Updated: May 23
#1. BO PELINI'S JAW
Possessing one of the most talented (and deepest) secondaries in LSU history, with the right amount of experience and injection of youth to compliment each other along our front seven, this 2020 LSU defense is poised to take its place among the greatest to ever step foot upon the field at Death Valley....and it's no coincidence these stars all aligned within the torrential excitement of Bo Pelini's re-hiring.
Like a seasoned bounty hunter of the wild west, Bo Pelini has returned to claim what's rightfully his:
The keys to the LSU defense, another national title, a season of pestilence and plague upon the entirety of CFB offenses, led by turnover-causing, teeth-removing, bone-replacing masters of mayhem.....
....and finally at long last, a full acknowledgement of his fingerprints all over our modern DBU / NFLU greatness as a defensive powerhouse...
In true Pelini fashion, his first demand upon signing (reported here first)?
Coach Orgeron to schedule Nebraska as soon as possible...
The Godfather is back thanks to an offer he couldn't refuse and it's high time we evened the score.
While LSU's defense hovered around the Top 25 overall and allowed a respectable 21 points per game in 2019 (only allowing 5 TDs of consequence over the final four games, including #4 Oklahoma, #3 Georgia and #2 Clemson) Dave Aranda's much-maligned defense maintained their bend but don't break model as they won a national title.
While battling against our own offense's deliberately blistering pace or the rigid predictability of Aranda's scheme, if it weren't for guys such as Grant Delpit or Derek Stingley Jr continuously responding by forcing a turnover....if it weren't for Queen, Chaisson or Lawrence making shoestring tackles on the open edge, barreling through a double team for a huge sack or forcing teeth-pulling incompletions, then 2019 LSU would've been up to their necks in savage basketball scores every Saturday.
While individuals (such as the men listed above) broke free from the boundaries of Aranda's system, collectively we were more of a multi-faceted nuisance than the all-encompassing "Daniel Day-Lewis as Dirty Harry" pulse of Pelini D.
Like swapping Miles Davis for Jimi Hendrix or Joe Exotic for Joe Pesci, Metallica over the Bee Gees, Queens of the Stone Age in lieu of ABBA, we've traded the smooth subtleties of Dave Aranda's Hall and Oates proclivities for Bo Pelini's Heavy Metal Church of Bludgeoning:
If Dave Aranda was the Prince of LSU defensive coordinators...then Bo Pelini is undoubtedly our Lemmy Kilmeister...
The Aranda era reached its culmination during our 2016-18 seasons, producing high NFL Draft picks with the same frequency in which Florida fires their coaches or Ohio State bails on their players for getting tattoos...
Still, we couldn't help the feeling there was always something missing:
Amassing a surprisingly low 11.5 sacks from the true defensive linemen within our squad (38 as a defense), the Tigers weren't gathering enough pressure up the gut to alter a high octane offense's game plan, as could be seen from Aranda's bizarre leverage tweaking and constant shuffle of substitutions:
Instead of trying everything we could to limit any points whatsoever, due to the frequency of offensive drives and our rising list of injuries to defensive kingpins, Aranda's mission became simple enough:
Don't let them score 35 or more...
Allowing 37 points to Ole Miss, 38 to Texas and Vanderbilt, 41 to Alabama, 21 in a half to Florida freshman Kyle Trask...
Sure, in a campaign where Joe Burrow's never-ending quest for touchdowns led the charge and wore out our defense in record time, Aranda's message became a tired experiment on a unit adorned with personnel crying out for more freedom to attack as they saw fit.
The 3-4 is a perfect system... if the linebackers were the only strength of the 2019 LSU defense....yet this was far from true...(to the point Aranda began using a 4-3 / 3-4 hybrid formation with K'Lavon as the wild card off the edge).
Our 2019 defense was empirically stacked...as deep and as robust as our 2019 offense: we just lacked the presence and masterstroke of a coach willing to concede his philosophy for victory, failing to adjust his system to the personnel.
LSU's defense scored 3 touchdowns in the Aranda era (0 last year) while the Pelini era registered 6 TDs in three years, 47 INTs, and the most eye-popping stat, 76.5 sacks from defensive linemen compared to the 48.5 in Aranda's 4 seasons, (at least 20+ sacks per season from D-linemen alone in each Pelini season).
Statistically, these two defensive eras may match up fine on paper...however, the devil is in the remarkable details:
For every TFL in the Pelini era, you could always count on a forced fumble to follow right on its heels...and for every fourth sack, an INT followed...the same cannot be said for the Aranda defense.
