Christian LaCouture and the rest of LSU’s defensive linemen are used to it by now.
This defensive lineman is out. That defensive lineman is out.
This one is limited. That one is questionable.
“You just kind of roll with it,” LaCouture said Tuesday. “Might have four guys, might have 10 guys.”
The No. 25 Tigers (3-1) will be without starting defensive end Rashard Lawrence for a third time in five games this Saturday against Troy (3-1). LaCouture and Co. are accustomed to life without Lawrence — and others. At least six other defensive linemen and edge rushers on LSU’s scholarship roster are unavailable or in question for Saturday.
Lawrence’s loss hurts the most. He injured his right ankle, coach Ed Orgeron said, with about 9 minutes left in the 35-26 win over Syracuse, hurting the opposite ankle that kept him out of games against Chattanooga and Mississippi State.
The Bulldogs rolled up 285 yards rushing against a Lawrence-less LSU front, and the Orange moved down the field on 10 plays for 59 yards after Lawrence’s exit.
How different are the Tigers with and without the 6-foot-3, 300-pound former five-star prospect out of Monroe?
“Night and day,” Orgeron answered Monday.
This is an ongoing story through the first month of the season: The Tigers are thin on the D-line. And they’re beginning to tweak their defense, maybe, in an effort to alleviate that problem.
LSU will be a part of the college version of Sunday night football.
LSU defensive coordinator Dave Aranda debuted a new pass-rushing package during the first half of the win over Syracuse last week: Cheetah. This is the real Cheetah — not the one we all mistook for Cheetah earlier this season.
Aranda’s true Cheetah package features just one defensive lineman, a whopping five linebackers and five defensive backs. The Tigers opened the season against BYU debuting a package that Orgeron referred to as “Cheetah." That formation includes two defensive linemen, four linebackers and five defensive backs.
That’s actually LSU’s “base nickel” defense, cornerback Donte Jackson revealed Monday. Coaches remove a lineman and insert an outside linebacker against pass-heavy teams, LaCouture said, to produce the 2-4-5 look.
LaCouture admits it's similar to the Cheetah — just a heavier version — but the real Cheetah is the thing that got its first test Saturday against Syracuse, when coaches removed all but one defensive lineman, usually LaCouture, and inserted the team’s best three pass rushers: Corey Thompson, K’Lavon Chaisson and Arden Key.
It’s the rare 1-5-5 formation.
“That’s the whole concept of calling it Cheetah,” Jackson said, “getting a lot of pass rushers on the field to try to rattle the quarterback a little bit.”
There is an underlying concept, maybe, behind both schemes: needing just one and two players from the team’s thinnest position group.
Aranda suggested ahead of this season that LSU would lean more on its bevy of fast, rangy outside linebackers and less on a defensive line that’s not the strength it used to be. It speaks volumes that something referred to as LSU’s “base nickel” incorporates just two defensive linemen.
“That’s something that really helps us out,” LaCouture said. “It’s something for us with not having as much guys.”
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This is a team built on those athletic guys on the outside. The problem with that: Those guys are young (Chaisson and Ray Thornton), injury-plagued (Thompson) and not in game condition (Key).
Orgeron referred to Key on Monday as “rusty, very rusty.” The 6-foot-6 junior All-American has lost 5 pounds to 260, but coaches want him even lighter. Key played in 43 snaps against Mississippi State and about 49 against Syracuse.
In a sign of his current condition, coaches pulled him off the field six plays into Syracuse’s 17-play first-quarter field goal drive. He also wasn’t on the field for the Orange’s 13-play, fourth-quarter march for a touchdown.
“He’s not in football shape,” Orgeron said. “He missed three sacks. He was all over the quarterback. He could have come out with three sacks in that game. He was just one step away of an elusive quarterback.”
So what now? The Tigers trudge on with their most decorated player out of shape and their “most consistent” — Orgeron’s words — defensive player out another week.
They’ll lean on mainstay fifth-year seniors like Greg Gilmore and LaCouture and will have to again rely on a redshirt freshman like Glen Logan, a player who would be a “backup,” the coach said, during this, his first season of college action.
The Cheetah helps ease the defensive line burden and so does that two-lineman nickel. In fact, last week against Syracuse, LSU played as many or more snaps with two or fewer defensive linemen than with three. Don’t expect that to necessarily stick through the season.
Syracuse ran a no-huddle, pass-heavy offense that lent itself to the scheme. Troy runs a similar offense, Orgeron said. But Florida, Alabama and Arkansas? Those guys are different.
Cheetah is designed for third downs and those pass-heavy attacks.
Against Syracuse, LSU only ran the single defensive lineman-set five times — all on third down. The Tigers got pressure on each of the four passes against the package, resulting in two QB scrambles for a combined 11 yards and two incompletions.
“We’re seeing a lot of the quarterback getting out of the pocket (against the play),” Jackson said. “Sometimes that can be hard on us. Sometimes it can be good.”
And what about LaCouture? He’s the only man weighing more than 260 pounds on the field for the Tigers, head up on the center in a nose tackle role.
Said a smiling LaCouture: “It’s a little weird.”
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LSU Personnel Report
Injured (right ankle)
Injured (left knee)
Injured (right hand)
Ineligible after FBS transfer
Ineligible after FBS transfer
Ineligible after FBS transfer
Injured (left ankle/foot)