Analyzing LSU’s defense heading into first spring under Brian Kelly
We recently took a stroll through what the LSU offense looks like entering spring drills, which begin in less than a month. Now let’s sneak an early peek at the Tigers’ talent on defense.
LSU has a history of building special defenses.
Going back to 1959, coach Paul Dietzel’s Tigers allowed a mere 52 points for the entire season (just 4.5 points per game) with five shutouts and nine outings where the opponent was kept out of the endzone.
The ’62 Tigers surrendered only three points per contest with six shutouts and a matching nine games without allow a touchdown.
In 1969, LSU had a trio of shutouts and five opponents who did not cross the goalline while allowing just 9.1 points per game. The ’70 bunch was almost as good, allowing 9.4 points each game.
Fast forward to the more recent era, the Golden Age of LSU football.
The 2003 and 2007 national title teams had talented defenses with future NFL players but one year since the turn of the centure features a truly special team of defenders.
In 2011, LSU finished 13-1 thanks to a dominant defense led by Tyrann Mathieu, Morris Claiborne and Eric Reid. That unit gave up only 11.2 points per contest with five opponents who could not score a touchdown.
Today, there is plenty of potential to be good on that side of the ball depsite an offseason of significant personnel change. The Tigers have future NFL defenders as well.
Head coach Brian Kelly’s staff will not be married to any one specific defensive alignment, instead planning to analyze the talent available and best utilize their skills as a whole.
It will be interesting to witness how the new coaches will take advantage of that they have available.
Ali Gaye (6-6, 267, Sr.) returns after considering the NFL seriously. That decision significantly upgrades the edge for LSU. Injuries limited him to four games last season, but in 2020 he recorded 9.5 T tackles for loss, a pair of sacks and five hurries.
Soni Fonua stepped up when called upon with 28 stops, 6.5 TFL and a half sack last fall. He provides a physical option on the edge with three-down potential.
Bryce Langston (6-3 1/2, 282, RS Fr.) is skilled enough to play inside or out, which will enhance his opportunities to see the field. He has added weight and strength and could be a player to watch.
A 2022 signee, Quency Wiggins (6-6, 275), has off the charts potential. If he sees the field this season, it will be no shock.
Jaquelin Roy (6-4, 297, Jr.) had 30 tackles, 6 TFL and 1.5 sacks in ’21. He has come into his own and seems primed for a breakout year.
Joseph Evans (6-1, 306, Jr.) is commonly considered to be one of the better linemen on the squad by teammates who rave about his value. In fact, it’s no lock he will stay on the defensive line because of his potential on the other side of the ball as a center or guard.
Jacobian Guillory (6-2, 340, Soph.) possesses impressive power and strength (740 lbs. squat; 625 lbs. dead lift). That profile screams anchor for a defensive front.
Maason Smith (6-6 ,295, Soph.) has just scratched the surface of what he can do. The Freshman All American last season tallied 5.0 TFL and 4.0 sacks as he learned the ropes.
Mekhi Wingo (6-1, 280, Soph.), a highly coveted transfer from Missouri ranked 12th overall in transfer portal, made three starts as a freshman last year and posted 27 tackles, 2.0 TFL and a sack. He also added a 40-yard interception return for a touchdown to demonstrate his athleticism. Wingo has a high football IQ and explosivenesss while playing with a chip on his shoulder. His versatility means he could play anywhere up front.
B.J. Ojulari (6-3, 245, Jr.) has developed into a fierce pass rusher as projected when he signed. He bends the edge to attack the passer. Ojulari recorded 54 tackles, 12 TFL and 7.0 sacks last year.
Savion Jones (6-6, 242, RS Fr.) has similar skills to former LSU standout Danielle Hunter. As a senior at St. James, Jones totaled 20 TFL, 10 sacks and 23 pressures while facing double team blocks. He has explosive get off, quick hands and the kind of length scouts covets.
Phillip Webb (6-4, 241, RS Fr.), a linebacker candidate, could get a good look at this spot in spring since his impressive physical skills are suited here. He tallied 54 tackles, 26.5 sacks and 63 pressures at Lanier High in Buford, Ga.
