Article Courtesy of: SB Nation
By: Zach Junda
I could live for all of eternity and never fully understand how LSU’s secondary performed so poorly last season.
This is LS-freaking-U. The program breeds elite defensive backs like few others can and has plenty of future pros on the roster, and yet despite that the group was the worst in school history and the country in passing defense.
Mississippi State threw for a conference record 623 yards in the opener. Connor Bazelak looked like an All-Conference quarterback in his second career start thanks to 406 yards and four touchdowns. And do we really need to revisit the Alabama game? Or the fact that, had they wanted to, the Tide could have easily scored 100 points?
The good news is, the bar is so low heading into 2021 that even being semi-decent will feel like the Tigers are a cross between the Steel Curtain and the ‘85 Bears. Even better is the fact that LSU has more than enough elite defensive backs to right the wrongs of last season.
It’s truly incredible that you can have a pair of studs at corner like Derek Stingley and Elias Ricks and still be the worst passing defense in college football. Stingley’s only the best, most gifted corner in LSU history and Ricks’s play was good enough for All-American honors.
And yet. And yet! LSU still gave up 323 passing yards a game. Derek Stingley will be a top-three pick in about 13 months, and Ricks will almost certainly be a first rounder in the 2023 draft but you wouldn’t know that based off Bo Pelini’s ill-fated second stop in Baton Rouge.
There were rumblings about Ricks possibly looking to transfer to Ohio State, but that appears to have been put to rest. As for Stingley, his sophomore campaign was derailed in the flukiest ways. He became ill and was hospitalized the night before the Mississippi State game, rolled his ankle on the yard marker chain against Missouri, took a knee to the head against Arkansas on a punt return and missed both the Florida and Ole Miss games due to a leg injury. But he’s still that dude and reminded everyone of that against A&M when he allowed only one catch against seven targets.
Stingley and Ricks are great, possibly the best corner tandem LSU has had since Patrick Peterson and Mo Claiborne. There’s absolutely nothing to worry about as far as boundary corners go.
The slot is where things get interesting. Cordale Flott, Jay Ward and Dwight McGlothern all had struggles early in the year, but the trio seemed to have found their footing as the year progressed. Flott had his best game as a Tiger in College Station; Ward intercepted three passes in the wins over Florida and Ole Miss, even returning one for a score; and McGlothern, while the numbers are gaudy, showed he can hang in the SEC.
Can we really take anything away from their efforts in 2020 as a whole? I’m not sure but I know this: LSU won a national championship 14 months ago with Flott and Ward contributing significantly. I’m willing to give them and McGlothern the benefit of the doubt and chalk the struggles up to poor coaching.
As for safety? Well the unit struggled last year and to rectify that, LSU made safety an area of focus for the 2021 recruiting class. LSU signed three safeties, including the No. 1 (Sage Ryan) and 2 (Derrick Davis) players at the position.
The safety room is thin at the moment with Mo Hampton Jr. transferring from LSU. Todd Harris and Cam Lewis are back for their senior campaigns, and Jordan Toles is entering year two.
The trio all struggled but some of those issues can be explained away. Harris was working his way back from an ACL tear; Toles was a true freshman; and Lewis, frankly, has never been high up on the depth chart. He’s veteran depth, but he’s not going to be LSU’s top choice to man a starting spot.
It’s very possible that Derrick Davis uses these 15 practices to push for playing time while also getting a leg up on Ryan and Matthew Langlois, who will enroll this summer. Is it unrealistic to pencil in LSU starting a pair of true freshmen at safety against UCLA? Probably, but if Ryan and/or Davis are as good as advertised, they’ll certainly be on the field early and often.