Opinion: Blame Change
Is defense the real problem for LSU Football?
By Carter BryantPosted Jan 9, 2013
Offense sells tickets. Defense wins championships.
Nobody knows that better than LSU. The Tigers have claimed two national championships and won a multitude of games in the past decade with suffocating defense and serviceable offense.
The 2012 season was nothing different. LSU ranked third in the Southeastern Conference in total and scoring defense behind BCS qualifiers Alabama and Florida. But the Tigers were No. 8 in scoring offense and No. 10 in total offense, certainly below average for LSU’s ample talent.
With the revolving door at offensive coordinator and quarterback during the last few seasons, the biggest complaint has been LSU’s lack of direction. Not even an Anonymous computer hacker could reveal LSU’s offensive identity.
There was not a better example than LSU’s bowl loss against Clemson. The offense had a chance to seal the game. After an eight-yard Zach Mettenberger toss, the Tigers were in an advantageous position to get a first down and burn more clock.
Instead of handing the football off to the hot-handed Jeremy Hill, LSU decided to throw twice to try to get two yards. Both passes fell incomplete.
Clemson then got the football back and trotted down the field for a game-winning field goal. On a crisp, cool New Year’s Eve, LSU fans reached their boiling point.
The time-challenged Les Miles dropped the ball before the clock could strike 12, ruining the countdown for LSU fans. An SEC juggernaut lost to a plebian Atlantic Coast Conference squad that has failed more on the big stage than Tony Romo.
“Run the friggin’ ball,” or some form of that phrase was common talk the week after the game. The critics are right. The offense needs to get better and some changes need to be made.
But the outrage of the offense serves as fog to the real problem at LSU, which is its defense. Stats never lie, but they do deceive. As great of numbers as the Tigers have racked up on defense under “Chief” John Chavis, they lack intangibles.
A defense should not be judged on how many stops they make, but if they make them when it matters the most. And in the big moments of 2012, the LSU defense has failed to close out victories when it needed to. This alone could tarnish the Chavis era.
Don’t get the wrong message here. Chavis is the best coach at LSU. He puts players in the pros. His innovative 3-2-6 “Mustang” package could be revolutionary for college football. But his defense has issues when it comes to closing out opponents.
The biggest game of LSU’s season undeniably was Alabama. National championship aspirations are done for either team with a loss. The Tigers had a 17-14 lead with 1:34 remaining. The Crimson Tide ended a five-play, 72-yard drive with a T.J. Yeldon touchdown to win the game, 21-17.
LSU is still in the hunt for the crystal ball if they make a stop. In theory, the Clemson game would never have happened.
But it did. And it was ugly.
Clemson’s similar plot sloppily served as The Hangover Part II. With 1:39 left, Clemson started a drive at its own 20-yard-line down two points. Quarterback Tajh Boyd eventually converted a fourth-and-16, and then drove his Tigers 60 more yards to a game-winning field goal as time expired.
To be fair, Boyd and Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron are savvy signal callers. LSU did have clutch stops versus Auburn, Ole Miss and Arkansas, but that is expected versus inferior competition. South Carolina and Texas A&M was solid too, despite allowing touchdowns late to keep the game within striking distance.
But here is a real stat: Texas A&M, Clemson, Alabama and South Carolina combined to score 30 points in the final three minutes against LSU.
And it doesn’t stop there. Chavis has a horrendous history in the fourth quarter at LSU. Since he took over the defense in 2009, LSU has had 13 instances where they have failed to play clutch defense in the fourth quarter. Fortunately enough, the offense saved the day in some cases.
Closing out an opponent is one of the toughest things to do in sports. Why do you think the Yankees paid Mariano Rivera $15 million in 2012? Ask tennis pro Julien Benneteau, who had the talismanic Roger Federer down two sets at Wimbledon but lost. The list of examples is longer than a Tarantino film.
Closing is even tougher in life. Some LSU players will eventually become a real estate agent or car salesman. They will learn there is no better feeling than a customer signing that dotted line and the refreshing handshake soon after.
The sometimes cruel beauty of college football is that every game is essentially a must win. The 2007 LSU national championship team had three instances where the defense collapsed in the clutch, two of which were losses. They got very lucky to sneak in the title game.
If LSU considers themselves an elite program built on defense, then it must close out big games consistently. No excuses.
Everybody at some point in his or her life had that frustrated buddy who was good-looking, smart and ambitious. Yet he or she couldn’t gather the confidence and right words to ask out on a date or “close” on a gorgeous counterpart.
The LSU defense is equivalent. They have all the attractive bells and whistles, but just can’t get it done in the end.
It is now Miles’ duty to get the Tigers defense out of the “friend zone” and close properly.
Remember, make one stop and that could have been LSU hosting that crystal ball Monday night, not Alabama.