East: Plenty of work lies ahead for LSU defense

Advocate staff photo by TRAVIS SPRADLING -- LSU head coach Les Miles reacts during the second half in Athens, Ga. Show caption
Advocate staff photo by TRAVIS SPRADLING -- LSU head coach Les Miles reacts during the second half in Athens, Ga.

ATHENS, Ga. — The LSU football defensive coaching staff has a lot of work to do this week.

Coordinator John Chavis and his fellow position coaches will dissect the film of the 44-41 loss to Georgia on Saturday afternoon and have a hard time finding anything positive.

The run defense? The Bulldogs rushed for 196 yards and a 5.4 average and didn’t slow down much even when a sprained ankle sidelined Todd Gurley after he had gained 73 yards on eight carries. Keith Marshall took over and gained 96 yards on 20 carries, and Georgia always seemed to have ideal balance.

The pass rush? It might take a few views of the entire game to discover exactly where the pass rush was. The Tigers did not have a sack on 34 passing plays and never seemed to unnerve Aaron Murray as he threw for 298 yards and four touchdowns.

The pass coverage? Well, this is where the film will be most brutal.

It’s not just that LSU gave up all those yards (494 rushing and passing total) and that three of the scoring passes came from 21, 25 and 25 yards.

It’s the manner in which the secondary collapsed: receivers running free and defensive backs looking around, trying to figure out why none of them were closer to the receiver.

Confusion, blown assignments and an inability to locate the football as it arrived will be on full display in the film room and a hot topic in meetings.

The biggest topic of conversation about this team leading up to the season was the revamped offense under first-year coordinator Cam Cameron.

During the first month of the season, the Tigers’ 4-0 start and ascension to No. 6 in The Associated Press poll brought increasing expectations for the season as a whole.

Last week, quarterback Zach Mettenberger’s homecoming and the approaching Southeastern Conference showdown against No. 9 Georgia grabbed the spotlight.

Now, in the wake of Saturday’s shootout, it’s clear the offense and Mettenberger are much improved. And because of that, LSU can still dream of being a BCS player.

But the storyline moving forward has changed. It’s all about the defense as the Tigers try to bounce back at Mississippi State on Saturday.

There are few, if any, coordinators in the country who have a better track record than Chavis when it comes to getting their unit to play at a consistently high level, getting young players up to speed ahead of schedule, and adapting in the face of adversity.

But those abilities are being tested right now, perhaps unlike they have been previously during his five-year tenure.

This defense always had a very big challenge, replacing eight starters from last year’s unit. The departures put the majority of starting positions in the hands of players with little or no starting experience, and much of the depth is being provided by true freshmen.

Talent abounds. But at this point, it’s not about talent; it’s about 11 players fully understanding what they’re supposed to be doing on each play and having justifiable confidence that each of their teammates are doing the same.

The plan was for that to get accomplished in the offseason and preseason, and worst case scenario, the pre-conference schedule.

But as LSU reaches the midpoint of the season this week, there is still an inordinate amount of work to be done.