Last weekend against Florida, the LSU defense surrendered deep pass completions, devastating runs and the occasional score. But it collected key turnovers to escape Gainesville, Florida, with a three-point win.
When Kentucky entered Tigers Stadium on Saturday night, LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis’ unit didn’t even bother bending.
LSU’s defense entered Week 7 with a favorable matchup against the Wildcats. The Tigers ranked No. 1 in the Southeastern Conference in pass defense, allowing 157.7 yards per game. Kentucky’s offensive strength was quarterback Patrick Towles and the Wildcats’ No. 5 SEC passing game.
It took only one quarter to become apparent: Advantage LSU. And it wasn’t a member of the secondary that helped suffocate a potent Kentucky passing attack: LSU defensive end Danielle Hunter proved to be the catalyst.
Hunter’s performance began on the Wildcats’ first play when Towles dropped back and fired to his left at Demarco Robinson. The 6-foot-6 Hunter leapt and batted down Towles’ pass, setting the tone. Hunterhad two tackles and two batted passes in the first 15 minutes, including a nearly identical swat of a Towles pass with just over a minute left in the first quarter.
“His arms are so long, it’s just easy for him,” LSU linebacker Kendell Beckwith said. “No quarterback should ever want to throw short passes his way.”
When the first quarter ended, Kentucky had 48 total yards of offense, 40 through the air. LSU held the Wildcats to 93 yards passing in the first half.
Even LSU’s glaring weakness — its No. 12-ranked run defense, which had allowed 175.6 yards per game heading into Saturday night — appeared to be a strength against a Kentucky offense that struggled for any sliver of production.
LSU freshman safety Jamal Adams and Beckwith proved to be forces in the Tigers rushing defense, picking up 12 total tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss by halftime.
Kentucky mustered only 38 rushing yards on 17 first-half attempts.
The Tigers kept their feet on the pedal in the second half.
On the Wildcats’ first two possessions after halftime, the Tigers flew to the football, forcing two Kentucky punts and setting up premier field position for the Tigers offense.
Adams continued to have a strong game, chasing down Towles for his first career sack with just over eight minutes remaining in the third quarter.
The Wildcats had 59 total offensive yards in the third quarter — none by the rushing attack.
It wasn’t a game filled with takeaways for the LSU defense. Instead, the Tigers stood stout, forcing two turnovers on downs and holding Kentucky to 217 total yards.
Miles said his squad prepared for Kentucky’s spread offense throughout the week.
“We instituted a period where we went ones versus ones and we ran a spread-style offense and inside runs, and it really has improved our inside tackle play,” Miles said. “There’s some emphasis that (Chavis) has put on block protection and tackling that’s making a difference.”
After surrendering 1,136 yards in the squad’s first two conference games against Mississippi State and Auburn, the Tigers defense allowed a combined 523 total yards to Florida and Kentucky.
Saturday’s win over Kentucky was LSU’s largest over an SEC opponent since beating Ole Miss 52-3 on Nov. 19, 2011.
Adams said the defense’s increased production is the result of the new mindsets.
“Everybody’s egos are gone,” Adams said. “At first, it was just a bunch of egos not doing our assignments. Now you look at us, we’re executing and doing our job and playing as a team.”
Saturday’s outing provided the momentum LSU’s defenders needed heading into next weekend’s matchup against Ole Miss’ second-ranked SEC pass defense.
Beckwith said the squad will begin watching film on the Rebels on Sunday.
“(The Rebels) have a really well-built team, too,” safety Rickey Jefferson said. “So we’re going to go into that matchup against those guys and just compete.”