2018 Opponent Defense Review: Week 1- LSU

Lance Roffers
Lance Roffers
7 min read
With the season rapidly approaching, it is time to start looking at what Miami’s opponents will present from a defensive perspective. Up first, are the LSU Tigers, led by their excellent DC Dave Aranda. Aranda is known for his pressure 3-4 defense with physical man-coverage against the pass. If you struggle beating man-coverage, you will struggle to score points against LSU, who does an excellent job of setting the edge against the run and their fast LB core reacts to inside run plays very quickly.

By the Numbers:
Overall, LSU’s offense allowed 4.9 yards per play, good for 26th in the FBS. They allowed 6.5 yards per pass play and only 3.9 yards per rushing play. But how did their defense stack up against their opponents in comparison to how they fared against the defenses they played other than LSU?

Statistically speaking, LSU was a very consistent defense that didn’t really dominate many of their opponents. I removed the games against non-Power 5 teams BYU and Troy from my research to show how they fared against other Power-5 teams in relation to how those opponents fared against their own Power-5 opponents. This removes some of the volatility you see from playing teams like Savannah State etc.

Against other P-5 teams LSU’s defense allowed an average of 6.75 yards per pass play, 4.05 yards per run play, and 5.29 yards per play overall. I looked at each of their P5 opponents and how they played against other P5 teams and calculated their standard deviation in their performance to see how LSU played against each opponent from that standpoint. LSU held seven of their ten opponents under their season averages overall. The reason why I say they lacked “dominant performances” on defense is that they held only one opponent to more than one standard deviation below their season averages (Auburn). I define a dominant defensive performance as one that is two standard deviations below their average performance. They were “shredded” on defense by one opponent (Mississippi State) who were 2.54 standard deviations better than performance against other opponents against LSU. Here are the season results for LSU’s defense, as well as their opponents’ performance against their other P5 opponents. The chart is a little busy, but focus on the YPP columns if you want to cut it down with the Standard Deviations that LSU them above/under their normal average Yards Per Play (YPP) in the last column.


Film Review:
Personnel-wise, LSU is led by two players I see as first-team All-Americans in LB Devin White (6-1, 240) #40, and CB Greedy Williams (6-2, 182) #29.

I’m going to look at their bowl game versus Notre Dame for several reasons: 1. They are a common opponent that many Canes fans can relate to after the beat down the Canes put on the Domers this year. 2. I wanted to look at a game that their defensive staff had a lot of time to prepare for as this mirrors the game against the Canes in which their staff has all offseason to prepare for. 3. They had several injuries in this game that put younger LB’s into the game who will most likely be players we see in our game, rather than the Seniors they’re replacing. Early in their Citrus Bowl matchup with Notre Dame, Devin White showed his ability to play both the pass and the run and make big plays. Here, White knows exactly where the sticks are on third down and breaks on the TE’s route at the stem to stop him short of the yardage needed. This is the type of play that wins games for defenses as this tackle is the difference between the drive continuing and bringing up a 4th down.


On the subsequent 4th down play, White reads the C and picks the correct gap to rush. He is into the backfield before the RB has a chance to make a move and stops him for a loss in the backfield. You’ll notice the OLB forces a hard edge on this play and gets upfield rather than being passive at the LOS. This prevents the QB from keeping the ball and gaining the edge. When you play an LSU defense, you cannot beat them with slow-developing run plays. They are an aggressive, pressure fueled defense that thrives on their ability to make tackles for losses. Notre Dame had an excellent opening drive forming against their defense after a big pass play, but the electric ability of Devin White on back-to-back plays got the LSU defense off the field.

One way that you can run on LSU is to seal the edge and get a blocker onto White. Here, ND uses their LT to seal and then brings their H-back around to turn the shoulders of the edge defenders. Then they Josh Adams out on White and cut block him. White manages to keep his feet, but this is essentially a country-trey power run with the RB serving as a FB lead-blocker and the QB becomes the RB.


