For the first time in what seems like a long time, the LSU defense enters a game with something to prove.
The doubts surrounding the defense are no longer hypothetical. The 494 yards Georgia rolled up last week are real. So is the 5.5 yard per carry average the Bulldogs amassed on the ground. So is the fact that the Tigers failed to register a quarterback hurry, much less a sack.
And the defense knows it.
“Myself, being a veteran guy and a leader, I pulled the team to the side and I let them know that I’ve never seen a team put up 44 points on us,” said senior linebacker Lamin Barrow. “It’s not to say we didn’t fight hard, but that’s unacceptable.”
Many of the players referenced communication as the glaring deficiency in the game. Head coach Les Miles alluded to it as well in his postgame comments. At his Monday luncheon, Miles reiterated those feelings.
“Without much detail, I can just tell you there was a signaling issue and a player‑to‑player communication that there was difficulty in,” he said. “There was at least one player-sideline difficulty. Without being very specific, those are places that we can obviously make improvement.”
So the Tigers went back to work after 48 hours of rest and refocusing. According to the players the feel and energy has been different in some ways this week, but business is generally same as usual. Rarely has defensive coordinator John Chavis had this much ammunition in terms of coaching and criticism.
Barrow insists that Chavis has not dialed up the intensity.
“I feel like Coach Chavis is the best defensive coordinator in the country, and he’s always been intense,” Barrow said. “He’s focused on the little things right now. We’ve got to be lined up right, getting the calls right. He’s putting an emphasis on that. I think so far everybody is reacting well to it.”
While no portion of the defense stood beyond criticism for Saturday’s game, the secondary’s performance received the most attention. Georgia wide receivers ran free all afternoon in Athens, and the Tiger secondary appeared mystified at times.
Players looked around, arms extended, and asked for help.
On the final touchdown, sophomore Jalen Mills became irate that no one was behind him as Justin Scott-Wesley waltzed into the end zone. Fellow sophomore Kwon Alexander ended up near Mills on the sideline, and senior safety Craig Loston never made it to the boundary.
“It was just a lack of communication,” Mills said Monday.
Mills indicated that the order of communication comes from the sideline and travels man-to-man across the top of the secondary until it reaches the defensive back on the far sideline. Each player is supposed to signal that he has received the call before passing it along.
The process sounds time-consuming to the untrained observer, but Mills implied that the timing was not the issue.
Though Georgia does run its offense at a quick pace, teams like Ole Miss, Texas A&M and even Auburn, who the Tigers beat, run their systems much more quickly.
The issue may stem from the constant rotation in the secondary and trying to signal in the call while substituting.
“It was just the different personnel that they were bringing in and out,” Mills said. “Coach was trying to get the call in to us, and those guys were going fast. We just have to line up and play ball.”
Lost in the defensive deficiencies and offensive outburst was the strong performance by freshman placekicker Colby Delahoussaye.
Les Miles continuously bragged on his rookie kicker throughout camp and into the season, but there had not been opportunities to showcase Delahoussaye’s leg from any type of significant range through four games.
Faced with a fourth and three from the Georgia 32 yardline, Miles trotted Delahoussaye out for a 49 yard attempt in a deafening environment. Delahoussaye clubbed it through the uprights to knot the score at 17.
“(Miles) looked at me and goes, ‘you got this?’, and I was like, ‘yeah coach, that’s fine,’” Delahoussaye recalled. “I went out there and finally got to kick a long one.”
Delahoussaye would add a 39 yarder in the third quarter, his sixth successful field goal in as many attempts.
It’s easy to verbalize confidence, but actually possessing it is a different story. The New Iberia native admitted Saturday was a big step for him mentally.
“It gave me more stability, just knowing that I can go out there and help the team whenever they need me,” Delahoussaye said. “I was real comfortable out there.”
That comfort level certainly would have been tested had the Tigers mounted a late drive into scoring position while trailing by just three. Miles could have called on his young kicker to tie the game as time expired, but the time never came.
“I actually didn’t even think about kicking a game-tying field goal, so I think that’s a good thing,” Delahoussaye said. “That means if I would have been called on, I would have just gone out there and just kicked it. My nerves aren’t getting to me.”