Elmassian Uses Solid Core to Build Defense
By Ryan Rogers
Phil Elmassian takes over as LSU’s defensive coordinator in 2000. Elmassion comes to LSU from Wisconsin where he served as secondary coach and assistant defensive coordinator. He was a big part of a team that went 21-3 over the past two seasons including being the only Big Ten team to ever win back-to-back Rose Bowl Championships.
Before his arrival in Wisconsin, Elmassian served as defensive coordinator at Virginia Tech. There, along with head coach Frank Beamer they took a program that was 2-8-1 and turned it into a 9-3 team just one year later. Since then Virginia Tech has had seven straight winning seasons and last year played in the Sugar Bowl for a National Championship.
Now Elmassian comes to LSU and tries to stop the bleeding for an LSU defense that has been under par the last two seasons. It’s a defense that has tremendous talent, but lacks direction. Elmassian and Coach Saban aim to change that in 2000.
The two have installed a 4-3 defense. It has a 5-2 look with the outside linebacker lining up on the line of scrimmage for many sets.
“We are very strong down the middle,” said Elmassian. “With (Muskingum) Barnes on the defensive line, (Bradie) James and (Treverance) Faulk our middle linebackers and safety Ryan Clark we are solid in the middle,” says Elmassian. “It’s just like a good defensive baseball team. If you have a good catcher, shortstop, second baseman and center fielder then you will be tough. You know, give me a Roger Clemens and I’ll win games. It’s very similar.”
Elmassian feels that if teams aren’t productive moving the ball in the middle of the field then they will be forced to take the ball outside which will play right into his defensive scheme.
“It’s a lot easier to play defense when the offense is predictable. If we know they are going to go outside it will make for easier play calling.”
Elmassian’s main concern is to stop the run. He plans on doing that by outnumbering his opponents in the box.
“As long as we have one more guy then they do in the box we’ll be alright. It’s hard to ask a defense to match up one-on-one and expect them to make plays on every down. Our defenders might be good, but if they are trying to get off of a block to make a tackle it will be tough. Other teams have talent too. They recruit and work hard too. Their blockers are going to be very good.”
Elmassian stated that the Tigers will have to stop the pass also in order to be successful. But when playing pass-happy teams like Kentucky or Florida it’s just as important to stop the run in those games.
“If they want to throw the ball then don’t let them run. I coached a game against Purdue last year where Drew Brees threw 85 passes. We won because we didn’t let them run the ball at all,” say Elmassian.
Elmassian is pleased with the defenses progress so for. He stresses two important keys that he must teach his players; fundamentals and overcoming adversity.
“We’ve had a good off-season. The players are learning the system fairly well. The most important things for us to teach are solid fundamentals, and teach the kids how to overcome adversity. They need to understand that bad things are going to happen in a football game. Overcoming those bad things is the difference in winning and losing. They need to forget about the past and worry about right now.”
The secondary for LSU is an area of concentration. With Saban’s enormous experience and knowledge of the position combined with Elmassian’s experience the Tiger defensive backs are blessed with ample coaching.
“I’ve always been so impressed with Nick Saban’s secondaries,” says Elmassian. If you watch film of his teams in Houston (Oilers/NFL), Cleveland (Browns/NFL) or Michigan State you see the most fundamentally sound defensive backs in football. I used to show my players film of Michigan State’s secondary to try and teach them proper techniques.”
Elmassian inherited some talent in the secondary. Ryan Clark, Fred Booker, Robert Davis, Damian James, Norman Leguene, Demetrius Hoofkin and freshman Adrian Mayes are all extremely talented athletes. Talking to the defensive backs as a whole they are all very pleased and impressed with Saban’s and Elmassian’s coaching, and they all appreciate the large amount of attention they have received.
LSU should have a much tougher defense in 2000. The talent is more mature than it was last year and both Coach Saban and Coach Elmassian appear to be prepared to harness that talent into a top-notch defense.