On 3rd and short LSU likes to press and crowd the LOS. You have to be able to throw the ball in short-yardage situations to move the ball against LSU. In both short yardage situations they’ve gone to a Cover-1 setup and ran an exaggerated edge. ND ran tight-formations on the line which allows LSU to be aggressive.


ND saw a lot of success with pre-snap motion, particularly with their H-back Durham Smythe. They liked to offset him from the T off the LOS and then identify the strength of the defense and shift him to the other side where he would stand up and block the edge defender. On this screen shot the TE has motioned around and will take #4 on the edge, the G will run power to lead the RB through the hole, then the WR can crack down on #40 as he tries to fill. The counter action by the RB holds the LB’s long enough to allow the OL to get around the edge to block. ND runs it within their own 20-yard line to gain field position.

Note #29 is Greedy Williams here. He’s an excellent coverage player, but he isn’t exactly attacking the RB here to make a tackle. He gets run over as he stands flat-footed for the RB to get a first down.

LSU’s success against the running game is in their ability to get upfield and push the tackles back into the backfield. This changes the area that the RB has available to run to and allows their LB’s to run-and-chase from the backside of the play. When this happens they tend to rack up tackles-for-loss at a high rate. If they get an offense off-track for down-and-distance they are a very difficult defense to score against. Last year, Miami really struggled with their success rate on offense and found themselves in long 2nd and 3rd down situations.

Here is a play that Miami used against Virginia Tech with great success. It’s a read-option, but rather than reading the edge player and leaving him unblocked, which is customary, the T takes the edge player and leaves the 3-4 DE unblocked. This would be akin to leaving the DT unblocked in a 4-3, which Miami did frequently against Tim Settle and Virginia Tech. It’s a less familiar place for the interior defender to be in and he takes the RB almost immediately. In this case his job to maintain that gap and allow #40 to scrape and run. Instead they both take the RB and the QB has that huge hole to run through.


Comments (30)

On 3rd and 10 ND lines up in a formation with four-wide. The boundary receiver is a TE in what is called the Y-Iso (isolating the Y TE). LSU uses Greedy Williams in an off-position to guard against the fade to the Y while Donte Jackson is off to the field side (Jackson was a 2nd round pick and they have yet to settle on his replacement). A two-deep shell look to the middle of the field is standard on this length of distance. Initially, ND has the slot receiver stacked behind the TE but runs him in motion. In this case I looked at this screen shot and expected a screen because of the distance of the defenders and the Y TE being a lead blocker for the screen. It was a bad pass and almost intercepted but that unblocked edge player to the boundary side read it well and chased it quickly. The speed of the edge players for LSU makes this a difficult play to be successful.

ND runs a rollout to the field side with a wheel route by the RB and the shallow cross from the slot that had motioned to the boundary and then crosses to the wide-side of the field. This stresses the defender to that side as LSU went zone and blitzed their edge defender from that side. The QB has the wheel route if he puts more air under it but underestimates the speed and length of the defender. He tips this pass away and almost intercepts it. It’s an easy five yards if they dump it to the shallow cross and a big play if they hit the wheel route here. If you don’t have the footwork available or time to hit the bigger pass, hit the underneath one and take the yards. Instead, they’re looking at 2nd and 10 and now the whole drive is in trouble. Smart decisions and accurate passes will be needed because everyone in LSU’s secondary are praying mantis types with length and athleticism.

The LSU defense destroys slow-developing run plays. Here you can see #97 gets off the block and is clogging that cutback running lane but initially the OL drove him off the ball and had separation if the run play was quicker to hit the hole. Here you see again that Greedy Williams is happy being strictly a coverage player and shies away from rugged defensive play.

On 3rd and 13 LSU again runs that same cover-1 shell defense and everyone pulls out leaving the middle of the field open. Wimbush misses an easy pass, but LSU is pretty consistent in trying to pressure and shoot gaps on 1st and 2nd down to get you behind the sticks then on 3rd down and long they like to drop out and play coverage. On 1st and 10 they consistently press to the boundary side and then play off-man to the field side with their best corner.

