ORLANDO, Fla. — LSU defensive coordinator Dave Aranda sat down with reporters Friday to talk about the season and preparing for Notre Dame in the Citrus Bowl on Monday:
Coach Ed Orgeron said you had a big binder on Louisville coming back from the Christmas break last year and that you had even more prepared on Notre Dame this year. Is that right?
I do. Notre Dame is challenging in that they game plan every week. There’s an intelligence in their attack. I’m excited about the challenge of it, but I’m nervous about covering all the bases of it, because it’s quite a bit. You’re talking about a whole season, and every game within that season is a little bit different because they’re game planning every week. How do you attack that? Do you try to do it all and not be good at anything? Do you try to identify how they see you? That’s what we’ve tried to do, but it’s quite a bit. To do it in a systematic way to where it’s easy for us on defense and we’re giving them multiple looks, that’s the trick right there.
What about the way they execute their offense makes it difficult to prepare?
What concerns you about the run game and pass game is the misdirection and the angles and the pulls they create. We call it ‘crack and load.’ They’re going to crack on the outside and pull and load inside out. There are seams they create and angles that if you’re undisciplined in getting lined up and setting up could put you at a disadvantage. Pass game-wise their quarterback is very efficient on their cross (routes). They have a lot of rub routes. We’re a big man-to-man team, so we’re concerned about getting rubbed there. In zone we have to be disciplined to pass everything off. They do not allow you to just line up and say ‘Go get ‘em.’ You have to have awareness of what’s coming at you and respond to it.
You’re missing three starters in the front seven: Corey Thompson, Arden Key and Donnie Alexander. How do you compensate for that with players stepping up to fill those roles?
It’s good that we’ve had that experience throughout the year. Those experiences give us an opportunity to show improvement in this game. We have to play more physical. We have to run defense-wise, take the next step. I’m proud of our coaches and players of the progression we’ve made throughout the year. This is another step. When we’ve got guys who are in a new role, they’ve got to be able to take that leadership right from the get go. I feel the practices have been good, their preparation has been good. We have to go out and execute.
What have you seen in the young guys who have to replace them?
When you’re dealing with young players, maybe things have come easy to them. Maybe there hasn’t had to be that sense of urgency. But when you get them in a spot where they’re counted on by a whole state, a team and a community looking for someone to do their one-eleventh, to have their sense of urgency and dedication, I think that says a lot.
How do you feel the defense has performed this season overall?
I’m proud of the progress we’ve made, both as coaches and players in terms of the hard work everyone’s put in. It’s been a challenging year, man. When you’re dealing with young guys and you’re trying to get everyone on the same page and play with the right technique, to get the communication we need to effectively defend what we need to defend week in and week out, it’s a challenge.
To be honest, we put up so many bad things early in the year we’re just adding to our play list at the end of the year. It’s just coming around again. We were able to battle through a lot of it and we matured throughout the year. I’m proud of the group. It’s a tough, gritty group. We fight our way through problems. We’ll have to do that in this game for sure.
Talk about Devin White’s progress in 2017.
I’m proud of Devin. Early in the year if Devin needed to be in a spot, perhaps he wasn’t. If he wasn’t needed to be in a spot he probably was – and he was making the play, too. A lot of those things, when you have that ability and instinct, you’d rather have that 100-to-1 over the other thing, where the guy is always in the right spot but not making plays. To have that type of instinct and ability, to have someone like that who wants to improve and recognizes it, that is awesome.
Some of his best games have been his last games. He’s in the right spot making plays. And when he’s in the right spot and the play is somewhere else, he takes care of his job and goes make a play.
Devin didn’t get a lot of postseason awards. Does that mean anything to you?
He deserves recognition. The flip side of that is I hope it pisses him off and he plays well with what we have coming up.
Offensive coordinator Matt Canada has been in the news a lot lately regarding his future at LSU. Nearing the end of your second year here, how are you feeling about being here?
It’s great. My family loves it here. The kids love their school. My wife has a good network of friends. School’s been out, so when I come home there are a lot of people at the house.
I enjoy the people I’m working with. I’ve enjoyed coaching with Pete Jenkins. If told me early in my career I’d be coaching along with Pete I wouldn’t have believed it. So that’s been great. It’s been great to see Dennis Johnson (who is moving from outside linebackers to replace Jenkins as defensive line coach) grow as a coach. He’s taken a lot of young guys and had them play well and improve.
Will you have input on who replaces Dennis at outside linebackers coach?
I don’t know. I think that will be after the bowl game. There hasn’t been a lot of talk about that. But I’m excited about the progress we’ve made, what we’ve matured to and what we’re capable of for this last game. I think it will take a full-team effort to defend the attack we’re about to get. We’ve made progress up front with Pete and Dennis and made progress at the back end with Corey (Raymond, secondary coach). He’s done a great job with our young DBs. There’s times when you look back there and they’re all freshmen or true sophomores, every single one of them. To be able to make an adjustment to this motion or be able to pass things off, he’s done a great job. I’m proud of those guys. I want to see us finish it off the right way.
