BATON ROUGE – LSU has not been Defensive Back U. since 2014 when the Tigers finished No. 1 in the Southeastern Conference in pass defense and pass efficiency defense under then-coordinator John Chavis.
Last year under defensive coordinator Kevin Steele, the Tigers finished 12th in the SEC and 65th nationally in pass defense and 12th in the SEC and 51st in pass defense efficiency as LSU allowed 22 touchdown passes for 13th in the league. This year under new defensive coordinator Dave Aranda, the Tigers are improved at No. 7 in the SEC and 52nd in pass defense (217 yards allowed a game) and No. 5 in the SEC and No. 30 in the nation in pass efficiency defense (113.2 rating) with just three touchdown passes allowed and four interceptions.
But Florida is the real DBU with three returning defensive back starters in senior Marcus Maye, Teez Tabor and Quincy Wilson. The Gators (4-1, 2-1 SEC), who host LSU (3-2, 2-1 SEC) at 11 a.m. Saturday on ESPN barring any schedule changes by Hurricane Matthew, are No. 1 in the SEC and No. 5 nationally in pass defense (139 yards allowed a game) and No. 1 in the SEC and No. 2 in the nation in pass defense efficiency (86.4) with four touchdowns allowed and a league-high eight interceptions that is second in the nation.
“We’re just worrying about our defense going out there and playing well as we’ve been doing all year,” LSU sophomore cornerback Donte Jackson said. “We’re not really worried about it. Florida has a great defensive coach (Geoff Collins), but we’re just ready to go out there and put ours to work and let the nation know.”
The Tigers did that last week in the 42-7 win over Missouri as it shut down quarterback Drew Lock, who came in at No. 3 in the nation with 1,508 passing yards and No. 1 in the SEC with 14 touchdown passes and had been sacked just once. LSU limited him to 17 completions in 37 attempts for a .459 completion percentage and 167 yards with two sacks.
“As a secondary, I feel like we had a pretty solid game,” Jackson said. “We had a lot of points that we stressed.”
One was Lock’s quick release.
"We made sure our corners were in their face to make it hard for them to get off the line of scrimmage and throw off Drew Lock’s timing,” Jackson said. “We did well in that part.”
Defensive back coach Corey Raymond noticed there were not a lot of deep balls on film.
“We were very aggressive,” Jackson said. “There wasn’t really a lot of stuff up the field, so we knew we could get after it on any quick slants or any out routes. We knew we could come down hill. That was just good film study by Coach Raymond.”
Jackson also knew Lock may try to pick on him as he is a first-year starter with senior fourth-year starter Tre’Davious White at the other corner. But Jackson is also LSU's fastest player and a track star for the Tigers who often covers the other team's top receiver. This was the case as Lock took his first snap. Jackson was on Missouri top wide receiver J'Mon Moore, who came into the game leading the SEC in receptions per game with 6.5 as he had 26 catches for 434 yards and six touchdowns. Lock threw to Moore.
“That motivated me a lot – them throwing at me on the first play of the game,” Jackson said. “But I kind of expected it because I was matched up with their best receiver - their go-to guy. So I knew I had to bring my "A" game. I had to make a statement."
Jackson broke up the pass. Moore finished with just one catch for 16 yards.
This week, LSU is not sure which quarterback it will play. Senior transfer Austin Appleby, who was a teammate of LSU quarterback Danny Etling at Purdue, started the last two games with mixed results. He is ninth in the SEC in passing efficiency at 126.9 on 44-of-72 passing for 470 yards and three touchdowns with an interception.
Sophomore Luke Del Rio, a transfer from Alabama, beat out Appleby for the starting job before the season, but he sprained his knee against North Texas on September 17 and missed the 38-28 loss at Tennessee and the 13-6 win over Vanderbilt Saturday. He was off to a strong start, having completed 62 of 101 passes for 762 yards and six touchdowns with two interceptions and a 140.4 efficiency rating.
“We’ll wait and see,” Florida coach Jim McElwain said. “We need to make sure that we get the full week of practice in and see how it (the knee) responds. He hadn’t been doing much. We’ve got to test that thing.”
Jackson is not overly impressed with either quarterback.
“They’re all right,” he said. “I’m not going to give them any praise.”
Asked about Appleby specifically, Jackson said, “He’s all right. But he’s got to deal with us. He’s got to come through us. We’re a great secondary, so it don’t really matter who’s back there throwing the ball. It’s about are your receivers going to catch it.”
Either quarterback will try to throw to sophomore wide receiver Antonio Callaway, who is second in the SEC in receiving yards per game at 92.8 and has 20 catches for 371 yards for seventh in the league.
“He’s a good receiver,” Jackson said. “Solid – solid kid. Looking forward to the matchup against him.”
Jackson and White have been splitting time with the other team’s top target.
“We’re a great secondary,” Jackson said. “So it really doesn’t matter who’s matched up on him or who’s on him or where he’s running his routes or who’s throwing the ball to him. They still have got to catch it. They’ve got to come through us.”
Coverage of LSU and commentary by Glenn Guilbeau supported by Hebert’s Town & Country Auto Dealer in Shreveport located at 1155 East Bert Kouns Loop. Research your next Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep or Ram at http://hebertstandc.com/.