BATON ROUGE, La. — Two new faces figure to play a massive impact on LSU’s defense in its season opener against Wisconsin and the 11 games that follow — one familiar to the Badgers, the other a mystery to all members of the general public.
The known entity is defensive coordinator Dave Aranda, who by quirk of scheduling makes his debut at LSU against the very team for whom he coached in his most recent game. Aranda served as Wisconsin’s defensive coordinator for the last three seasons before LSU plunked down SEC money (three years for $1.3 million per year) to lure him south from Madison.
The mystery man is defensive tackle Travonte Valentine, who is the first player in Les Miles’ memory to transfer out of and back into the program.
Neither Aranda nor Valentine have talked to the media this August, but one needn’t speak to them to understand what their impacts could be on the Tigers in 2016. Ask anyone in the know about either party, and you’re likely to get a confident smile along with the description of their capabilities.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about Aranda is he is almost to a fault described as “quiet.” The stereotypical defensive coordinator — maybe even the archetype — usually delves closer to the raving lunatic end of the pool.
Of course, Bill Belichick is a prime example of one long-time defensive coordinator who doesn’t fit the role of a blue-in-the-face hollerer, and as in his case, when Aranda speaks, people listen.
“He’s a quiet guy. He’s not going to yell at all,” said senior cornerback Tre’Davious White. “One day if he comes out yelling, we’re not going to know what to do.”
Miles has described Aranda as an excellent “teacher of the game,” and descriptions of his demeanor certainly bring professors to mind.
“He’s got a lot of knowledge, man,” White said. “Any time he talks, everybody’s ears are open.”
The idea is for Aranda to maximize the Tiger defense to the best of its ability against every opponent, but he has particularly strong insight when it comes to the Badgers themselves. But curiously, Miles said Aranda wasn’t overzealous in spilling the beans — or perhaps cheese curds would be a more apt culinary example in this case — about Wisconsin.
“It was more of a personnel (description), what kind of personnel and what kind of — and really more the strengths than anything. He knows that he left a very talented defense, he knows that on offense they have two very talented tailbacks that can run the football and a big offensive line,” Miles said. “He basically gave the thumbnail sketch of a guy that just came from there that really didn’t feel like, you know, was all that professional to give too much. So he kind of gave me the overview and that’s all I asked for.”
Badgers coach Paul Chryst is not concerned whether Aranda is the man who knew too much. And he also doesn’t assume to know everything his former coordinator will pull out of the bag Saturday.
“Certainly, there’s some knowledge Dave has of us, schemes that we like,” Chryst said. “And we have an idea of his starting points. But we’re also doing it with different guys. It’s a different defense down there than what we had here with the players. It’s a natural question, but the game will come down to players making plays.”
The most intriguing of Aranda’s new weapons is Valentine, who has the potential to clog the middle of the field as effectively as the Wisconsin delicacy known as the Butterburger clogs arteries.
Valentine started his career at LSU, but was kicked out of the program by Miles last year.
“I really suggested that he invest in himself and that he needs to make a change in his life for him,” Miles said. “And really I did not necessarily see his return.”
After stints at two different junior colleges over two semesters, he returned to the program with the blessing of Miles, who saw suitable progress in his personal growth.
“What was depicted to me is that change had been made and what I’ve seen since he’s been with us is he’s — and I think this is personal discipline, if a guy is thinner, I think that’s something that shows you that he can have a self-discipline,” Miles said. “And he’s done a good job in the classroom. I wouldn’t know exactly, but I think he’s got a 2.3, 2.4- (GPA) range and really has not missed a class. So we like the turn that we’ve seen and we hope that it stays that way.”
It also just so happens that the 356-pound Valentine (yes, that really is his slimmed-down version) is the ideal cog for the middle of a 3-man defensive line, much like Vince Wilfork or Ted Washington were for years at the NFL level.
But though he hasn’t played a game for the Tigers yet, teammate White promises we will notice the unmistakable presence of Valentine when he lumbers to the line of scrimmage — most notably because for a man of his girth, Valentine’s movement isn’t actually very lumbering.
“He’s a guy with a high motor,” said White, who has already given Valentine the moniker “Big Sloppy.”
“He’s going to command double-teams. He gets off the ball so fast for a guy his size.
“Actually, the first time I saw him was from a highlight tape in high school. They had him at fullback. He was running with all that belly out. Wisconsin has some big boys up front, so we’re going to see… I think you’ll the jersey up, the belly out. He’s going to make some noise.”