With the spotlight of the college football world on the state of Mississippi, the epic struggles of the LSU defense went largely unnoticed this past weekend.
But the folks in Baton Rouge, who are used to seeing the Tigers field a dominating defense, are ready to hit the panic button. LSU was torched by Auburn for 566 yards (298 on the ground, 268 in the air) en route to a 41–7 loss at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Auburn averaged 7.7 yards per snap and converted 6-of-12 on third down. It was total domination.
LSU, which has ranked in the top five in the SEC in each of the past four years, has given up an average of 568 yards in its two SEC games — losses at home to Mississippi State and at Auburn. The Tigers had allowed 500 yards to an SEC opponent only twice in the previous six seasons.
This team’s overall defensive stats in 2014 are still respectable — LSU ranks fifth in the league at this point — but the numbers are skewed by a extremely soft non-conference schedule. The Tigers allowed an average of 231.0 yards in wins over Sam Houston State, ULM and New Mexico State. Against quality competition, the results have been quite different. They gave up 268 rushing yards in the opener against Wisconsin and 550-plus total yards to both Mississippi State and Auburn.
Les Miles attempted to rationalize his team’s defensive struggles after the Auburn loss, putting some of the blame on the Tigers’ inept offense.
“I’m disappointed (in the defense), but I am realistic too,” he said. “When you put your defense back on the field repeatedly, the offense needs to do its job. And the defense needs to get off the field.”
The numbers, however, don’t back up Miles’ claim. The LSU defense was only the field for 74 plays on Saturday night — not a huge amount against a Gus Malzahn offense. Auburn averaged 7.7 yards on those 74 plays, including an alarming 6.1 per rush. As a team, LSU ranks last in the SEC in rushing defense.
“We have to be more physical at the point of attack,” linebacker Kendall Beckwith said. “That’s all there is — just be more physical and be more aggressive.”