Dave Aranda's LSU defense finished the regular season having allowed the second-fewest touchdowns in the nation (16), but he's still hung up on the five his unit gave up against Texas A&M on Thanksgiving night.
"The game I’m still upset about is the A&M game," he said during a 15-minute interview Friday morning with Culotta And The Fan on ESPN 104.5 FM.
"I’m still trying to get over the fourth quarter of the A&M game," he said later during the interview, "and then I’m trying to watch as much film as I can of Louisville."
Aranda spoke publicly for the first time since July and just a few days after the school announced a new three-year deal making him, for now, the highest-paid assistant coach in the country. Aranda's new contract will pay him $1.8 million a year, with built-in raises to 1.85 in 2018 and 1.9 in 2019.
Aranda’s new 3-4 defense excelled throughout this season, especially in the red zone. The Tigers finished 12th nationally in total defense, allowing just 323 yards per game, and they were seventh nationally in scoring defense, giving up 16.4 points per game. But it's those three fourth-quarter touchdowns against Texas A&M that have the defensive guru still ticked off two weeks later.
"I look at the opportunity in this bowl game to play four quarters on defense," Aranda said. "For everything we’ve talked about as a defense and have accomplished, what we have not done is play four quarters, from start to finish, and complete a game."
It will be a tall task on Dec. 31 against No. 15 Louisville in the Citrus Bowl. The Cardinals have what many consider to be the favorite to win the Heisman Trophy on Saturday night. Lamar Jackson is second nationally in averaging 410 yards a game. He's rolled up 3,390 yards passing and run for 1,538 more, scoring 51 touchdowns.
He's a true dual-threat, Aranda said, a guy who's ability to throw "bombs" down the field makes him so successful.
"I’m at the airport here. I was just watching film of him waiting to jump on this plane," Aranda said. "There’s times where when you pressure him, he scrambles. When you don’t pressure him, he passes the ball and completes bombs. That’s the problem and that’s what’s unique about him."
Aranda dove into plenty other topics. He said his decision to remain at LSU and sign an extended deal was an easy one. He described his good relationship with new head coach Ed Orgeron, the development of freshman linebacker Devin White and called the intense two weeks leading up to the Alabama game "something else."
His oldest daughter, Jaelyn, has taken up fishing and may soon start hunting - two things Aranda knows nothing about, he said, poking fun at his bookworm personality. He also discussed his childhood as a Dodgers fan growing up in southern California. The focal point, though, was his future with the Tigers.
“We’ve got a great opportunity here to build a special team and take the next step," he said.
What made Tre White so good during his final year?
Tre’Davious could see things coming at him. He played with a calm and confidence. A few of our other seniors got that as the season went on. Kendell Beckwith. (Davon) Godchaux would probably fall in that category.
Tre’Davious came out that way right off the bat. Seeing splits, seeing a big receiver: ‘Hey, I can get hands on him.’ (If) it’s a small scat guy, ‘I’m going to motor off, let him use his movement and then I’m going to catch him late.’ Or, ‘the splits are cut down, we’re going to have to cut the route, going to climb to the third.’
He was on top of all of that. The game slowed down for him. He was in position to attack it from the start.
Is there a specific group or a level on your defense that needs to make things happen for the other to succeed or is it new every single week, the game-planning?
So much of it is getting your best players on the field and trying to get them in the best position to succeed. That’s probably a common phrase, but I don’t know how often that’s done.
Whether it’s Tre’Davious – is he better inside or better outside? Week to week that changes based on matchups. Kendell Beckwith – is he better inside on third downs or better outside on third downs? There’s all types of matchups that go into it. Once you get the matchups the way you want it, it’s a matter of everyone doing their job. Everyone is responsible for their assignment. The plays really kind of come to them.
Not getting out of the team defense thought, not getting out of what my job is, that’s always been the key. For the most part, our guys were able to do that. We’ll be challenged here at the end of it, but we’re looking forward to it.
You worked closely with Devin White at practice sometimes. Why the close interest him and how far has he come?
Really proud of Devin. A lot of the (1 on 1 time) was during special teams time so he was not on whatever special teams was being worked at that point. We were able to work on things, add progressions, footwork and taking on blocks. Devin, he’s an avid learner of football. He loves that part of it. He’s got all the right connections. When something goes in, he applies it right away. He’s asking questions and knows what’s supposed to be.
If a play were to develop and he goes and makes the play, he comes to the sideline and says, ‘I was supposed to be in the B gap coach, but I saw (another) wide open so I hit it.’ I say, ‘Well, that’s good.’
The big picture of it, he sees it. As a freshman, that’s pretty rare. Good to spend as much time with him as possible.
The Arkansas game was different this year than it has been in the past. Was there any difference that game week?
I give credit to Coach Orgeron for that. That was the challenge, after the Alabama game. Alabama week, the intensity, the focus those two weeks, is something else. There’s a difference there. When you come off that game, the challenge is to match it. Not really sure what happened before, but O did a great job of motivating coaches and players.
We had some good practices going into that game. There’s a good level of confidence.
