans out wide and #24 didn't allow an explosive catch all game.
On Stingley's usual flank, sophomore Dwight McGlothern (pictured above) was routinely targeted, allowing 3 catches from 7 targets and 1 TD; though he gave up a few plays, Nudie racked up some truly epic solo tackles out wide, injuring himself in the act of stopping a receiver & forcing a fumble. Earning some big time dues, Nudie taped his ankle up, went back out there for his depleted DBU teammates, and at one point, nearly intercepted a pass when he broke inside on a route.
When Evans needed rotating at corner, before his tendencies would be picked on, junior CB Raydarious Jones delivered 4 tackles & denied his 2 targets any catches.
Alongside Jay Ward, LSU 6th year senior Cam Lewis stepped into the starting spot and had his greatest night as a Tiger. Dealing 6 tackles, 4 as a solo artist, 1 TFL, and a strip sack on Bryce Young, Lewis stepped up and delivered LSU a chance to win the football game.
In his first start since his controversial transfer from Clemson, Mike Jones Jr played his ass off at linebacker, proving to be an effective blitzer by way of 1 Sack, 3 pressures, alongside 2 QB hits.
Why are we just seeing Mike Jones Jr?
That's remarkable....his first start arriving this far into the campaign against Alabama?
The former Clemson National Champion has shut down a Bama offense before, during the 2018 Natonial Championship, and he was strong all game, showing off his calculated bursts of elite pace, through the interior or off the edge.
At strong side DE, where the injured / NFL-bound Ali Gaye once started, 2019 National Champion Soni Fonua enjoyed his second biggest moment & greatest on-field outing as an LSU Tiger, deflecting a Bryce Young pass at the line to go with 2 pressures, 1 QB hit and a pair of solo tackles.
And yes, we pointed out how big time our 3rd, 4th and even 5th team defenders were tonight, however, this performance all began from the "killer" mentality of LSU's defensive spine:
Big Neil Farrell Jr is the MVP of this game, as ESPN's Kirk Herbstreit put it "Neil Farrell has been all over the field tonight", burying Bryce Young for 3 QB hits, 4 pressures, 1 Sack and stuffing plays behind the line of scrimmage for 2.5 TFL; It is without hyperbole I must say, at Tuscaloosa, Farrell Jr had his greatest performance as a Tiger in a season full of his best showings.
Leading the 2019 defensive line in sacks, Neil has been a great Tiger throughout his 6 years at LSU, although it must be said: he's been an electric hellhound this season, punishing QBs, blowing up play after play, pressuring passers, batting passes or disrupting throwing lanes thanks to his long arms & hulking frame, all as he posts 7 tackles for the 3rd game in a row, Farrell's 2021 total of 8.5 TFLs barely even begins to define his chaotic influence.
He has helped his NFL Draft stock immensely through the ravaging madness of 2021, standing up as LSU's top D-lineman of the season and next to Damone Clark, B.J Ojulari or Cordale Flott as one of the Tigers' best overall defenders.
Speaking of which....#18 set Alabama ablaze on Saturday night:
Once again leading the team in tackling, which he's done every game this season, All-American level LB Damone Clark was a machine of terrifying Alabama menace, recording 8 tackles, 3 QB pressures, 2 QB hits, 2 TFL and yet another sack.
Aiding #18's wonderful showing? Clark was allowed to edge rush, and LSU benefited big time from the intensity of his extra pressures.
At the back end, we watched Jay Ward blast receivers over the middle, refusing to allow a catch on 3 targets, including shutting down a would-be touchdown, but then the All-American caliber safety erased Bama QB Bryce Young, destroying him with more potent violence against a QB than we've seen since LSU's 2019 title run.
Spurred on by their veteran spine, buoyed by the athleticism and pace of LSU's 2nd, 3rd or 4th string Tigers, LSU's defense orchestrated a breathtaking show of hunger & heart for all fans.....what was supposed to be a 28 point blowout, suddenly turned into the tightest LSU-Alabama game since 2019.
Our defense were incredible, giving everything they had for the purple and gold, refusing to lie down and let Alabama humiliate us for a second consecutive season;
Those young men, from Ward to Pig Cage, Maason Smith to Nudie McGlothern, Farrell Jr to Raydarious Jones, Damone Clark to Jaquelin Roy, Darren Evans to Mike Jones Jr, they all made 2021's LSU vs Alabama game a spectacular showcase of Tiger Grit & Glory.
Our maligned, criticized, critically injured defense landed on the tarmac mentally ready to come into Bryant-Denny Stadium and, win or lose, put a boot up Alabama's ass.
By LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
Copyright 2021 Uninterrupted Writings Inc
SHOUTOUTS: OUR 2021 DEFENDERS TONIGHT! YOU MADE EVERY FORMER, PRESENT OR FUTURE LSU TIGER DEFENDER PROUD!