Updated: Feb 15, 2021
TOP 10 TIGERS OF 2020
by LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
ALI GAYE (DE)
RED SHIRT JUNIOR
-1 INT (vs Ole Miss)
-1 FF (vs Ole Miss)
-1 FR (vs Missouri)
PRESSURES: 38 (11 vs Miss St, 7 vs Ole Miss)
QB HURRIES: 27
QB HITS: 7
Tied for the LSU lead with 6 PDs (hovering around Stingley / Ricks territory) while his tackles for loss statistically sets him apart from his teammates (9.5), Ali Gaye crashed through the barriers which tried to keep this Gambian-born rock star back...in fact nothing could stop the defensive end except for Bo Pelini's lunatic defensive setup.
From his LSU / division I debut, Ali came crashing out of the gate: destroying Miss State for 11 total pressures, a brilliant one-handed sack on 3rd & 2 inside the red zone (forcing a field goal when he nearly decapitated K.J Costello) and deflecting 2 passes (one of which he nearly intercepted only a yard away from the end zone)....
His all world display stunned the SEC, college football and drew NFL scouts en masse....most importantly, Gaye's playmaking took LSU's pandemic-shortened crowd to new decibel level heights inside Tigers Stadium, energizing his teammates and coaches.
The attraction wasn't merely the numbers...Gaye's allure (to anyone who knows football) relies on the big man's effectiveness for his team:
Judging overall, LSU's D-Line reached the quarterback far more with Gaye on the field, while his pressures also forced incomplete passes or errant throws no other Tiger lineman could orchestrate....
...and on the downs without him?
Opposition quarterbacks ignored Stingley or Ricks, picked out the slot guy, running back or tight end, sat back and comfortably tossed the ball around without a care in the world...but when Gaye was in there, the former JUCO star was among a handful of LSU defenders most opponents simply tried to avoid at all costs, attacking our weaker defenders instead, on the ground or in the air...such was LSU's 2020 achilles heel...
As for the pass rush, Ali was an extremely effective force of nature off the edge or shedding inside to reach up and effect a pass or track a runner...
Though he could use some bulking up to his towering stature, Gaye is a leverage artist of the highest order as a thin, tall Tiger; just imagine what he'll do with 20 more pounds...
Still, we would be false if we didn't point out the facts....Gaye also went MIA throughout some of 2020's biggest moments, adjusting to the robust physicality off the strong side edge;
There were many times his great pass rushing went to waste when covering the run game, lost in no man's land out of the play and a passenger earlier in the year, losing contain or failing to break the gaps inside. Coach O gave him some loafs...not many, although he received his share..
Regardless of any growing pains, Gaye was huge for LSU this season, his first in division I, his first in the SEC: his length minimized some of the damage in the passing game (at least when he was on the field), those long arms affected numerous field goals or punts, and whether he was sacking Mac Jones vs Alabama or creating turnovers against big SEC rivals, Ali made some of the best individual or team plays on defense for LSU.
As a defensive lineman, Ali pulled off the rare feat of picking off a pass (which we predicted in our preseason projections piece) as well as forcing & recovering a fumble.
He grabbed the spectacular interception vs Ole Miss in what was his greatest game, reaching out and batting Matt Corral's pass straight into his falling chest. To go with his turnovers, Gaye had a ruthless 7 pressures from 34 snaps against Ole Miss, the same number of total pressures Ole Miss' entire defense were able to generate on the night (Gaye: 7/34, Ole Miss D: 7/59, per Cody Worsham, LSU Sports).
Later on, he forced the game-sealing fumble against Kiffin's Rebels during a critical moment which says everything about his desire:
With their backs up against the wall in the red zone protecting only a 5 point lead, soaked by rain, gassed by a 200+ yard rushing attack and a relentless no-huddle spread extravaganza from Kiffin, as mists gloomed around the orbital abyss of the field, the white jerseys worn by LSU defenders appeared as a dark, bluish grey mush from the torrential mudslide.....yet something had to give...someone had to end this once and for all.
Well, as it would end up, the man who started 2020's D-Line magic with a bang way back on opening day against Miss State would be the one to finish the turbulent year once and for all: Ali didn't stop his pursuit of Ole Miss quarterback Matt Corral, flying around his back and swatting the ball out of his right hand and straight into the waiting arms of Jacoby Stevens.
He breathlessly celebrated as Jacoby Stevens took in his final play as an LSU Tiger, Gaye making the turnover possible with yet another huge play from his long reach.
Between these bookend moments, Ali recovered Todd Harris' punch-out vs Missouri, becoming the only Tigers' defender to force & recover a fumble, record an interception and destroy a quarterback for a sack in 2020...truly a fistful of dynamite from Ali...
Before the year, we pronounced he would become an Ambassador of Quarterback Shame on Mark Rogers' YouTube show and he was indeed, all while still raw and possessing plenty of room for growth this offseason.
Gaye will be even more effective in 2021 under a defensive coordinator and D-Line coach who'll know exactly how to utilize the unstoppable #11. How many times did we see him curl inside on a devastating stunt? Hardly ever, and this guy played DT part of the time in junior college, yet we telegraphed his pass rush and cut his options in half...
How many times did Pelini ever fade him back a few yards into coverage at the snap just to make the quarterback pause on the quick slant, or potentially steal a few INTs from Gaye's length, just as Jack Del Rio's Washington Football Team executed with Montez Sweat's tremendous strong side DE play at the NFL level this year. Del Rio found a multitude of ways to give Sweat the ability to read the QB and effect their passing lanes, his deflections directly forcing 5 interceptions...luckily both Montez Sweat and Ali Gaye are talented enough pass-rushers they can go for the sack and the swat in the same motions...
This is a young man with an expansive array of pass-rushing versatility, if there's a coach who's smart enough to unleash Ali's ultimate powers, we could see Gaye top the LSU and SEC sacking charts, much like B.J Ojulari seems poised to reach in 2021.
Carrying the torch for his family, as well as those close to him...especially those who are no longer here:
Ali wears #11 for his former teammate at Arizona Western Bryce Beekman, who passed away in March 2020. Gaye plays every down with a heavy Tiger heart...playing every down for Bryce.
“He was somebody that would light up the room every time he walked in, somebody that just brought the energy in practice or wherever we were,” Gaye said. “I wear #11 because it reminds me of him and the kind of energy that he brought out.”
Ali plays for a higher purpose, where every snap means more.... every pressure, every sack could make the difference toward the prosperity he always wanted for his family.
As 2021 grows a month old, it seems as if nothing can stop Gaye from reaching those once "lofty" goals...
SEC: Be advised...Ali is on an NFL / National Championship / Bednarik mission...
BLACK LIVES MATTER
by LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
Copyright 2021 Uninterrupted Writings Inc LLC
SHOUTOUTS: Jordy Culotta, thank you for your amazing work on Off The Bench, you have taught me a lot from your daily example and I cannot wait to see what you do next. Focusing on basketball?? He's a class act and a Baton Rouge king.