Speed wins in modern football. The LSU defense is fast. LSU has won an ample amount of games in the past decade.
It seems like simple, "no duh" logic, but it is the truth. The Bayou Bengals suffocate offenses with their speed.
It all starts up front with the defensive line.
LSU has seen a shift in the build and style of their defensive ends. When Les Miles began his tenure the head coach, he had bulky, powerful ends such as Kirston Pittman, Chase Pittman and Tyson Jackson. The position is now defined by leaner bodies at the position, such as Sam Montgomery, Barkevious Mingo, Danielle Hunter and Jordan Allen.
One of the most dominant performances of the lighter, speed ends era was against Auburn in 2011. Montgomery and Mingo combined for three sacks for a loss of 36 yards. LSU won the game 45-10.
Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn was the offensive coordinator at the time. He did not help his cause by playing to the strengths of LSU defensive front.
Malzahn called plays that involved tricky blocks that rely on fakes, deception and misdirection in 2011. This allowed the LSU defensive lineman free runs off the line of scrimmage, meaning they were not blocked by the offensive lineman or tight end lined up in front of them before the play.
Auburn lines up in a two-tight-end formation out of the shotgun on 2nd-and-goal. To defend it, LSU is in its nickel package, which includes five defensive backs, two linebackers and four defensive linemen.
The players to key on this play are Mingo (BM) and the two tight ends (TE1 & TE2)
The play starts out looking as if it is a rollout to the right with quarterback Barrett Trotter. "TE1" is Auburn's top weapon, tight end Phillip Lutzenkirchen. Lutzenkirchen begins to run a crossing route in the direction of the rollout.
The play is designed for the left tackle (No. 77) to leave Mingo unblocked, as he continues his rush up field. This is allowing Mingo an unimpeded route to the quarterback.
Malzahn's misdirection here is quite beautiful. Notice how every LSU defensive back is running with Lutzenkirchen or reading the eyes of Auburn QB Barrett Trotter. But the play is actually designed for TE2, who runs a delayed route to the opposite side of the field.
Trotter sells the fake well, showing great patience. The problem for him is Mingo's speed.
When Trotter turns to the left, he sees Mingo coming fast. Because defensive tackle Bennie Logan (No. 93) gave up on his rush, there would have been extra traffic to throw the ball. Trotter decides to eat the pigskin for a sack.
If Trotter had completed the pass to TE2, it could have gone for a touchdown. Instead, Auburn dug a bigger hole for itself in the red zone.
The play design by Malzahn is brilliant. The execution looks as if it went to plan. But LSU defensive ends run like deer, which can nullify a play such as this one.
Flash forward to 2013.
The LSU defensive line is still lightning fast. Jordan Allen (JA) is lined up at the bottom of the screen.
What UAB is attempting to do is "cut-block" the entire LSU defensive line. But Allen is different, because he is getting a free run off the line of scrimmage. Plus a fullback (FB) will attempt to block him.
As the ball is snapped, the UAB offensive line does a great job of cutting three of the defensive linemen. Now it is up to the fullback to get enough of Allen to slow him down.
Because Allen was not cut-block directly at the line of scrimmage, the free run gives him ample amount of time to process and react to the fullback's movement.
Whenever there is cut-blocking along the line of scrimmage such as this, the play call is usually a quick pass. The cut is to prevent the defensive line from batting the pass down.
The fullback looks as if he gets a piece of Allen, who goes airborne. The rest of the defensive line has been slowed down tremendously as well.
Allen might not have the speed of Mingo, but he does have similar strength and body control. He avoids falling on the ground and continues his swift rush to the quarterback.
UAB quarterback Austin Brown holds on to the football too long, in part because of tight coverage across the field. But he is also shocked at how quickly Allen gets to him for a sack.
This play has been Allen's only sack of the season. He has done a great job generating pressure against traditional pass-blocking. But when he gets a free run, his athleticism takes over.
Mingo made most of his sacks when offensive coordinators would get too cute and creative when trying to block him. Earlier in the game against Auburn, a left guard attempted to pull in pass protection to block him on the opposite side of the line. This resulted in a sack as well.
There is nothing wrong with running some screens and draws. Keeping the LSU defensive line off-balance is critical. But long-developing plays that involve tricky blocking schemes will not work. This is especially true on the road, where blocking calls and snap counts are tougher to hear.
Both of Mingo's sacks came at critical moments while the game was still close in the first quarter. Malzahn cannot have huge sacks such as those if he wants to keep the game close. He needs to realize the risk of allowing the LSU defensive line a free run.
Auburn has enough talent to hang in this game. Quarterback Nick Marshall has shown flashes of brilliance. But Marshall will need help from his coaches and offensive line if he is to survive the ferocious front of LSU.