Though we totaled a prominent number of turnovers, our defense's primary role in winning games was at an apex during the Bo Pelini era....and for that judgement we need no numbers, no analytical yayas to exorcise:
2007's 23 interceptions also ranks as the most in LSU's history, besting 2003's 21....all thanks to the principles of Pelini's defensive philosophy: aggression, multiplicity and execution, the prime example being Pelini's last stand in January 2008.
Blocked field goals, interceptions and relentless full-frontal pressure handed Les Miles the one and only title of his tenure and set Bo Pelini apart as a defensive genius...whether he agrees on the "G word" or not.
The startling fact remains:
Even when you include Aranda's extra season of 15 additional games, Bo's three seasons totaled a higher number of turnovers, sacks, TFL, and defensive touchdowns during those bombastic years...yes the digits aren't everything, titles are...but Pelini has that to back him up in the performances as well:
What we saw from our expansive film study of the Pelini defenses of 2005-2007 was a dedicated, concerted, heat-seeking collective goal to wreak as much havoc, chaotic disruption and violent discipleship as possible.
In 40 games, Pelini's players created 4 official shutouts, 8 games of allowing 3 points or less, sixteen games of giving up 10 points or less, twenty six instances where LSU held teams under 20, and on only one bizarre occasion did LSU ever lose a game in which Pelini's defense held a team under 10 (7-3 #3 Auburn, 2006) for a 34-6 overall record during his tenure at LSU. His teams only surrendered in excess of 30 points on five occasions, most notably during our tragic 34-14 SEC Title game loss to Georgia in 2005 (we relive this dramatic crossroads in LSU history in a new article on lsuodyssey.com).
There's a direct correlation between the Pelini Era's decadent play and LSU victories.....which should make sense, right?
Turnovers, sacks, TFL, and defensive scores should always indicate wins over losses, right?
Despite their near level numbers, the Aranda era's offensive hibernation (and the current Baylor coach's refusal to adapt his scheme to LSU's personnel) meant only 19% of those plays ended in LSU victory during 2016-2019.
Instead, the turnovers, sacks and TFL throughout the Pelini era explicitly won games for the Tigers at a higher margin than the primal Star Power / NFL Draft eroticism of the Aranda years.
Regardless, I stand behind Dave Aranda's success at LSU no matter what anyone, including my own emotional catharsis, has to say.
Aranda was imperative for LSU: without him, we don't win the 2019 title...but he's Kenny Loggins...
Pelini has been Raging Against the f*#&#*g machine all his life...
LSU is not an 80s movie school starring Kevin Bacon....
For the feint of heart or those unaware of his Billy Gibbons-esque reputation, Pelini's defensive philosophy can be best summed up in two words: Violent integrity.
I'm going to get crucified for the next line, but I don't care...it's my job to shine a light on the dark truths which set us free:
Since the 2019 LSU Tigers' defense were so used to their specific roles and became automatically accustomed to widely-accepted reverence, I don't think their rightfully earned egos would've survived the Pelini era...these were veterans like Rashard Lawrence, Grant Delpit, Michael Divinity, Jacob Phillips, Kristian Fulton....some of my favorite defensive players in LSU history who more than earned the right to dictate the end of their Tiger careers on their own terms, on the field, as stone cold champions....
Still, their personalities would've clashed severely under the sabertooth scrutiny of Bo Pelini...which is why I feel the re-hire of the Super Bowl Champion assistant was probably made known to all juniors or sophomores...however this is mere speculation.
The right guys stayed, Kerry Vincent, Todd Harris, Jacoby Stevens as the unquestioned leader, Tyler Shelvin, Andre Anthony, (converted TE) T.K McClendon and Glen Logan along the front.
Then there's the guys who were coming back anyway:
Shutdown corners Derek Stingley Jr, Cordale Flott, rangey / somewhat unproven DBs Jay Ward and Raydarious Jones, LBs Damone Clark, Marcel Brooks, Ray Thornton, Devonta Lee (WR in 2019) and Micha Baskerville all resume their spots on roster, embracing Pelini's new formations and strategies already.
Grant Delpit's instincts cannot be replaced...watching Chaisson off the edge is simply something special, Patrick Queen seemed to just be realizing his potential as a linebacker in a season where he was a 1st Round Draft lock...but in our nonstop pursuit of excalibur personnel, I believe Pelini will coach these kids up and over the bar.
He knows what he should be seeing from his two safeties in his 4-3 defense, and while their responsibilities and assignments may differ from those of Delpit or Jamal Adams of the past few years, our safeties will stuff the stats in shocking categories, poised to effect the quarterback psychologically in anyway possible.
Among our most exciting prospects, we'll highlight guys who've been under the radar far too long:
Junior Damone Clark started vs Alabama, playing most snaps vs Georgia, Oklahoma and Clemson, amassing 55 tackles as a second stringer behind Queen, including hits / sacks and pressures on all seven Top 10 quarterbacks LSU faced throughout 2019.
