The winds of change were swirling in Baton Rouge this offseason. There were rumors that long time head coach Les Miles would be let go after a disappointing end to the season. Defensive coordinator Kevin Steele jumped ship to assume the same role at Auburn.
As luck would have it (depending on your feelings for Les), Miles was retained and LSU was able to attract one of the top defensive coordinators in the country, in Dave Aranda.
Aranda was formerly the defensive coordinator for the Wisconsin Badgers. Coincidentally, Aranda gets to face his former squad as the Tigers open the 2016 season against the Badgers at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisconsin.
Jan 5, 2016; Baton Rouge, LA, USA; LSU Tigers head coach Les Miles shakes hands with new defensive coordinator Dave Aranda at a press conference at the university’s training facility. Mandatory Credit: LSUSports.net
In 2012, Aranda was the defensive coordinator for the Utah State Aggies under head coach Gary Andersen. That same year, Aranda was nominated for the Broyles Award, given to the top assistant coach in the country.
The next season — when Andersen left for the job at UW — Aranda followed.
Ole Hotty Toddy
In his 3 years as defensive coordinator with the Badgers, Aranda’s unit ranked 1st in total defense, 2nd in scoring defense, 3rd against the pass, and 4th against the run.
In 2015, the Badgers ranked 4th against the run, 7th against the pass and 2nd in overall defense. Although the Badgers played against lesser competition in the Big 10, his defensive numbers stayed consistent.
By comparison, in 2015, LSU’s defense under Kevin Steele ranked 17th against the run, 61st against the pass and just 25th overall. Aranda’s defensive rankings would be a welcomed change in Baton Rouge.
Numbers and stats aren’t the only thing Aranda is bringing to the table. LSU is changing from the long known, traditional 4-3 defense to a 3-4 front.
Aranda also made this change in Wisconsin and played a more aggressive, attacking style defense that forced pressure in the backfield and created mismatches up front.
Looking at the aforementioned stats, I can only imagine what Aranda has in mind with the athletes on LSU’s current roster.
The Tigers return 9 starters on the defensive side of the ball, so there should be a good amount of continuity, even with the change in philosophy.
Jan 1, 2014; Tampa, Fl, USA; LSU Tigers linebacker Kendell Beckwith (52) against the Iowa Hawkeyes during the first half at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
The most important of those returning nine players is Kendell Beckwith. Beckwith led the team with 84 tackles, 10 tackles for a loss and 3.5 sacks in 2015. The senior will be the undisputed leader of this unit.
Lewis Neal and Arden Key will be pivotal players in the transition to the 3-4. These guys will most likely turn in to stand up outside linebackers, responsible for getting to the QB and creating havoc in the backfield.
Christian LaCouture will play nose tackle and Davon Godchaux is locked for one of the defensive end spots. In all likelihood, Frank Herron will fill the other DE spot, while Kendell Beckwith and Donnie Alexander will patrol the middle.
Godchaux, Key and Neal accounted for 19 sacks in 2015, a number that could increase in Aranda’s system. On paper, it seems that LSU’s new look defense is more than capable of terrorizing the SEC.
Nov 28, 2015; Baton Rouge, LA, USA; LSU Tigers defensive end Arden Key (49) and LSU Tigers defensive end Lewis Neal (92) celebrate sacking Texas A&M Aggies quarterback Kyle Allen (10) during the second half at Tiger Stadium. LSU defeated Texas A&M Aggies 19-7. Mandatory Credit: Crystal LoGiudice-USA TODAY Sports
Simply stated, there is no denying the talent on the defensive side of the roster. It will be up to Aranda to get the most out of the players in their new positions.
With the departure of Kirby Smart from Alabama, the door is now pushed wide open for LSU to assume the mantle of “best defense in the SEC“.
In due time, the college football will soon find out if Dave Aranda and the LSU defense are up to the task…….