2nd and 9 and here is exactly what I’m referring to. #95 is playing NT and he walks the C into the backfield and the edge rusher heads straight upfield and is too fast for the RT. This forces the RB to bounce the ball outside and lose yardage. Often times the thought process is that you play more conservative on 1st and 2nd down and then apply pressure on 3rd down, but LSU is just the opposite where they want to attack early and get you into low percentage situations and then play coverage on 3rd downs.

On the subsequent 3rd and long they actually pressed to the field side and played off to the boundary side. I’m not sure yet whether it’s personnel-based or just preference based on where they are at on the field. The defense motions into a quarters look, which is a bail type defense designed to prevent the deep ball. With their length in the secondary it is going to be very difficult to convert a 3rd and long against a quarters look. All four of the defensive backs in this shot are going to bail and then be responsible for their “quarter” of the field for coverage. The result is the predictable dump off underneath and LSU comes up and makes the tackle short of the 1st down.

ND runs a run-based, tight formation centric offense which causes defenses to need to commit numbers into the box to stop their ground game. Here they are in a tight formation and are using motion with their H-back again to help identify the coverage and to set their protection responsibilities. LSU is overloading against the run and not respecting the passing offense of ND.

It turns into a flea-flicker and as I wrote about earlier, to beat this LSU defense you’re going to need to win against man-to-man coverage. The WR cannot win in this situation and the CB is in position (truly you’d want #9 to be deeper than this WR but he caught peeking on the handoff). If the ball is a little more out front it might be a TD.

I highlight this play because you can see what motion can do against a young LSU defense. Here, the H-back has motioned out to the slot and it results in the LB coming over to cover him in man-to-man coverage. Additionally, look at the sliding of coverage it is causing on the outside to the bottom of the screen. This ball has been snapped and the middle slot defender isn’t even looking at an offensive player, he’s looking at his field corner and making a motion with his arms (it’s also possible he wanted the official to call a false start). The deep safety is rotating over to help up the seam against the TE and opening up the flag route from the middle slot receiver. This is a perfect situation to run an X-stick route where the TE angles to the near hash and the middle slot receiver “X’s” behind the TE’s route and runs the deep flag route. That makes that S have to decide whether to take the deep flag route to help that middle CB or to take the TE on the wheel route up the seam. The boundary CB is being held by the RB coming out of the backfield and into his area at the top of your screen. This requires a lot of communication within the defensive secondary. Note: The play call was a quick screen to the slot WR and it went nowhere.

3rd and long again and LSU again runs a cover-1 defense against a tight formation. ND tried to run a QB keeper and got one yard.

Next ND drive here is a good shot of what they try to do when they get you into a long yardage situation. They want to pressure you up-the-middle with their DL and then play an “umbrella” defense behind it. This is again a quarters defense to take anything away deep and they bailed out their edge players to cover the flats.

From looking at their film, I think it is obvious you want to try and force Greedy Williams into having to make tackles on the edges. This is a 3rd & 19 play and he’s backpedaled his way all the way to the first down marker on a designed QB run. He needs to be coming up a few yards earlier in the play and forcing the QB down before he picks this up. If he attacks that blocker directly in front of him, turns his shoulders towards the QB, he has nowhere to go outside and the pursuit help inside makes a tackle prior to the first down he picks up.

The LSU defense gave up just a FG in the first half and it was because of a busted QB run on 3rd and 19.

Personnel Changes
As is the case with any college football season, LSU has seen its share of personnel changes into this year. I’ll rundown the list of changes and discuss the player expected to fill the role. To get an idea of what the coaches are seeing from their players in the Spring, I am reviewing the LSU Spring Game film for an idea of how the players fit.

