LSU Football: Defending Like It's 1959
BATON ROUGE — Call them old school or a throw back unit to a time when 20 points won most college football games and putting up 300 yards of offense was nearly unheard of. This year’s LSU defense is reminding many who have watched the Tigers play throughout the years of the 1959 squad that to this day, is still considered the best group of defenders in school history.
Now, nearly 50 years later, this year’s LSU defense is putting up quite an argument as to who the best unit to ever wear the purple and gold may be. There is still a great deal of football to be played, but through the first three games of the season, this year’s Tiger defense has proven to be every bit as good as the 1959 unit.
“Our defense is playing dominant, dominant football,” LSU coach Les Miles said earlier this week. “They understand the calls. We are in year three now and they are very comfortable with the defensive calls and how to adjust to formation. This is a very talented defense.”
Indeed it is as LSU’s defense, behind the play of All-America defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey, a throw back in his own right, is putting up numbers not seen at the school since back in the 1950’s when the Tigers set most of the school records for opponent’s offensive futility that still stand today.
The 1959 defense still holds six schools records, including yards per game (143.2), passing yards (524) and fewest touchdowns allowed (3). The 1959 team allowed a total of 29 points during the regular season on its way to a 9-2 overall mark.
So far, this years Tiger team has been just as dominant as LSU leads the country in scoring defense (2.33 points per game), total yards (128.33 per game) and pass efficiency rating (54.3 rating). LSU also ranks among the top five in the nation in pass defense (2nd at 98.33 yards per game), rushing defense (3rd at 30.0 yards per game), and sacks (4th at 4.33 per game).
Consider that through the first three games in 2007, LSU has allowed only one touchdown and just 385 total yards. The 1959 squad surrendered only three points over the first three games of the year and a total of 407 yards of offense during that span.
The 385 yards allowed by the Tigers this year is the fewest over the first three games of a season in school history. The next closest was the 407 yards allowed in 1959.
Other interesting comparisons between the two squads include that both teams pitched shutouts in two of its first three games; the 2007 squad has forced a total of nine turnovers, while the 1959 team had eight takeaways during that span; and in terms of first downs, this year’s team has surrendered only 29 compared to 28 by the 1959 team.
In addition to being stingy when it comes to yards and touchdowns, this year’s LSU defense has allowed an opposing offense to penetrate its redzone only one time. That came during the second week of the season when Virginia Tech went 65 yards on eight plays for a third quarter touchdown.
A quick look at the Southeastern Conference statistics shows that the next closest team in terms of redzone penetration is that of South Carolina and Georgia, who have each allowed its opposition eight trips inside the 20-yard line this year.
In addition, LSU’s 385 yards allowed is nearly 400 yards less than the team that ranks No. 2 in the SEC in total defense as Florida is allowing 260.3 yards per game for a total of 781 total yards allowed in three games this season.
In a total of 37 possessions by its opponent, LSU has held the opposition to 10 yards or fewer in 25 times. LSU’s opponents have also gone 3-and-out on 13 of those possessions with another nine ending in a turnover. Only six times has the opposition put together a drive consisting of at least 30 yards. Dating back to last season, LSU’s defense has held the opposition scoreless in 13 of the past 14 quarters.
“The start of this season is as good of a defensive start that I have been around,” Miles said. “When you are talking about great defenses, it will always be the defense that will be pressed into the memory of our opponents.
“At this point, I like where we are. I like how they practice and prepare. I like how our staff prepares. There is no reason to think those characteristics will change and will continue to be one of the best defenses I have been around.”
Individually, senior linebacker Ali Highsmith leads the Tigers with 21 tackles, while Dorsey has 14 tackles, 3.5 tackles for losses and a pair of sacks for the Tigers. Defensive back leads the SEC in sacks with three, while safety Craig Steltz is tops in the nation in interceptions with four to his credit.
In all, eight different players have recorded sacks for the Tigers, while another five players have registered either an interception or a fumble recovery for the unit.
LSU’s defense will be put to another test on Saturday when the second-ranked Tigers (3-0) host 12th-ranked South Carolina (3-0) at 2:30 p.m. in Tiger Stadium. The contest is being billed as the “Gold Game” and LSU fans are asked to wear gold the game, which will be nationally televised by CBS.