Anthony "Freak" Johnson was consistently in the UAB backfield last Saturday night.
The most important thing to do on defense is rush the quarterback.
LSU has four sacks on the season through two games. Though the sack totals are not through the roof, it does not mean its pass rush has been ineffective.
The pass rush has actually been quite the opposite. It has been magnificent despite many new faces.
The biggest improvement has been the LSU defense's ability to collapse the pocket and get pressure with just four pass rushers. With the talent the Tigers have in the secondary, they become nearly impenetrable through the air.
LSU lost defensive ends Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery to the draft last season. But the biggest misnomer about the two was their pass rushing ability.
Georgia's Jarvis Jones and South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney finished with more sacks than Mingo and Montgomery combined. As previously stated, sacks do not mean everything. But both underachieved and looked blockable for most of the season.
LSU's Jordan Allen, Danielle Hunter and Jermauria Rasco have done a fantastic job filling in for Mingo, Montgomery and Lavar Edwards at defensive end. Allen, Hunter and Rasco have been swift in getting around offensive tackles and creating pressure.
The defensive tackles have done the same.
Anthony Johnson and Ego Ferguson have been under immense pressure to produce at a position that carries plenty of history at LSU. They have delivered through two games.
Defensive coordinator John Chavis created the 3-2-6 "Mustang" package to put more speed on the field. This puts six defensive backs on the field at one time on passing downs.
Tyrann Mathieu made most of his plays at LSU in the Mustang formation. It allows defensive backs to get after the quarterback on exotic blitzes, forcing them to attack offensive lineman with great technique.
No better example of this was LSU against Kentucky in 2011. Mathieu and Ron Brooks both sped around their respective offensive tackle to create one of Mathieu's many defensive touchdowns.
This season, Micah Eugene returns as a nickel back in the Mustang package while redshirt freshman Dwayne Thomas has worked in as the dime back. These two are expected to be the playmakers in the formation, much like Mathieu and Brooks.
LSU used the Mustang package well against UAB to create pressure. But Chavis did not need to bring the house to do so because of the improvement of LSU's pass rush.
It is 3rd-and-medium for UAB deep in their own territory. They lineup in shotgun, showing the defense they are going to pass.
Chavis brings in his Mustang package. There are four players highlighted on this play, all of which are getting after the quarterback off the snap.
Across the defensive line, Rasco (JR) is lined up at left defensive end, Johnson (AJ) at nose tackle and Hunter (DH) is the right defensive end. At the bottom of the screen, Eugene (ME) will essentially serve as the fourth pass rusher.
The reason why the Mustang can be a lethal weapon for defenses is not only for the speed, but for its pre-snap confusion for quarterbacks. It is nearly impossible to tell which defenders are blitzing. Notice how close linebackers Lamin Barrow and Kwon Alexander are to the line of scrimmage. They are fast enough to blitz and drop back into coverage effectively.
A pass rusher is at its best when facing an immobile quarterback. UAB's quarterback Austin Brown makes Tom Brady look fast. So this allows the LSU pass rushers more freedom with their rushing lanes.
Off the snap, LSU fires off pretty low as they look to size up their offensive lineman for a pass rushing move. Johnson (AJ) is getting double-teamed.
LSU looks as if it is only rushing four. But in actuality, they bring a delayed blitzer in Kwon Alexander. Barrow eventually drops back into coverage.
UAB's offensive line does a great job. The top priority when facing the Mustang defense is to not let any defender have a free, unblocked rush to the quarterback.
UAB continues to do a great job in picking up assignments, especially after the delayed blitz for Alexander. But unfortunately for the Blazers, LSU's athletes whip them in execution.
Eugene (ME) is being blocked by a tight end, who has no chance. Eugene does an exceptional job of dipping his shoulder to get around the corner. He does not allow the tight end to extend his arms and knock him off his path.
Rasco (JR) tries to do the same at the top of the screen. He begins to get around the corner until he eventually loses his footing.
Before, it looked as if Johnson (AJ) would get nowhere as he is being double-teamed. One of Johnson's biggest weaknesses in the past was his inability to shed blocks, particularly against the pass.
Johnson performs the most unstoppable pass rushing move for defensive tackles, which is a "swim." JJ Watt of the Houston Texans does this more effectively than anybody else. Johnson begins his swim motion as his right arm begins a sweeping motion.
Hunter (DH), normally a defensive end, is in a great spot. Because Eugene is rushing outside of him, he no longer has contain responsibilities. This allows him freedom to go inside of his blocker. He does a great job of squaring up his blocker, knowing his quickness will allow him to get around him.
Hunter now begins his swim move to the inside. His blocker's arms are full extended, so all Hunter has to do is swat his arms away and go inside of him.
Johnson is completing his swim move and begins his move around the guard. "The Freak" shows a tremendous desire and creativity to shift around a double-team.
The offensive lineman blocking Hunter and Johnson are in similar positions. Their arms are fully extended, which is fine. But because of the "swim," all their blockers could do is commit a holding penalty and yank them down.
Eugene remains the critical component of the play. He has burned the tight end. Brown hears footsteps and begins to panic.
Brown begins to throw the football just to get rid of it. Eugene and Johnson get excited they are about to get a great shot on a quarterback after an excellent rush.
Johnson does a great job to hit the quarterback cleanly. He swallows him with his long arms.
If Brown had held the ball for a second longer, Eugene could have possibly had a clean strip. If Brown was able to miraculously evade Johnson and Eugene, Hunter would have been there for a massive blow.
This LSU stop was critical. It allowed Odell Beckham Jr. to return a punt deep into UAB territory on the next play, which eventually resulted in an easy touchdown for the Tigers offense.
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The stop was reminiscent of two plays in the past two seasons at LSU.
The before-mentioned Mathieu strip against Kentucky in 2011 was created by Mathieu's and Brooks' ability to get around the corner. But the play also featured a great rush up the middle. This play against UAB had similar components.
Former LSU defensive tackle Bennie Logan used a swim move to get around a Florida offensive guard to force a critical strip-sack of Jeff Driskel last season. The Tigers were able to score right before the half because of it. Johnson or Ferguson could possibly do the same later this year.
Much credit must be given to defensive line coach Brick Haley. Haley has done a magnificent job getting new contributors ready for play quickly.
There is room for improvement. Sacks will come if LSU does a better of job of getting rid of blocks quicker. Also, pass rushing changes when facing a mobile quarterback. Kent State's Colin Reardon has 96 yards rushing in two games.
Being able to rush the passer without bringing exotic blitzes allows Chavis to be diverse defensively. This will be critical going forward.
The SEC has never been so loaded at quarterback during the Chavis tenure. LSU still has to play AJ McCarron, Johnny Manziel and Aaron Murray. If they are to win, they will need to rush quarterbacks effectively.