Marcel Brooks could very well be the most entertaining player on defense during 2020...like a secret weapon or some Mortal Kombat move nobody can stop, Brooks' deceptive pace off the edge or in between the gaps will become one of the most electric sights on the field this upcoming campaign.
Marcel is a ruthless force, possessing one of the fastest times on the defense. Brooks was also adaptable in 2019: the freshman had no problem being aligned as a defensive end and flying after the quarterback, some of his greatest moments include Brooks' crucial sacks, pressures and eruption upon Tua Tagovaiola, Kyle Trask, Jake Fromm, Sam Ehlinger, Jalen Hurts and more.
As we arrive on the doorstep of the 2020 season, it's hard to say just who will start or where...yet, these are good headaches to have. This multitude of options speaks to the Tigers' boundless depth and versatility, offering Pelini's staff a variety of personnel groupings, formations or points of attack from which to choose.
"We want multiplicity," Bo described his defense's Michael Keaton-focused identity.
Like a great chess master, Bo Pelini's defenses chip away at the confidence and game-plan of an offense; although often using the same formations, each snap delivered an altogether unpredictable conclusion for these coordinators to dissect.
Due to the difficulties and tragedies of the Covid 19 debacle, Pelini has had ample time to reflect upon the current state of the spread offense and find weaknesses or tendencies to attack with brute force....and I feel the Bo-Gabba-Hey-Hey party has just begun.
More than anything, get ready to grab yourself some popcorn and watch all three phases perform with unrelenting poise, intensity and venomous ferocity, attacking all areas of the field like a triple-headed hydra, equally adept in all areas of the game.
To get the blood firmly pumping, we'll leave you with a collage of quotes from the man himself:
"Great defense isn't about scheme...4-3, 3-4, whatever the fuck...it's about heart, it's about motivation, just purely out-working the other guy across from you...there's nothing I can do as a coach to make you want to do that more...I can teach you, I can show you, but watching the development is what I love most. Some of these guys, your Craig Steltz's or Landry's...I just had to give em a look...didn't have to say a word...they wanted to be the best with or without me...that's why I'll be a defensive coach until the day I die or stop coaching or whatever...'cause that's what defense is all about..."
NOTES / ANALYSIS
Our record under Orgeron is 25-2 when winning the turnover battle....since Pelini's last campaign saw LSU grab a school record 23 INTs (beating 2003's 21) en route to a national title, we can only assume an intrepid offense featuring the two best receivers in CFB, three of the most athletically complete RBs and the award-winning skilling & drilling of O-line Coach James Cregg, will be once again primed to pounce on these opportunities.
Last year, our defense contributed 86 points from turnovers....
I expect an even higher number geauxing into 2020, Pelini's elevated standard raised once again thanks to a unit looking to score points and an offensive execution / efficiency rating which lies in the high to mid 90s when Myles Brennan stands behind center.
More than anything, watching every snap of the Aranda and Pelini defenses respective eras, we expected to see wildly different numbers from what we'd eventually report...
Aranda's 15 extra games still couldn't fully separate his defenses from the masterclass of the Pelini era:
While many of the traits remained the same, Aranda's defense "got by" on 5 star talents balling out mano e mano.
Thanks to a horrendous offense during 90% of Aranda's tenure, his squads battled exhaustion, injury and loss of confidence far more than Pelini's group....though we're not saying JaMarcus Russell and Matt Flynn were Joe Burrow-esque, Flynn threw 4 TDs in a National Championship game while Brandon Harris, Danny Etling and others crapped opportunities away (usually earned by our warriors on defense).
The other main component turned out to be TFL and sacks on the D-line, just as we suspected due to the 3-4 putting a premium on linemen clogging and disrupting protections rather than attacking the backfield at all costs.
During three years of Pelini ball, our linemen wrapped up 28 more sacks than Aranda's four full seasons....
ARANDA'S 4 SEASONS:
48.5 Sacks by D-linemen
PELINI'S 3 SEASONS:
6 TDs (Zenon w/ 3 INT TD returns)
76.5 Sacks by D-linemen
(never less than 20 per season)
2019 17 INTs, 5 FR, 8 FF
2018 17 INTs, 7 FF, 7 FR 2 Def TDs
2017 12 INTs, 4 FR, 6FF
2016 9 INTs 7FR, 8FF 1 Def TD
2007 23 INTs , 5 FF, 1 FR, 1 TD
2006 16 INT 4 FF, 0 FR 2 TDs
2005 8 INTs 9 FF 1 FR 3 TD
By LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
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Dedicated to all of us: Long May You Run