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Brooks Kubena | The Advocate | August 14, 2018

LSU defense looks to capitalize on turnover chances in 2018

Bill Busch kept shouting the same sentence while the LSU defensive backs fought against the broom.

The first-year safeties coach lobbed one pass after another toward the corner of the end zone, while another assistant attempted to swat away the balls from defenders with a broom.

 
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When the broom knocked passes away, the players clapped and swore.

"Twenty-four dropped interceptions in two years," Busch yelled. "Twenty-four dropped interceptions in two years."

Sophomore safety Grant Delpit, who started in 10 games in 2017, said someone within the LSU coaching staff had researched that statistic.

Then, Busch found out.

"He won't let it go," Delpit said.

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Forcing turnovers has been one of the few things not done well by the LSU defense, which ranked 14th nationally in 2017 in scoring defense (18.9 points allowed per game) and 12th in total defense (316 yards allowed per game).

The Tiger defense has not cracked the top 50 in either interceptions or fumbles in any of the past four seasons. Dave Aranda is attempting to change that in his third season as defensive coordinator.

Coach Ed Orgeron said at the start of preseason camp that Aranda's new schemes allow LSU to "be more aggressive on defense, to cause more tackles for loss, to get more sacks, get more picks," and the players have since run through drills that address those goals.

On Tuesday, Orgeron stood by as defensive linemen rushed and swatted at an assistant holding forearm pads. Outside linebackers plowed through a gauntlet of tackling dummies, then strip-sacked another. Busch hummed point-blank passes at oncoming safeties, who tried to hold on for an interception.

Busch still wasn't letting it go.

Senior safety John Battle said the defensive backs had collectively dropped five interceptions in Saturday's scrimmage.

Battle said Monday that he thought the rain played a big effect on the drops, but Busch didn't relent.

"He said we have to do jugs after practice," said Battle, who started in 12 games last season with 61 tackles and an interception. "Every drop we got pushups."

So why the fuss over turnovers? Hasn't the LSU defense done enough? Perhaps it's more of a problem with the offense, which hasn't cracked the top 40 in scoring in any of the past four seasons.

Referencing the top-ranked turnover teams from 2017, turnovers elevate offensive scoring.

  LSU finished 14th in the nation in scoring defense in 2017.
UCF, the nation's No. 1 scoring offense (48.2 points per game), ranked second nationally with 32 forced turnovers.

Memphis, the nation's No. 2 scoring offense (45.5 points per game), ranked third nationally with 31 turnovers.

Both teams possessed potent offenses, but the high turnover rate boosted their field position, essentially increasing their likelihood to score.

UCF and Memphis both ranked within the Top 15 in starting field position, according to College Football Analytics.

LSU's offense may not have been highly productive in the past four seasons, but the team's starting field position was never an advantage. The Tigers ranked 57th nationally in 2017 with an average starting field position of their own 32, and the program ranked outside the top 100 in the three previous seasons.

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Forced turnovers aren't a fix-all.

Wyoming led the nation with 38 forced turnovers last season and mustered just 23.5 points per game (104th nationally) because its offense ranked fifth to last in total offense (286 yards per game).

It's an Aranda gamble that would need to be cashed in by the new spread offense in Steve Ensminger's first full season at offensive coordinator.

It's also redefining what defensive success means at LSU.

"We want to be a top defense in the country," Battle said, "and to do that, we've got to have more turnovers than we've had in the previous years."

This article is written by Brooks Kubena from The Advocate, Baton Rouge, La. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.