Ross Dellenger’s The Next Level: LSU defense wants to tighten up on opposing tight ends

LSU freshman defensive end Arden Key dropped back off the line of scrimmage and followed Florida’s tight end on a passing route.

He didn’t follow close enough, and the tight end caught a touchdown.

Earlier in the Tigers’ win over the Gators, cornerback Tre’Davious White and safety Jamal Adams both converged on one receiver, leaving Florida’s tight end open on a wheel route down the sideline. Thirty yards later, White tackled him.

In the game before that, White and defensive back Dwayne Thomas covered one receiver, leaving a player wide-open — yeah, the tight end — for a touchdown.

The point here: Tight ends give LSU’s secondary trouble, and not many teams use their tight ends more than the Tigers’ opponent Saturday, Arkansas. Two of the Hogs’ top four players in receptions are tight ends: Hunter Henry (34 catches, 469 yards, one touchdown) and Jeremy Sprinkle (17-261-2).

“They do a great job with the tight end,” coach Les Miles said.

Miles and the Tigers saw that first-hand last season in a 17-0 loss in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Three Arkansas tight ends combined for nine catches and 107 yards. And many of them were wide-open.

Why did LSU struggled to cover the tight end last year, and why are the Tigers having a hard time this year? We don’t know, because us media types don’t often get to speak with assistant coaches, and we’re not allowed in team meetings, of course, or team huddles or practice. We don’t know the secondary coverage or defensive back assignments on that particular play, and asking Miles or players is often fruitless.

What we do know: LSU had better figure out a way to cover the tight end this week, or a similar fate as last year awaits.

The guys to watch on defense when it comes to covering the tight end include linebackers Deion Jones and Kendell Beckwith and keep your eye on big safety Corey Thompson, too.

Scott Rabalais’ Four Downs

1. Mind games

After a discouraging overtime loss to Alabama in 2014, LSU laid a proverbial egg on a frigid night in Fayetteville, losing 17-0. It was only the second time a Les Miles LSU team has suffered back-to-back losses. The Tigers will have to be at their best to beat the red-hot Razorbacks. That means focusing, not sulking, after last week’s defeat.

2. Pick your poison

Arkansas is the only SEC team to rank in the top five in the conference in passing (third) and rushing (fifth). That’s exceptional balance, and balance is a problem. Arkansas’ massive offensive line is good at run and pass blocking (allowing one sack per game) so LSU will have to find a way to stop one or the other. We’ll figure the run.

3. Flying circus

And now for something completely different. Everyone knows LSU is a run-first team. But Arkansas is particularly woeful against the pass, 114th nationally allowing 283.6 ypg. LSU is 116th in passing for 153.3 ypg, but the Tigers have to find a way to make the Razorbacks pay through the air if they stack the line to stop the run.

4. Heisman hopeful

A big subtext to this and every game LSU plays in November will be what it means to Leonard Fournette’s Heisman chances. His once insurmountable lead in the race melted on a 31-yard night at Alabama, bringing several candididates into contention. Prime time would be the perfect time for Fournette to make a statement.