We got to the stadium (on game night) and you walk out in pregame and the crowd was lit up. There was an energy there. ‘Hey, we’re surrounded by Arkansas.’ They knew they had to come out and play their best game. I was proud of them.
What do you make now that Ed Orgeron is leading the program?
I have a great relationship with Coach O, got a lot of respect for him. He’s one of the top D-line guys in the country. He’s got a great mind football wise. When something comes up, I always want to run it by him and get his thoughts. He understands the ins and outs of the run game and pass protection. I learn from him a lot, his motivation of players and motivation of coaches. He does a great job with that. I think it comes instinctual to him.
He did it at USC and did it here. Take something and then flip the script and immediately know this is what we’re doing and this what we need. To know that and apply it, get everybody to buy in, that’s really special.
Was the decision for you to stay an easy one?
Yes. My family loves it here. My older girl Jaelyn is fishing and she’s probably going to want to go hunt here pretty soon. I don’t know anything about any of that. She’s catching on with her friends here in school. My other daughter and my boy love it here. My wife has settled in. You want them to be happy and I think they are. We’ve got a great opportunity here to build a special team and take the next step.
What kind of linebacker do you want for your system?
You want tough, smart, dependable. Any athleticism – speed, height, all of those things, jumping ability – all of those things. But what you need is tough, smart, dependable.
The game I’m still upset about is the A&M game. That fourth quarter, there’s motions and shifts. People will not just line up, let you get your cleats in the ground and come down hill on them. There’s very few offenses that are that way. If you face those types of offenses, they’re going to be thinking, ‘We’ve got better people than you.’
The majority of the people you play are going to be shifts, motions, unbalanced, trying to get you to not have your cleats in the ground.
To make those adjustments… linebackers are right in the middle of it. I see safeties in the same vein. They have to be football smart, understand the game. I think Devin White is a really good example. They have to know this is what they’re doing and why they’re doing it and this is our adjustment. That ability, coupled with the instincts that come with good linebackers, that’s what you want.
It's official: Dave Aranda is the highest-paid assistant in college football, at least for now.
You ever prepare for someone like Louisville defensive coordinator Lamar Jackson?
Yeah, there’s been a couple of quarterbacks who can run around and things. I’m at the airport here. I was just watching film of him waiting to jump on this plane. There’s times where when you pressure him, he scrambles. When you don’t pressure him, he passes the ball and completes bombs. That’s the problem and that’s what’s unique about him.
There’s other quarterbacks who run around. You try to keep them in the pocket and they’re kind of a one answer, looking to one guy and then I’m out throwing it. This guy will go through progressions and complete balls down the field. That’s the biggest reason I saw for his success.
There’s a lot of QB runs they give him, similar to what we saw against Alabama and MississippiState and things. We’re going to have to get all of those gaps fitted up. Quarterback wise in the pocket, how to play him, rush him, max drop, rotate coverage, disguise. All those things are going to come into play. It will be pretty extensive.
What’s your future? What do you want to do next in this profession?
I don’t really know. That type of thinking, I’ve never spent a lot of time on. I imagine I should, but I really don’t. I’m still trying to get over the fourth quarter of the A&M game. And then I’m trying to watch as much film as I can of Louisville. Between those two things, that’s where it is right now in terms of football. I look at the opportunity in this bowl game to play four quarters on a defense. For everything we’ve talked about as a defense and have accomplished, what we have not done is play four quarters, from start to finish, and complete a game. I look at the MississippiState game, this A&M game.
There’s an opportunity to play elite offense, an elite quarterback and play four quarters of defense. That’s a great opportunity. That gets me excited.
There’s something to said when you're well-compensated, you have a choice of players who can run your scheme and recruit at a high level ... being the defensive coordinator at LSU is not all that bad right?
To be able to work with Coach Orgeron, same staff as Pete Jenkins, to have the coaches we have…. I have respect for all the guys in football ops. To have the players who grow up wanting to play for LSU and want to do right for their home state… you can drive down the street and recruit a D-lineman and drive down another street and recruit a corner. It’s just so unusual. You don’t get that at other places.
The opportunity to build a great defense here and to win some championships here, that’s all I’ve been thinking about?
I know you’re a big Dodger fan. You talk a lot of baseball with (team trainer) Jack Marucci?
No, no. It’s all been football. I was talking to my wife. We’ve got to check in to a Dodgers game, take the kids over there. I just remember, when my grandparents were still alive, we’d be over at their house. We were living out in California growing up. The Dodgers were always on all of the time. That’s all we talked about. Steve Sax, Mike Marshall and Fernando Valenzuela. Great memories. To have some memories like that with your own kids, you always look forward to, but we’ve been busy. We’ll see what happens.
Why in August do coaches where sweats during practice when it’s 100 degrees outside?
I don’t know. Maybe if you are sweating you actually feel like you’re doing something. The sweatshirt .. I can do that. I can’t do the sweatpants. Jabbar (Juluke) and Dameyune (Craig) go sweatpants as well. That’s a different level for me. I can do a sweatshirt and get a sweat going.
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