NCAA Baseball Championships:
DandyDon is proud to recognize David Toms as a great ambassador of the Tiger Nation.
Q&A with Mike Detillier, Part 2:
Mike’s Bye Week Thoughts on LSU’s Defense, Special Teams & More
Scott: Back in the preseason when we did our last Q&As, I asked you to name your biggest concern on defense and you said it was the DBs. This position group is young, for the most part, but man have they stepped up big. Have they exceeded your expectations?
Mike: No question. It was a concern and their play early on against fast-paced teams showed up. If you can’t immediately get to the quarterback then your secondary people have to converge quickly. And playing with young safeties, too. That element was also in play. I like what I have seen the past few weeks from Donté Jackson, Kevin Toliver and certainly from Greedy Williams, who has played well from jump street. John Battle has played well, but he has fought injuries. Who has made steady improvement has been Grant Delpit. He was making some mental errors, but he’s no rookie anymore. And Delpit has played much better the past two games.
Scott: Your thoughts on the move of Donté Jackson to nickel and how that’s impacted the defense?
Mike: Huge. Toliver’s play allowed LSU to move Donté to the nickel and that has been gold for LSU. It is a perfect spot for him in this defense. Donté is fearless on the field going after the ball. He plays the ball like it is thrown to him. Jackson is an excellent one-on-one cover guy, he has first-rate ball skills, he tracks the ball quickly in flight, and he doesn’t let one bad play affect the next snap. Big fan of Donté Jackson.
Scott: You think Donté will be ready for the NFL in the next draft?
Mike: Ready or not, Coach O’s comments weren’t pulled from the sky. I am certain both Donté and Kevin Toliver have told him they are planning to come out early. Donté will smoke the second season of workouts. He is an off-the-charts athlete. So, that means landing a couple more talented cover men is crucial in this recruiting cycle.
Scott: In this Saturday’s game, I’m not worried about the passing game as much as I am defending Alabama’s rushing attack which leads the league with an average of almost 300 yards per game. Your thoughts on what it will take to slow down the Crimson Tide run game?
Mike: Play an extra man in the box and fill the gaps. You have to put your defensive backs on an island and tell them there is no help for you and we have to play another player up front to stop the run. Not a lot depth upfront for this “big man” game. Having Lawrence and Key close to as healthy and as in-shape as they have been all year will help. Both those players are difference makers. You can’t give up a lot of yardage after initial contact. This Tiger team has to wrap up and make that first tackle count and not give up extra yardage after initial contact. I think, like in the Auburn game, Dave Aranda puts an extra man in the box to stop the run because if not, then Alabama bangs away at you. Last year’s game-plan was awesome on defense, but you don’t have Lewis Neal, Davon Godchaux, Kendall Beckwith, Duke Riley, Jamal Adams, Tre White and Dwayne Thomas – he was superb in that Alabama game.
Scott: Talk about what it means to have Rashard Lawrence and Ed Alexander returning to full health in time to face this opponent?
Mike: Big, because Saban’s teams are built to dominate up front with the rushing attack and healthy Lawrence and Ed are two talented big men. Last year versus Alabama may have been Ed Alexander’s best game at LSU. Got to stuff the run and give Greg Gilmore some help inside. Alabama loves to pound the rock inside. In theory, you want to stop the run and make Jalen Hurts make the plays in the passing game to beat you. He is a better passer this year than last year, but he beat LSU last year with his legs on those critical runs in the 4th quarter. Hurts is like a big halfback running with the ball. Where he has gotten better is with his mechanics as a passer and he has a better touch on his medium-range throws, but he also has struggled at times to connect with those throws too. Getting Lawrence and Alexander back would be huge for LSU to stop the run. Alabama is not going to trick you. They come in with the philosophy of “I dare you to stop our rushing game.”
Scott: And how about Arden Key? It took a while, but he finally seems to be returning to his dominant self.
Mike: He is lighter than when he came back in the 260s and he looks quicker. You could tell he was too heavy and he was so frustrated in not getting to the QB or the ballcarrier. He was pulling himself out of position or getting in late on the play. He looks good now and this is a signature game for him. Arden is a game-changer and he scares the daylights out of quarterbacks when he is on. It is rare to see someone that quick and fast coming off the edge when he is in shape. I am sure Alabama will run the ball at him to slow down his pass rush. And on passing plays they will chip on him with a back and not put that tackle on an island to block him.
