LSU Football: Why Tigers Secondary Has Struggled and How They Can Stop Alabama

Carter BryantContributor IOctober 30, 2013

Sep 28, 2013; Athens, GA, USA; Georgia Bulldogs wide receiver Michael Bennett (82) catches a touchdown pass in front of LSU Tigers safety Craig Loston (6) during the first quarter at Sanford Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

What ever happened to the swag factory that once was the LSU secondary?

"Defensive Back University" has turned into a junior college. The unit has not looked this bad since the 2008 co-defensive coordinator disaster.  

To be fair, all SEC defenses have struggled thanks to the plethora of talented, experienced quarterbacks in the conference. But that LSU has looked so porous defensively has been one the biggest surprises in college football this year.

LSU Secondary vs. SEC Offenses in 2013
OpponentCompletions-AttemptsPassing YardsTDsINTs
Mississippi State16-3125221
Ole Miss31-4134910
LSU Sports Information

There has been no unit that has been worse than the other. The defensive line, linebackers and secondary have all been eviscerated by SEC offenses. 

But the decline of the LSU defense is rooted in the secondary, which is not entirely the fault of the current players.

The standards and prestige of "DBU" could make Harvard graduates jealous. Patrick Peterson, Tyrann Mathieu, Eric Reid, Brandon Taylor, Morris Claiborne, Tharold Simon and Ron Brooks made everything look so easy in 2010 and 2011. 

In those two seasons, the LSU defensive backs were the best tacklers, pass rushers and playmakers in college football. Chavis could call any defense with confidence, knowing that at least one of those players would make a play. There was nothing the unit could not do. 

Now, the LSU secondary has trouble doing anything consistently. These issues are compounded by the fact that the DBs get hardly any support from the defensive line or the linebackers. 

Former LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne returns an interception for a touchdown against Georgia in the 2011 SEC Championship Game.
Former LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne returns an interception for a touchdown against Georgia in the 2011 SEC Championship Game./Getty Images

The defensive line still cannot generate a consistent pass rush without blitzing. But that has always been the case with LSU under Chavis. The difference now compared to recent years is the previously discussed decline in the secondary. In 2010 and 2011, LSU was able to mask their lack of a pass rush and average linebackers with elite coverage and blitzes by defensive backs out of Chavis' 3-2-6 "Mustang" formation.

Peterson, Mathieu, Reid, Taylor, Claiborne, Simon and Brooks are all currently on NFL rosters. But all positions for LSU have been hurt due to talented underclassmen leaving early. 

With that said, LSU still has too much talent in its secondary for it to be so inconsistent. 

The most underrated attribute of the 2010 and 2011 LSU secondaries was their football IQ. Safeties Taylor and Reid were excellent at calling out formations and making audibles before the snap. 

LSU true freshman Tre'Davious White has shown flashes of brilliance as a starting cornerback.
LSU true freshman Tre'Davious White has shown flashes of brilliance as a starting cornerback.

Upperclassmen are usually responsible for making calls and getting the defense properly aligned. If the LSU defense is to have a chance later this season against Alabama and Texas A&M, it will need experienced safeties Craig Loston and Ronald Martin to do a better job of getting their teammates in the proper positions. 

Passing offenses are complex as ever for defensive backs in college football to stop. LSU must do a better job of reading and diagnosing passing plays as they develop.

LSU lost well-respected defensive back coach Ron Cooper, who until 2011 served as the chancellor of "DBU". Former LSU defensive back Corey Raymond came over from Nebraska's staff in 2012 to coach the Tigers secondary.

Raymond took over a unit that had just lost Mathieu before the opening week to the 2012 season. Simon and Reid took steps back in 2012, as the secondary had a couple of less-than-stellar outings to close out the campaign.

Nevertheless, Raymond must find a way to get more out of his talent. He must get his defensive backs to communicate better to prevent coverage busts. There is little excuse for so many yards to be given up.


How LSU Can Contain Alabama

LSU especially cannot allow Alabama to make big plays through the air. 

Alabama is a run-first team. But quarterback AJ McCarron can tear apart opposing secondaries with his accuracy. Receivers Amari Cooper, Kevin Norwood and DeAndrew White all are capable of have 100-yard games. 

The LSU defensive backs need to be physical with Alabama's big receivers in man coverage. If the Tigers are in zone, Alabama will force LSU's safeties to make quick decisions as to whom to cover. 

Defensive coordinator Chavis needs to mix up his coverages and occasionally blitz in key situations. Cornerback Jalen Mills leads the team in sacks with three. 

Nobody is asking the LSU secondary to become as productive as the 2011 unit that led the Tigers to an undefeated regular season. But the current unit must take accountability for its mistakes and failure to play up to its potential.  

"DBU" is a prestigious university. The LSU defensive backs under Raymond need to keep it that way.