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LSU Defense Steps Up as Tigers Stay Perfect

By Matt Smith
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After the three 75-yard scoring drives, Florida finished the game with two punts, the Stingley interception, and a turnover on downs in the final minutes to ice the game.

The LSU defense had been dormant for most of the Tigers’ two showdown games this season. Emphasis on had.

In six quarters and some change against Texas and Florida, LSU had allowed 66 points. Getting picked apart by the Longhorns’ Sam Ehlinger was one thing, but do have Florida’s Kyle Trask, in just his fourth career start, do it in Tiger Stadium? How had this defense regressed?

That was the question permeating through the bourbon-infused Baton Rouge air as No. 7 Florida took a 28-21 lead early in the third quarter against No. 5 LSU. The Gators had strung together three consecutive 75-yard touchdown drives of 13, 11 and 8 plays. Dave Aranda’s defense was both bending and breaking, and it had no answer for the nifty play-calling of Florida head coach Dan Mullen.

Florida didn’t score again.

Somehow, Aranda’s defense flipped the script. A non-existent pass rush in the first half finally started to get home. True freshman Derek Stingley intercepted a Trask pass in the end zone to rekindle memories of LSU defensive playmakers of the recent past. Some critical penalties took their toll on the Gators, and Florida gradually began to show the effects of their 60-minute with Auburn just seven days ago.

After the three 75-yard scoring drives, Florida finished the game with two punts, the Stingley interception, and a turnover on downs in the final minutes to ice the game. The Gators still managed 211 yards in the second half, but got no points after their first drive after the break. Even a change-up series with backup dual-threat quarterback Emory Jones went nowhere.

Mullen emptied his holster, but couldn’t fire any more bulls-eyes. Aranda had an answer for all of it. The defense took some punches, got back up, and landed some haymakers to finish off a 42-28 victory over Florida to move to 6-0 overall and 2-0 in SEC play.

Was the third quarter a turning point for the LSU defense? Time will tell, but after getting worse as the game progressed against Texas a month ago, the defense played their best football after halftime against Florida. That’s a good sign that this unit can begin to play more like the final two quarters and less like the six prior quarters against ranked opponents.

Countering Trask’s gutty performance was Joe Burrow. The Tigers star was nearly flawless on Saturday night, missing on just three of 24 pass attempts and throwing a touchdown for each of his incompletions. He finished with 293 yards. For those without a calculator, that’s a stellar 12.2 yards per attempt against a great defense with a great secondary.

Burrow had some help from the rushing game, as LSU wore down Florida on that side of the ball as well, amassing 218 yards on the ground. The Tigers turned that 28-21 third-quarter deficit into a 35-28 lead on consecutive possessions capped by touchdown runs from Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Ty Davis-Price.

With Terrace Marshall not yet 100 percent, the Tigers’ other two standout wideouts for LSU stepped up once again. Justin Jefferson caught 10 of Burrow’s 21 completions for 123 yards and a touchdown, while Ja’Marr Chase had seven receptions for 127 yards and a pair of touchdowns, including a 54-yard score with under six minutes to play that all but ended Florida’s hopes of a second straight upset over an SEC West group of Tigers.

It was really nothing new from the LSU offense, which reached 40 points for the sixth time in six games this season. Saturday night was about the LSU defense.

Their play wasn’t perfect, but it was timely. With games against Auburn and Alabama looming, the LSU defense is dormant no more. If LSU is to get to the SEC Championship Game for the first time in eight years, it may not have to just be the Burrow Show that gets them there.

Matt Smith - Matt is a 2007 graduate of Notre Dame and has spent most of his life pondering why most people in the Mid-Atlantic actually think there are more important things than college football. He has blogged for College Football News, covering both national news as well as Notre Dame and the service academies. He credits Steve Spurrier and Danny Wuerffel for his love of college football and tailgating at Florida, Tennessee, and Auburn for his love of sundresses. Matt covers the ACC as well as the national scene.