For the first time since 2007, the LSU Tigers and Alabama Crimson Tide met on the gridiron without sporting two evenly matched teams.
LSU possessed an explosive offense and talented defense over the weekend, while Alabama boasted a balanced offensive attack and dominant defense. A 38-17 victory for the Tide transpired as result.
How did we get here? How did Alabama's greatest adversary over the past five seasons become a second-tier team to the Tide? LSU fans should've seen this coming...
Throughout the 2013 season, the Tigers lacked an aggressive playing style because of inexperience held by the defense.
Most people credit that to youth. Most people are wrong. What many do not realize is that this defense starts two seniors and four juniors. Of the 11 starting defensive players, seven of them received significant playing time before this season. Therefore, youth isn't a viable excuse.
Instead, you have to face the stone-cold truth—there is an absence of defensive playmakers on LSU. Because of players like Glenn Dorsey, Patrick Peterson, Tyrann Mathieu, Eric Reid and Morris Claiborne, the Tigers owns a legendary defensive reputation.
With John Chavis as defensive coordinator, yards have been hard-pressed, while points have been hard to come by for Tiger foes.
The Tigers gave up 11.3 points per game in 2011 and 17.5 in 2012. That statistic is up to 23.5 in 2013.
The perception of LSU's invincible defense has wilted in 2013, and it may have been erased completely Saturday night. It was like watching Bane muscle around Batman, as the Tigers were driven off the line of scrimmage and bullied around in the fourth quarter. The Tide sustained two 70-plus-yard scoring drives in the final quarter.
So now that LSU's "back" is broken, how will the Tigers become a dominant force teams will fear once again in 2014?
Find Shutdown Corners
First and foremost, you have to recruit.
The first step in giving this defense a makeover is finding defensive backs who can win the battle on the perimeter. Tre'Davious White and Rashard Robinson aren't there yet, but they could develop into the next Claiborne-type defensive back, restoring the pride in DBU.
However, White and Robinson's progression is not a certainty. Here's where Les Miles comes into the fold. Miles is one of the best recruiting head coaches in the nation, and it's up to him to reel in a cornerback or two who can eliminate a valuable offensive weapon.
If the Tigers can lock receivers down on the perimeter, it will give Chavis more confidence to blitz more...
Utilize Talents to Blitz the Quarterback
It's so easy to simply say "recruit better" or "find one of those freak freshmen to play like an All-American." As a result of being spoiled, LSU fans were beside themselves when true freshmen did not pan out this season.
So maybe the 2013 recruiting class wasn't a gem like years passed. Still, the simple excuse—LSU isn't as talented—carries little weight.
Against Ole Miss, the Tigers used Jalen Mills from the nickel position to disrupt Bo Wallace. It was effective, as Mills registered two sacks in the 27-24 loss. Yes, Mills might not hold the same value as a Mathieu at the position, but he's proven to be a hard-nosed defensive back.
He's not the only nickelback to gain success this season either. In a winning effort against Furman, Dwayne Thomas produced two sacks and forced a fumble.
A Chavis-led defense is at its best when versatile defensive backs can cover and rush the passer on designed blitzes. The coverage aspect has been suspect in 2013, and blitzing off the edge has been spotty at best.
Develop Defensive Linemen
Let's get back to the cornerstone of LSU football.
For years, LSU rotated defensive linemen into the game and did not miss a beat. You can do that when you're two deep. Well, LSU found out firsthand how tough it is controlling the line of scrimmage without great backups.
The bright spot here is that most of LSU's defensive linemen will return next season. Anthony Johnson is likely destined to turn pro next season, while Ego Ferguson could join him. It's not a certainty both men are gone though.
Assuming one of them comes back, the Tigers return a wealth of experience on the defensive line with Jermauria Rasco, Danielle Hunter, Jordan Allen, Christian LaCouture, Mickey Johnson and Kendell Beckwith all returning. Beckwith, Hunter and Rasco have shown that they have potential with key sacks this season, while LaCouture, Johnson and Allen have yet to reach their ceiling.
If LSU can get a productive spring out of Lewis Neal, Tashawn Bower and Greg Gilmore, the Tigers should get back to the norm, sporting a solid two-deep defensive line.
With commanding play on the defensive line and outstanding coverage in the secondary, the Tigers will transform back into a national championship-caliber defense. Those two areas help LSU overcome lackluster linebacker play, and when LSU is without it, the entire defense becomes exposed.
That's been the story of 2013, but the Tigers can get back to their old ways in 2014 by assembling a defense with game-changers on the outside and powerful forces on the inside.