It has taken a while, but LSU might have found its best defensive rotations.
The Tigers have gone through a series of auditions in search of the right players to fit in the right roles for a unit that lost eight starters from last season. It’s a process that probably has dragged on a bit longer than coach Les Miles or defensive coordinator John Chavis would have preferred.
But after a 17-6 victory against Florida on Saturday in which the defense turned in its best performance to date, Miles sounded like a coach who might be ready to use more ink and less lead when making out his defensive depth chart.
“I think they’re maturing, and I think they’re understanding what they’re supposed to do,” Miles said.
The Tigers, who moved from No. 10 to No. 6 in The Associated Press poll Sunday, have performed much better defensively since the 44-41 loss at Georgia two weeks ago — though that’s partly because Mississippi State, which LSU beat 59-26 last week, and Florida aren’t as productive offensively as Georgia is.
After giving up 69 points in the six quarters from the start of the Georgia game until halftime at State, the Tigers have allowed just three field goals in six quarters since. There hasn’t been a personnel overhaul, but there has been some evolution.
Two freshmen — tackle Christian LaCouture and end Tashawn Bower — have added depth on the line.
The primary ends — Jermauria Rasco, Danielle Hunter and Jordan Allen — have made more plays, although Allen had to be helped from the field late in Saturday’s game with what appeared to be a knee injury. Hunter had the first two pass break-ups of his career against Florida.
The Tigers had four sacks against Florida in what Miles called the team’s most consistent pass rush of the season. It had three against State and none against Georgia.
“(Chavis) is calling more blitzes, and we’re getting more pressure on the quarterback,” defensive tackle Anthony Johnson said. “And he’s more confident in us as a unit.”
Johnson, who has a sack in each of the past two games, and fellow tackle Ego Ferguson have remained steady.
A hamstring injury to senior Tahj Jones has given sophomore Kwon Alexander an opportunity to start the past three games at strongside linebacker; he had seven tackles against Florida.
Weakside linebacker Lamin Barrow had a career-high 13 tackles Saturday. Lamar Louis has gotten more reps the past two weeks in the middle, and Deion Jones played more on the outside Saturday.
“I think we got better linebacker play,” Miles said.
The secondary, which had several breakdowns against Georgia, has been more stable the past two weeks. Freshman Tre’Davious White moved into the starting lineup three weeks ago, and freshman Rashard Robinson has played corner in the nickel package the past two games as Jalen Mills moved to nickelback in that scheme.
Corey Thompson started in place of Ronald Martin at one safety spot Saturday after starting at the other spot in place of injured Craig Loston against State. Loston returned and tied his career high with nine tackles Saturday. Thompson had a career-high seven, bettering the six he had against State.
“I think our secondary is coming together,” Miles said. “I’m liking Corey Thompson. I’m liking the fact that Loston was back. I think our young corners play better with those guys back there in the middle of the secondary.”
Mills said the team had a players-only meeting after the Georgia game, and no one “bit their tongue.” He said a lot of players “got a lot of stuff off their chest,” though he kept the specifics “inside the team.”
“We’ve got the offense’s back,” Mills said. “They’ve had our back all year, and it was time for us to step it up. I think we did that.”