Scott: As talented and impactful as Key and Lawrence have been, I think most would agree that linebacker Devin White has been LSU’s defensive MVP. In fact, over 80% of DandyDon voters declared him that earlier this week. Your thoughts on No. 40?
Mike: He has been the star for this team. Team MVP. Devin is super quick, very physical, he has learned how to use his arms and hands better to shed off would-be blocks and he can drop in coverage so smoothly. Devin White is a star player.
Scott: Overall, who or what has been your biggest surprise on defense?
Mike: From start to finish it is cornerback Greedy Williams. Williams has developed into a really top cover man, he’s good in pursuit and he makes a clean play on the ball in flight. Williams is a player. I am going to say this too – that Greg Gilmore has played really well inside and played a lot of snaps at the nose spot. He has gotten much better with his techniques and also he gives it all for a big man on the field.
Scott: Touching briefly on special teams, what do you think of this unit’s progress under LSU’s coaching-by-committee approach?
Mike: Connor Culp’s development as a field goal kicker and D.J. Chark being the punt returner – he really wasn’t the guy they initially thought would be the guy; Donté Jackson was – has made these units pretty good. Coverage units are all about “want to” and knowing your leverage points. There have been some hit and misses there, but overall it’s better than what we have seen in the past and Greg McMahon works a lot with the assigned coaches. What sticks out is Chark’s punt return skillset, which is outstanding, and Russell Gage is a monster player in coverage.
Scott: There’s no doubt that next Saturday’s game is as big as it gets in terms of its potential to change Ed Orgeron’s critics’ perception of him as a coach. If you were in his shoes, would you lighten up practice this week or rev it up a notch in order to be in peak condition for the battle?
Mike: He has lightened up this week in practice, but this game is about getting your star players to play like stars and making every snap count. You have to put forth a mindset that every single snap counts against Bama and know your assignments. You’ve got to win those on-one battles and then get some turnovers. I know from talking to him he fully understands the importance of this game, but it’s all about preparing, being physical and making plays. it’s cliché, but it’s about fighting through the tough times you have in every game and making a big play when the opportunity is there. Look, if Coach O would win this game, then everyone would say, “it’s a lucky win and can he do it again.” Consistency and winning big in big games has been Nick Saban’s calling card.
Scott: From a recruiting standpoint the LSU-Alabama game is always huge. What are you hearing in that regard, and what do you think prospects need to see from LSU in this game and beyond?
Mike: Coach O has to sell the fact that he has played 20 freshmen (come to LSU and you will have an opportunity to play right away) and that things are different here now. LSU always had that calling card under Coach Miles of producing players for the NFL. Now, you have to convince the prep players that you are building something special here in Baton Rouge and to be part of that changing of the guard to now play for SEC and National Championships. Ed and his staff have to convince the recruits that is going to happen in the future and look at all the NFL players we have sent to the pros. That starts by winning crucial games in November when the schedule gets tougher. On defense, you can see they have done a good job retooling their linebacking unit. But where Alabama has been better is getting top defensive linemen and top offensive linemen each and every year. Got to get those terrific edge rushers and big men in the middle to stop the run. I know its old fashioned, but it wins on defense.
Scott: Alright, you know I can’t let you go with asking you to predict how LSU’s game will play out. Is this the year the Tigers stems the Tide?
Mike: Alabama 26, LSU 13
Scott: Thanks, Mike. Always a pleasure.
Mike: Always enjoy it, and I always get great response from the Q&As.
Mike Detillier, based in southern Louisiana, is editor and publisher of Mike Detillier’s NFL Draft Report. He’s also the college and pro football analyst for WWL 870 AM Radio in New Orleans, a sports columnist for several newspapers and Web sites, and a frequent guest on radio and television programs across the country. Visit Mike’s website at mikedetillier.com and follow @MikeDetillier on Twitter.
This web site is not officially affiliated with Louisiana State University. Opinions expressed herein are the property of Donald Long, Scott Long and friends, not Louisiana State University.