Ed Orgeron says the LSU defense must be simplified.
The head coach has seen enough miscommunication leading to wide open receivers, enough out-of-position defenders playing the wrong technique, leading to massive running lanes.
The game film of LSU's 45-41 loss at Missouri revealed "poor fundamentals," Orgeron said. Busted coverages. Confusion. The defense once again hemorrhaged yards and points to an unranked opponent, and the Tigers (1-2) must make drastic improvements as they prepare for No. 10 Florida (2-1) and a Gators offense that averages 42.3 points per game.
The LSU coaching staff "had a long meeting" on Sunday in which Orgeron said he told defensive coordinator Bo Pelini "to simplify" his defensive schemes.
The defense has been too complicated, Orgeron told reporters Monday. The complications caused miscommunications. The miscommunications put players out of position. Chunks of yardage followed: Mississippi State, Vanderbilt and Missouri have combined for 25 plays that gained 20-plus yards — the third-most surrendered by any FBS team.
"I don't care if we have to play one defense or one coverage," Orgeron said. "Play it. Play it right. Do whatever we need to do, put our athletes in a good position and let them make plays."
Pelini will still call defensive plays on game day, Orgeron said. But the game plan is going to be heavily vetted.
"I'm going to make sure any (play) that's called, that we run it right all week and our guys understand it," Orgeron said. "If we don't understand it, we're not running it."
There will also be personnel changes. LSU will still be a 4-3 base defense, Orgeron said, "but maybe we can put people in better positions."
Orgeron said he's considering using bigger defensive linemen in certain situations to help defend the run. Missouri averaged 5.5 yards per carry, and Orgeron said some big runs happened because a defensive end didn't crash down the outside edge properly.
Starting ends Ali Gaye and Andre Anthony both weigh about 260 pounds, and LSU also often substitutes its heavier tackles for lighter pass rushers like BJ Ojulari (230 pounds) on long third downs.
Orgeron said he's pleased with the team's pass rush — tied 18th nationally with an average of three sacks per game — but changes may be made to stop the run.
"I think it's all about playing bigger guys up front and playing better technique," Orgeron said.
The coaching staff is also still trying to find the best way to use starting safety JaCoby Stevens.
Orgeron didn't mention any specific moves, but he said he had Monday meetings with both Stevens and his coaching staff.
"They know that we need to put him in better positions for him to make plays and use the talents that he has," Orgeron said.
The 6-foot-2, 230-pound senior has been a hybrid playmaker for LSU. Sometimes Stevens plays deep, but he's mostly used as a rusher near the line of scrimmage. Orgeron has said Stevens plays best closer to the ball, and, so far, Stevens is LSU's second-leading tackler (22) and leads the team in sacks (2).
Simplicity, it appeared, was going to be at the root of Pelini's defense when Orgeron lured the 29-year coaching veteran away from Youngstown State with a three-year, $2.3 million per year contract.
At LSU's coaching clinic in March, Pelini repeatedly emphasized the necessity to maintain "same-as" language and concepts when teaching players the defense.
Clarity and communication were key priorities in building the four-man front, attacking-style defense.
What has produced the communication breakdown?
Canceled spring football and other offseason coronavirus disruptions?
Players and coaches have repeatedly dismissed the notion, since every other school dealt with the same issue.
At first it seemed LSU was experiencing setbacks because its All-American cornerback, Derek Stingley, missed the Mississippi State game after spending the night in the hospital with an illness.
But LSU had all of its starters available against Missouri, although Orgeron said Stingley played through a sprained ankle he suffered on a "freak accident" when he stepped on a down marker coming off the field.
Youth and inexperience?
Orgeron didn't name any players during his Monday news conference. He said it "starts with the coaches" who must "coach them better." But it's worth pointing out that, after nickel safety Kary Vincent opted out of the season, LSU moved Cordale Flott to nickel and started true freshman Eli Ricks at corner opposite Stingley.
Depth in the secondary is also lacking. Sophomore defensive back Jay Ward missed two weeks of preseason camp recovering from a torn MCL, and Nicholls State graduate transfer Darren Evans arrived on campus two weeks before the season began.
"As the game goes on," Stevens said then, "you've got to tell those guys, 'Hey, it's time to step up. You're not a young guy anymore. You've got to represent Louisiana. You're playing for LSU."
Orgeron made a call Monday for accountability. He said the coaches must be more detailed. The played must come in and work extra, study film more on their program-issued iPads at night.
"They've got to be committed, which I think they are," Orgeron said. "And we've got to make sure that they understand the game plan that we want them to execute and for them to go out and execute. That's all that is."