Young LSU secondary faces tough tasks ahead

For having such a young group of defensive backs, LSU’s secondary isn’t doing too shabby.

Anchored by a trio of juniors in Eric Reid, Craig Loston and Tharold Simon, the Tiger defense has gotten a large bulk of its contributions from a slew of redshirt and true freshmen, yet still sits atop the Southeastern Conference in pass defense, giving up just 165.7 yards per game through the air. Not too shabby at all.

That mark was in jeopardy Saturday, though, as LSU struggled to slow down Mississippi State’s aerial attack, surrendering 304 passing yards in the process.

It was the first time all year a team has thrown for more than 300 yards on LSU’s defense, dating to the West Virginia game last season, when Geno Smith and the Mountaineers rung up 463 pass yards against the Tigers.

“They did throw for 300 yards which, frankly, that’s something we’re going to work on,” LSU coach Les Miles said.

“They are still first in the conference in passing defense so it just goes to show you how very capable this conference is. This is a youthful secondary and a youthful team. There are those times that this happens, and we’re going to correct that. The good news is they continue to play and continue to play.”

That mentality is going to need to be carried over to the final weeks of the season, because the road doesn’t get any easier from here for the
Tigers.

LSU closes the season against Ole Miss and Arkansas — teams that hold losing records in the SEC but boast two of the top five passing attacks in the conference.

The Rebels sit No. 5 in the league with 247.6 passing yards per game, slightly behind the Razorbacks, who average just more than 300 yards per game through the air.

Ole Miss has hit 250 yards passing five times this season — something LSU has done just twice all year. While the Tigers are bouncing back from their worst defensive showing statistically, the Rebels are coming off their best passing performance of the season, throwing for 403 yards against Vanderbilt last weekend.

“We understand what’s being called on for our guys to do,” Miles said. “The good news is the technique and the technical ability is all there. We just need to make sure that we recognize our responsibilities and play those responsibilities technically. If we do that, we’ll be fine. The concept, it’s not a foreign concept to our guys. It doesn’t appear to be to be a very drastic correction.”

The biggest issue for LSU has stemmed from quick, 2-minute drill drives by opponents. Seven times in 20 halves this season, LSU’s opponent has driven down the field and scored points with less than two minutes to go.

The Tigers have given up scoring drives of 70 yards or more in the final two minutes in three of the past four games, including to South Carolina, which made it a two-point contest; Texas A&M, which cut the lead to five; and Alabama’s 43-second, game-winning drive Nov. 3.

“We have to keep our foot on the gas, especially when we’re winning and it’s in the clutch,” Reid said. “That’s hurt us in the past, especially against Bama. That’s something that we have to focus on. Especially coming down to the crucial part of the game, we have to make sure that we stay tight in our coverage.”

LSU nearly made it four in a row before Loston picked off Mississippi State quarterback Tyler Russell on the goal line after the Bulldogs had driven 78 yards in 13 plays with just more than a minute left.

It hasn’t been all bad in the crunch time for the Tigers. LSU has secured a victory four times this season with by forcing a turnover in the final two minutes. Simon snagged an interception to seal the deal at Auburn, defensive end Barkevious Mingo recovered a fumble on the final play at Texas A&M and Loston picked off South Carolina’s Connor Shaw on the final play of LSU’s 23-21 win against the Gamecocks.

Loston’s 100-yard pick-six this Saturday didn’t end the game for the Tigers, but it certainly ended State’s comeback hopes.

“It’s a good feeling to know that a lot of people rely on us,” Loston said. “It feels good when you come to the sidelines and your offense tells you you need to close it out for them. That’s what you come here for. I don’t expect anything less.”