Donte Jackson: The CB was selected number 55 overall by the Carolina Panthers and was a second team All-SEC performer. Jackson is the long-haired corner in the film shots above (#1). Jackson was generally tasked with playing the nickel cornerback position. At 5-11, 175 he fit the prototype of the position perfectly. LSU went the graduate transfer route to find a potential replacement in Terrence Alexander, who comes over from Stanford. At 5-10, 177 he is almost identical in size to Jackson and played in 41 career games for Stanford. Alexander was not in for spring, so the first shot at replacing Jackson went to sophomore Kary Vincent. Listed at 5-10, 182 he is another player of prototype size for what LSU likes to do. Vincent looked solid in the Spring Game, but LSU’s QB play was so poor it was difficult to readily assess his talent. He looks to be a step down from Jackson from a talent and speed standpoint. Alexander will most likely be lining up in that spot during our game.

Kevin Toliver: Toliver was a second early entrant into the NFL draft and was not selected. Listed at 6-3, 204 he was the long press-man boundary corner. His snaps were limited against teams that played two receivers as LSU opted to put another S onto the field and keep their LB’s on the field. His experience will be missed, but his talent was marginal, as he finished with 27 tackles, one sack, one interception, and 10 passes defensed. Look for Kristian Fulton to get a shot at the position if he comes back from a season-long suspension last year. The former 5-star recruit has size and length at 6-1, 195. In the Spring Game, the position was being played by Mannie Netherly, a 6-3, 194 pound former wide receiver who was learned the position quickly. Here is Netherly being beaten on a deep-comeback. It is blurry, but he is just past the first down marker pushing the receiver out-of-bounds.
And here he is trailing the WR deep. The pass was underthrown and the WR had to slow down so Netherly deflected it away, but he’s beaten if the pass is put out front.

Greg Gilmore: Gilmore manned the NT position in LSU’s 3-4 alignment and was a force. You can see in the screenshots above that LSU relied on pressure up-the-middle to make their defensive scheme work and Gilmore supplied the team with much of the pass rush from their DL as he finished with a team-leading 7.5 sacks and was second on the team with 10 tackles for loss. Gilmore is a bit undersized at 6-4, 308 pounds, but used quickness to create havoc. Gilmore held off a sophomore Ed Alexander to start last year as a senior and this year Alexander will ascend to the starting role with experience under his belt. LSU recruited several NT’s this year and redshirted 5-star recruit Tyler Shelvin. LSU should not see much dropoff at this position.

Frank Herron: Herron was a decent starter for LSU as a senior at 6-4, 312 pounds. LSU once again went the transfer route to find help with Breiden Fohoko, a 6-3, 298 pound transfer from Texas Tech. The former 5-star recruit is expected to start immediately after sitting out last year as a transfer. He will join Rashard Lawrence and Alexander to form one of the best DL’s in college football. Fohoko looks to be an upgrade over Herron at DE.

Arden Key: Key came into last year as a preseason All-American, but injuries hampered his season and allowed LSU to get experience for his replacement this year. Expect K’Lavon Chaisson to fill the role of “B-Backer” on LSU’s defense, which is mainly responsible for pass rush off the edge. Chaisson was the #37 overall recruit coming out of HS and tallied two sacks as a freshman after being an early-enrollee.

Corey Thompson: Thompson was a strong and versatile player for LSU as a senior, compiling 43 tackles, six sacks, and seven tackles for loss. He’s a hybrid edge player at 6-2, 221 pounds. LSU is hoping that Travez Moore can replace Thompson immediately. Moore was the #1 WDE out of Juco this year at 6-4, 250. During the spring, Moore was running second-team and LSU was using sophomore Jacob Phillips in that spot. Phillips, at 6-3, 237, looked fantastic in the Spring Game, showing off excellent speed and range. I do not expect a drop-off if LSU puts Phillips out there.

In the Spring game, Greedy once again failed to make a tackle on a simple swing pass to the edge. He’s shielded by #26 here, but that’s him missing a tackle at the 12-yard line. The WR gets to the end zone after the whiff.


This LSU defense is loaded with athletic talent. They have length, speed, athleticism everywhere. Almost every starter will be a very highly regarded recruit who has performed in the SEC. Their depth is upgraded after this latest recruiting class and a return from injury for several players. Their goal is to put you behind the chains on 1st and 2nd downs with pressure up-the-field and run blitzes. Then on 3rd and long they play coverage and come up and make the tackle. LSU has two of the best players Miami will see on defense all season in Devin White and Greedy Williams. They are the types of talents that can turn a game on one big play and it will be important to avoid the disastrous mistake against them. White- in particular- is an elite player. He will rate very well with the Roquan Smith’s of the world coming out this year if he remains healthy.

