With LSU’s front line and linebackers ineffective, the Tigers’ young secondary had its struggles keeping up with Georgia’s receivers, including on the game’s decisive touchdown, the final blow in a game in which the Bulldogs had LSU ...
“I can’t imagine our defense won’t come back. We’ve got some young guys, but, frankly, I think they’ll come to play. They always have.” LES MILES, LSU coach
ATHENS, Ga. — Jalen Mills stomped his feet and tromped over to Kwon Alexander near the goal line.
The cornerback yelled into the ear hole of Alexander’s helmet. The strongside linebacker could only snap a reply and shake his head in frustration.
A coverage had busted, with Mills darting to blanket an underneath receiver on a flat route. Alexander bolted the same direction, allowing Georgia wide receiver Justin Wesley-Scott to sprint 25 yards uncovered. Now, the Bulldogs jubilantly celebrated a go-ahead touchdown catch for No. 9 Georgia in a 44-41 victory over LSU on Saturday at Sanford Stadium.
So, who goofed?
“It wasn’t mine or his fault,” Alexander said. “If we had got the communication down, we wouldn’t have that play.”
Don’t worry, there was plenty of blame to slather around No. 6 LSU’s defense.
The front’s pass rush was anemic, failing to notch a sack or quarterback hurry. At the second level, the linebackers couldn’t wrangle the tandem of Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall, who combined for 169 yards rushing on 28 carries.
But it was the youth-laden secondary, with its communication snafus and blown coverages, that allowed Aaron Murray to pick it apart to the tune of 296 yards and four touchdowns
“Secondaries can’t give up those plays,” LSU coach Les Miles said softly.
First, it was Tre’Davious White, who made his second-consecutive start, allowing Chris Conley too much room inside on a post route for a 25-yard touchdown catch to tie the game at 14-14 in the first quarter.
The freshman was yanked and saw Jalen Collins inserted on the next series — and watched him nearly give up a deep completion on his first play. On third-and-5 at the Bulldogs’ 14, the Tigers called timeout with 10:21 left in the half because safety Ronald Martin failed to get a coverage call in.
“There was just trouble getting calls in sometimes, making the wrong calls sometimes, LSU linebacker Lamin Barrow said. “It’s something that we go over and over in practice, and something we should be able to adapt to by now.”
On Georgia’s final drive of the half, Mills goofed on a coverage that allowed Reggie Davis a 24-yard catch-and-run to the LSU 13. Three plays later, he was flagged for a pass interference call that put Georgia at the LSU 2, and the Bulldogs punched the ball in for a 24-17 halftime lead.
Over the course of preseason camp and during an undefeated start in nonconference, Miles stressed the necessity of seasoning youth. Saturday showed the growing pains associated with having seven underclassmen among nine members of the position group.
“We’ve got some young guys that we want to play on the field,” Miles said. “They will give us some advantages at times, but they have to play coverage over a variety of calls and a variety of adjustments. And it’s got to work.”
It wasn’t as if LSU loaded up to blitz, either. The front four simply failed to rattle Murray. Sure, Anthony Johnson picked off a second-quarter pass, leaving LSU only 33 yards to cover for a 14-7 lead late in the first quarter, but they were largely neutralized by a Georgia line returning starters across the board.
“I don’t think we got the pressure on the passer that we’d like as well,” Miles said. “I don’t know if we got what we’d like out of the pressure calls.”
Any adjustments by defensive coordinator John Chavis still seemingly left LSU with its back practically pressed against the fabled Hedges.
A muffed punt by Odell Beckham Jr. put Georgia on a short field at the LSU 20-yard line with 2:47 to go in the third quarter. But sophomore Micah Eugene, who normally blitzes as the nickel, failed to cover Michael Bennett out of the slot. Murray roped a 21-yard touchdown pass for a 34-27 lead three plays later.
Lapses in focus and growing aches and pains haven’t been new over the past three weeks, though, such as allowing 17 second-quarter points to lowly UAB or more than 300 second half yardsto Auburn.
Now looms the larger question of whether those were symptoms ahead of Saturday’s full-blown malady.
“I can’t imagine our defense won’t come back,” Miles said. We’ve got some young guys, but, frankly, I think they’ll come to play. They always have.”