LSU set for some ‘soul-searching’ after defensive breakdown at Ole Miss; what’s next?

2 months ago The Advocate 0

OXFORD, Miss. — Sometimes a win can feel like a loss, LSU learned Saturday night, especially when what began as a blowout unraveled into a defenseless, blow-for-blow touchdown-fest that’s usually seen in conferences to the west.

The No. 1 Tigers (10-0, 6-0 Southeastern Conference) scored four straight touchdowns to start the game against Ole Miss in Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, then the teams traded haymakers in a second half that resulted in a 58-37 LSU win in which Ole Miss recorded 614 total offensive yards — the most given up by a Tigers defense since 2001.

“It was embarrassing,” safety JaCoby Stevens said.

LSU football games weren’t going to be the same once it committed to the high-powered, spread offense that’s set numerous school records this season. Tigers coach Ed Orgeron acknowledged that his defense was going to have less time on the sideline, more drives on the field, but, for most of this season, those circumstances haven’t resulted in large swaths of defensive lapses.

Now, for the second straight week, LSU’s opponent has scored with ease in the second half, and the Tigers’ defense is searching for a solution as the program nears its first SEC championship game appearance since 2011.

“I’m totally disappointed in how we played,” inside linebacker Patrick Queen said. “Myself and all, we’ve just got to get better.”

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The breakdowns at Texas and Alabama appeared to be anomalies, the cost of doing business for playing a Big 12 Conference team in its home stadium and facing an elite Crimson Tide offense that was playing with a division title on the line.

Paired with LSU’s 66-38 win over Vanderbilt, the Ole Miss game makes four games in which LSU has surrendered more than 35 points this season — the most such games since 1998, when the Tigers went 4-7 under former coach Gerri DiNardo.

“I know that Alabama, (we) gave up a lot of points,” Stevens said of LSU’s 46-41 win in Tuscaloosa, when the Tide scored three touchdowns in the fourth quarter. “But we had the game wrapped up and Alabama was just trying to come back. This game, we were just dominated. Ole Miss, offensively, dominated us the whole game.”

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Namely, Rebels quarterback John Rhys Plumlee dominated. The 6-foot, 192-pound true freshman rushed for 212 yards and four touchdowns — the most individual rushing yards against LSU since former Auburn quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton rushed for 217 yards and two touchdowns in a 24-17 Auburn win in 2010.

Plumlee had touchdown runs of 46, 60 and 25 yards, catching the LSU defense out of position and breaking into the open field on zone-read runs and quarterback counters.

His performance was played in tandem with another true freshman, running back Jerrion Ealy, who rushed for 141 yards on 13 carries. Ole Miss’ 402 total yards rushing was also the most since that 2010 loss to Auburn (440); but Stevens steered the blame away from LSU defensive coordinator Dave Aranda.

“Coach Aranda called the plays,” Stevens said. “He put us in position to make the plays and we weren’t making the plays. We just need to go back and just look at the film, man, and just do a lot of soul-searching.”

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LSU won’t be facing another rushing quarterback quite like Plumlee in its remaining SEC schedule. Arkansas’ three quarterbacks — Nick Starkel, Ben Hicks and John Stephen Jones—have combined for eight total yards rushing. Texas A&M’s Kellen Mond has been an effective rusher, with 400 yards and seven touchdowns this season, but he has yet to rush for over 100 yards in a game.

If LSU plays Georgia in the SEC championship game on Dec. 7 in Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, the Tigers won’t have to be concerned with Jake Fromm’s mobility. The 6-foot-2, 220-pound junior has rushed for 23 yards this season.

But a berth in the College Football Playoff?

A national championship run could be froth with dual-threat quarterbacks. Oklahoma’s Jalen Hurts has rushed for 983 yards and 15 touchdowns, Ohio State’s Justin Fields has rushed for 377 yards and 10 touchdowns and even Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence has upped his mobility with 317 yards and seven scores.

LSU remains undefeated, one win away from clinching its first SEC West Division title since 2011.

“That’s what I have to remind them,” Orgeron said. “Let’s enjoy the win. Let’s don’t get greedy.”

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But in a locker room where stout defense has long been the standard, frustration still abounds.

“It’d be different if we were a bunch of scrubs on defense and we didn’t have the talent that we do have,” Stevens said. “My expectation is high, and we weren’t even near the expectation that I have for this defense.”

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