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LSU KÕLavon Chaisson (18) participates in a drill during practice Saturday, August 3, 2019, at LSU's outdoor practice facility in Baton Rouge, La.

A year ago, school had already started. So, Ed Orgeron and the LSU coaching staff used this extra week of unencumbered days by scheduling morning meetings and walk-throughs with the players.

They even got a chance to do some early studying on Week 1 opponent Georgia Southern, which LSU will host at 6:30 p.m. on Aug. 31 at Tiger Stadium.

Last season, Georgia Southern went 10-3 in the Sun Belt Conference (the same league as Troy, which upset LSU in 2017), and one statistic stuck out to Orgeron above any: The Eagles led the nation with a plus-22 turnover margin.

That's 22 extra offensive possessions over an entire season. And for a team that averaged 30.5 points per game in 2018, that meant Georgia Southern was quite likely to score off those extra possessions.

No other FBS school had more than a plus-16 turnover margin, and LSU, which tied for seventh nationally with a plus-12 margin, looks enviously upward at the leaderboard.

"That's elite," Orgeron said Wednesday. "We want to be elite."

Perhaps LSU wasn't elite in turnover margin by Orgeron's standard in 2018; but the Tigers' 25 forced turnovers last season was about a 40 percent increase from Orgeron's previous two seasons.

LSU also maintained the success it's had with offensive ball security in the Orgeron era. The Tigers ranked ninth nationally with 13 lost turnovers after leading the nation with just eight lost turnovers in 2017.


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Most of the turnovers LSU forced on defense were interceptions. LSU led the nation through eight games with 14 total picks — a total that tapered off when the Tigers only forced three interceptions over their final five games.

"We could have had more," said unanimous All-American safety Grant Delpit, who pointed out his own interception drought. The 6-foot-3, 203-pounder led the Southeastern Conference with five interceptions in 2018, and he didn't record a pick in any of LSU's final five games.

"We slacked off at the end," Delpit said. "I slacked off, too... I'm always trying to get turnovers. Turnovers win games."

The drought included a few caveats: starting free safety John Battle was injured on the first drive of the Alabama game and only played in one of LSU's final four games; starting cornerback Kristian Fulton suffered a season-ending foot injury against Arkansas and missed the final three games; and cornerbacks Greedy Williams (NFL draft) and Kelvin Joseph (suspension) did not play in the Fiesta Bowl.

Standard personnel development should solve the interception slump.

Fulton has returned from injury. Junior JaCoby Stevens has filled in for Battle. Star true freshman Derek Stingley, the nation's top recruit, has already showed in scrimmages and the spring game how he recorded 14 interceptions in his final 20 games at the Dunham School, and five-star freshman Marcel Brooks will be mixed in with a rotation of LSU safeties that will make the secondary more unpredictable this season.

Now, in order for LSU to make the jump to elite in the turnover margin, the defense will have to force and recover more fumbles — a disruptive factor that hasn't been common for the team in the past six seasons.

LSU ranked 103rd nationally last season with seven forced fumbles, and the Tigers haven't ranked inside the top 50 in fumble recoveries since 2012, when they ranked 15th nationally with 14 recovered fumbles.

How can LSU change that in 2019?

Two things: The return of star edge rusher K'Lavon Chaisson and Orgeron's schematic change to make the defensive line more aggressive.

It's been hard for the LSU coaches to understate how vital the 6-foot-4, 250-pound Chaisson is to the team, and how much of an impact his season-ending ACL tear in Week 1 against Miami last season had on the defense's front seven.

Orgeron said Wednesday that having Chaisson back is like having "an Arden Key out there," referring to the former LSU outside linebacker that set the school's single-season sack record (12) in 2016.

In June, LSU defensive coordinator Dave Aranda, a coach nicknamed "the Professor" for his inventive defensive schemes, said that no matter the scheme, "as long as (Chaisson's) doing it, it's probably going to be OK."

And Aranda will be using his star linebacker in multiple spots on the field to create havoc in the backfield. Chaisson said he'll be rushing off the edge from his normal spot as the weak-side outside linebacker. Sometimes he'll be playing as an inside backer. Sometimes, Chaisson said, you'll see him with his hand on the ground on the defensive line, split between the offensive tackle and guard.

Chaisson said he's focused on turnovers — "I get paid for sack fumbles, man" — and as soon as he beats his blocker, his eyes are locked on the football the rest of the way.

Chaisson should have more company in the backfield this season, with LSU switching to a more attacking scheme on the defensive line, which will mirror the style Orgeron coached while at Miami from 1988-1992 and at USC from 1998-2004 and from 2010-2013.

Senior defensive end Breiden Fehoko said that if people look at last year's tape, linemen were "playing more side-to-side: flatten a block here, flatten a block there, linebacker will come scrape over the top."

This year, linemen are shooting through the line of scrimmage aggressively, and linebackers are attacking specific gaps.

"Everybody's playing downfield now," Fehoko said.

If the increased pressure doesn't create fumbles, Delpit said, it's likely to force quarterbacks into poor passing decisions, leading to interceptions.

Delpit was emphatic about his personal goal of "seven-to-eight" interceptions this year, saying "I need it."

As for LSU's turnover margin goals, Orgeron said that "anytime you get to plus-18 or plus-20, you're in good shape."

"It's just about making the plays when they come to you," Delpit said.

Email Brooks Kubena at bkubena@theadvocate.com.