This was a fun defense to review and it should be interesting to see how Miami attacks them. Look for another article outlining my thoughts on how Miami's offense can attack this defense in the near future.
Apologies for the multiple posts, but it only allows 10 pictures per post. I'd like some feedback; do you prefer it to be full screen images like this, or would you prefer me to make them just thumbnails and you can click on them if you're interested?

I'm just trying to make them as enjoyable/impactful as possible and would like to know what the masses think on this article. I'm still getting used to the new format of the web page and this is my first go at it with using screen shots for film. Thank you
Wow, a very thorough, detailed review of LSU’s defense. The more I hear about them the more I have a concern in this game. My thinking is that we’re going to have to get a 7-10pt lead on them somehow and get them out of this defensive alignment. No way we can rush 2yds on 1st down and then be in 3rd and long, especially against these athletes. But I think that if we can cause some confusion on the outside and maybe pass to setup the run that we can do just that; and disrupt what they’re trying to do to us defensively. I’m by no means the coach or film expert on football, I’m the rabid fan trying to learn more about the game inside the game. Thanks for the breakdown, it certainly got me to read it twice!
I prefer the photos in the post rather than thumbnails. Makes for more seemless reading.

Some serious detail here, the hardcore football nerds are gonna love it, many will just skip it though. Love these kinds of pieces, thanks for putting in the time. Writing this is way harder than coming up with a bunch of adjectives to fluff up our latest commit.

Good stuff, and thank you Mad Scientist @Lance Roffers !!!!!
Good stuff. We’ve been screaming for motion on offense for a while now. It looks like this should be the time we finally see it.
Great write-up. This is the in-depth material the diehards love.

Of note, Ed Alexander is battling a knee injury and may not start/not be 100% for our game. In the meantime, they’ve kicked Fehoko inside which is new for him. If that holds until Sept 2nd that would be favorable for us.
Great write-up. This is the in-depth material the diehards love.

Of note, Ed Alexander is battling a knee injury and may not start/not be 100% for our game. In the meantime, they’ve kicked Fehoko inside which is new for him. If that holds until Sept 2nd that would be favorable for us.

Good insight.
I prefer the photos in the post rather than thumbnails. Makes for more seemless reading.

Some serious detail here, the hardcore football nerds are gonna love it, many will just skip it though. Love these kinds of pieces, thanks for putting in the time. Writing this is way harder than coming up with a bunch of adjectives to fluff up our latest commit.

Good stuff, and thank you Mad Scientist @Lance Roffers !!!!!
You can prop up one without dissing the other..
Exceptional, comprehensive review.

People actually go and pay for premium content elsewhere?
****, we're sensitive around here...
Not sensitive, I said what I said. You can congratulate one person without knocking another person. Seems like you can't take constructive criticism bud.
How the **** is this team only ranked 25?! They sound like they are loaded defensively. The defense actually sounds very similar to ours, pressure-wise (pressure 1st & 2nd, drop into zone on 3rd), they just do it a different way.

We've had our own problems with teams getting to the edge and forcing our CBs to make a tackle. Hopefully we have the blockers to set the edge and take advantage of it.

As far as beating man coverage goes, the good thing we have going for us is personnel - I don't care who they have in their secondary, it's gonna be touch to keep up with our WRs. We obviously just need Malik to get it to them. Pass protection was pretty good last year, and I have to think you will see Homer and DJ turn into excellent blockers. I am pretty happy #95 is gone, cause that guy looked like a terror.

Side note: my work production is going to suffer this month, but thank god football is back
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Not sensitive, I said what I said. You can congratulate one person without knocking another person. Seems like you can't take constructive criticism bud.

I'm not your bud. I didn't diss anyone. Go change your tampax.