How has defensive end Frank Herron done this year?
He’s an explosive player. He’s got the ability to come off the ball and strike you. Along with that he’s turned into quite a technician. Again, I give coach Jenkins a lot of credit for that. We’ve taken his raw physicality and quick twitch and combined that with technique, that’s been a big difference for us.
Have you ever had a defense where you have to play so many young guys?
What has that been like to have to weave in so many guys who haven’t played Division I football before?
I remember talking to Pete and saying how we’re growing up in front of everybody. Just the maturity, running to the ball, the maturity it takes to finish a play or a game, to prepare for whoever you’re playing. Those are all things that take maturity. We’ve learned that throughout the year. I would like if we could go back to have that at the beginning of the year, but that was not the case. I give a lot of credit to the coaches and Coach O for that.
Did you expect cornerback Greedy Williams to have a year like he did at cornerback?
Probably not the exact numbers he had, but the success for sure. Greedy, whenever he has played, has that instinct and ability to make plays on the ball. He’s a ball hawk. He’s the definition of that. It was like that last year and during spring ball and fall camp. For him to take this season and run with it and be the leader he’s been is really cool. I give him a lot of credit for that. He found himself a role and he ran with it. He found himself a role and he ran with it. He’s one of the leaders on our team and rightfully so.
Devin has talked all year about watching film with you and how much he’s learned from that. How important has he been to keeping this defense together through all the injuries?
Very important. There was a time where we were struggling on defense, or maybe the preparation could have been better. Devin really stood up and pulled people together, maybe pulled people aside, and held everyone accountable. I give Devin a lot of credit for that. I have not been at places before where you have sophomores filling that type of role. He felt the need for it and he’s emerged as a good leader for us. People listen to him and respect him. And the best is yet to come, because he’d got the will and inner drive to get better.
How did you and Devin build your relationship?
Whenever you can find ways to improve and get better, you find simple keys or techniques that fit that specific instance or person, Devin for example, there’s a value in that communication and that coach-player relationship. I think we found that right away, Devin and myself. I respect Devin because he wants to be the best. He holds himself to a high standard. He holds others to a high standard and he wants to continue to get better.
He’s always looking, and I’ll always be there giving.
What challenges do Notre Dame offensive linemen present?
They’re smart, they’re tough and they’re physical. They do a great job working off looks, pass protection wise. They played Wake Forest, and Wake Forest is a field pressure team. Notre Dame was sliding to the field to pick it up every time. They played Stanford, and Stanford is a boundary rush team. They slide to the boundary and pick it up every time. They are very in tuned. They game plan, they scheme. That part pops off the film. The physicality of their blocks pop off the film. You get double-teamed and guys get driven off the ball.
Then you watch the cohesion of everything. There are times you watch an O-line where you see one-on-one blocks here and combo blocks there, when you don’t see five guys working as one there are weaknesses. When you’ve got five guys working together in unison, that’s really daunting. That shows up right away with these guys. They won an award for the best O-line. Who were the other finalists? Auburn and Alabama. There’s only one team that played all three of them. We accept that challenge and we’re looking forward to it.
Do you relish the chances to take a month and study a team?
I do enjoy it. There’s a part of me that says if that’s all it could be I would be all right with that. The realistic part is when it gets around this time it gets to be a little too long. You start to get concerned with too many details. The challenge at this point is to just get out and play. ‘This is the meat and potatoes, this is what they do. The other stuff if it shows up we know about it and we can make an adjustment on the field.’
LSU made an effort to improve offensive and defensive line depth in recruiting. How do you think that worked out on your side of the ball?
Good. I’m excited about the people coming in. Physical, big, explosive guys. That’s needed. And we’ve got some edge rushers as well. You look at Travez Moore and Jarrell Cherry, guys we can put on the edge and set edges and win one-on-one in the pass rush.
I feel like the depth on the D-line we’ve had this year has been very apparent in the way we’ve played. When we haven’t had depth it’s also been very apparent. To be able to build our front is important and I give Coach O a lot of credit.
Do you prefer size or speed in your front seven?
You build it inside out, so the guys on the inside are big, explosive people and then once you move on out you get more speed and length. On the inside it’s got to be push, it’s got to be knock back and it’s got to be explosiveness. I think we’ve got some guys who fit that. Then you look on the outside and we’ve got some length. It’s exactly what you want.
How do you balance the need for big guys who can clog the middle inside with speed and length outside?
The inside people, the knockback it takes, the use of technique and hands so they can’t combo off you, you want big, explosive people who can do that. I look at what Greg Gilmore has done for us. I look at the difference in the second have of the year with Ed Alexander and his improvement. You look at big people who are playing with technique and within the scheme, your run defense is surely aided when that’s the case.
So were you able to relax at all over the Christmas break?
It’s hard to just chill. Christmas morning the kids are opening their presents, but by 1 p.m. we were back at it.
A month is a long time. It’s easy to get off track. It’s about time for the game to get here.