Shreveport native Micah Baskerville (6-2, 223, Sr.) is back, and his return to the fold is major. The team’s second leading tackler from ’21 with 83 stops, 9.0 TFL and a pair of sacks brings experience and leadership at a group that sorely needs it.
West Weeks (6-2, 220, Soph.), a transfer from Virginia, plays with juice. He managed 31 tackles with one for loss, a sack and five passes broken up as true freshman with the ACC’s Cavaliers.
Josh White (6-0, 220, Jr.) begs the questions – If not now, then when? He has the talent to start and star.
Kolbe Fields (6-1, 225, Soph.), a transfer from South Carolina out of Rummel in Metairie, can really run. He had 98 tackles, 12 TFL and 3.5 sacks as a prep senior.
Mike Jones (6-0, 220, Jr.) chipped in with 34 stops, 2.5 TFL and a sack in ’21 while trying to carve out a role following his arrival from Clemson. He should be much more comfortable in defined role in ’22. One would think he’s penciled in to start next to Baskerville at this juncture.
Greg Penn III (6-2, 225, Soph.) was highly regarded four-star 2021 signee from Baltimorewho saw limited action over three games late last season.
Harold Perkins (6-2, 210) is the crown jewel of ’22 signing class. Too talented to not discover a role in this defense, his game-changing ability makes the five-star talent a top contender to see snaps in 2011.
DeMario Tolan (6-2, 215, 4.55) is another 2022 signee with a bright future in Tiger stripes. With a 435 pounds to his credit in the squat along with overall athleticism to play run or pass, he moves like a safety. Tolan competed in the 110 meter hurdles (15.8 seconds best time) and 4X400 relay as a prepster.
Mekhi Garner, two-year starter (26 games), arrives as transfer from ULL where he totaled 63 tackles, 18 PBU and three interceptions. A big, physical cover man, he’s a valuable addition to a secondary that was depleted by graduation, early-entry departures and transfers.
Jarrick Bernard-Converse could end up as the best overall new addition for 2022 for the Tigers. An Evangel Christian product like Baskerville, he played in 51 games at Oklahoma State, starting 47, on his way to earning a pair of All-Big XII selextions for the Cowboys. The future veterinarian has leadership skills much needed for this secondary. A tone setter.
Damarius McGhee made only one game appearance as true freshman in ’21. He has SEC skills but obviously lacks game reps.
Greg Brooks, Jr. made 31 starts at Arkansas, producing 112 tackles, 12 PBU, 5.5 TFL and four picks. The West Jefferson product is another valuable addition with loads of SEC experience.
Sage Ryan just moved the needle as a true freshman last season (three games). He has outstanding athletic talent which should translate well no matter where he plays. It could even be boundary corner or either safety spot.
Pig Cage, a Nicholls State transfer out of Rummel, who could prove to be valuable down the road. He did not look out of place on the FBS level in the Texas Bowl.
Jay Ward, a converted corner, is LSU’s third leading returning tackler with 69 stops to go along with two interceptions. He could move back to cornerback depending on need.
Major Burns, a home grown (Madison Prep) talent who transfered to Baton Rouge from Georgia last year, chipped in with 25 stops last season. He may end up as a starter again.
Joe Foucha, the former McDonogh 35 standout, transferred from Arkansas where he played in 44 games with 33 starts. He brings physicality and lots of SEC experience. His 231 tackles, 11.5 TFL, 17 passes broken up and five interceptions shows Foucha makes plenty of plays.
Derrick Davis, a much heralded 2021 signee, will rock you with his tackles. Talented enough to justify significant reps, he won’t be rushed to the field as long as Foucha is healthy.
LSU football has maintained a long history of success. The dominance of the defense is often directly proportional to their best performances over many decades.
The 2022 defense can be very good. If so, more consistent winning will be a direct result.
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Born and raised in the New Orleans area, Rene Nadeau has been involved in sports ever since his earliest memories. Rene played basketball, wrestled, ran track, and was an All-District running back in football at John F. Kennedy High School. He went on to be a member of the LSU football program, developing a passion for the game in even…