LSU lost multiple key defensive players from its 2019 national championship team. Those included defensive linemen K’lavon Chaisson and linebacker Patrick Queen, selected in the first round of the NFL Draft. Defensive backs, Grant Delpit and Kristian Fulton were chosen in the second round. Linebacker Jacob Phillips went in the third round then lineman Rashard Lawrence did so in the fourth. Bo Pelini will face a personnel challenge in 2020 as he opens his second stint as defensive coordinator at LSU. So, let’s take a look at the LSU defense for 2020.
LSU Defense Preview 2020
Pelini wants to transition to the four-three alignment as he employed during his prior tenure in Baton Rouge in 2005 through 2007. That switch will prove difficult since he has just four defensive ends and five defensive tackles listed on the current roster. Of those, only two are juniors and just one is a senior.
In early August, Neil Farrell Jr. declared his intention to sit out this season then return next year. The absence from what would have been his senior year will hurt in terms of production and leadership. He finished eighth on the defense in total tackles (46) and fifth in tackles for loss (seven), including three sacks.
Only one of the current ends or defensive tackles, senior Glen Logan, registered any defensive statistics last year. Last season, he recorded 20 total tackles. Five were solo as well as 2.5 for a loss and one-and-a-half sacks. However, none of those numbers ranked him in the top eight on the team in 2019.
The two nose tackles from last season’s 3-4 alignment, Siaki Ika and Tyler Shelvin, did see extensive playing time in 2019. Ika played in 12 games, recording 17 tackles, with one-and-a-half of those for a loss. Shelvin played in 14 games with 13 starts, with his 39 total tackles being ninth-most on the team. Shelvin also had three tackles for a loss and two passes defended.
Presumably, Ika and Shelvin will plug up the middle of a four-man line. Pelini will rely on the experience of Logan to start at one end. One of the inexperienced linemen must emerge in the weeks leading up to the season. Otherwise, Pelini’s planned transition will have to wait.
This portion of the defense appears as the strongest in terms of depth. There are 12 linebackers on the roster heading into fall camp. Four of those are juniors in addition to one senior. Assuming only three will be needed at a time, the starters should have the most experience compared to the line and secondary.
The five upperclassmen should provide a dependable base. In 2019, Damone Clark totaled 50 tackles, including three-and-a-half sacks, while playing in every game. Micah Baskerville did not start any games last season, recording 15 tackles, although four were for a loss. Two other juniors, Jared Small and Carlton Smith recorded just one assisted tackle each, on special teams, last season. Jabril Cox, a graduate transfer from North Dakota State, was voted as an FCS All-American after two national championship seasons.
The star among the defensive backs, Derek Stingley Jr., is returning for his sophomore year. In 2019, he garnered multiple citations, including selection as a First-Team All-American by eight organizations and Second-Team by two others. The media chose him as First Team All-SEC while the coaches tabbed for their Second Team All-SEC. His six interceptions and 15 passes defended led the Tigers last season.
JaCoby Stevens will also provide plenty of experience as a senior. He picked off three passes and recorded nine tackles for a loss, third-most on the squad in both categories. He also finished second on the defense in terms of total tackles (92) and sacks (five). His accomplishments earned him the selection to the coaches’ Second Team All-SEC list.
The recent decision by nickel back Kary Vincent Jr. to skip his senior year has depleted the depth of the defensive backs. His four interceptions ranked as second-most on the entire defense in 2019. He also had eight passes defended, the third-highest total on the team. He only missed one game while starting eight of them last year in addition to playing in every game and starting in seven in 2018.
For the second halves of some road games, the Fighting Tigers allowed an alarming amount of points. In Austin, the Longhorns scored at the end of every possession, four touchdowns, and a field goal, during the second half. After limiting Alabama’s offense to just six points, a touchdown with a missed extra point attempt, in the first half, the defense let the Tide rebound at home for four touchdowns during its five possessions. Ole Miss was being steamrolled on its home turf, at halftime before John Rhys Plumlee led the Rebels to four trips to the endzone in eight chances with the ball.
In 2019, LSU’s record-setting offense glossed over that glaring habit of the defense. By averaging 48.4 points per game, the offense was able to provide enough scoring to ensure victory in every contest. In the upcoming season, several key components will be missing from last year. Therefore, the offense cannot be expected to produce such astounding contributions again. Pelini will need to end the second-half slumps by the LSU defense in order to compete for the SEC and national championships in the 2020 season.