BATON ROUGE, La. — From the talk surrounding LSU’s defense this offseason, one might think that someone scooped mid-1980s Buddy Ryan from his office, “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure” style, and dropped him off at Tiger Stadium in 2016.
Of course it is not the late, great Ryan causing the furor, but a young coordinator rising rapidly through the ranks. Since 2008, Dave Aranda has skyrocketed all the way to the SEC from FCS Southern Utah with three stops in between (Hawaii, Utah State, Wisconsin).
The expectations placed on Aranda at his new job are incredibly high. The SEC Network’s panel of experts believes he will have the greatest impact of the five new defensive coordinators in the league this year.
New Coordinator. BIG Impact.
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) August 18, 2016
That level of expectation is only exceeded within the LSU locker room.
Arden Key, a defensive end in LSU’s old 4-3 scheme, will play an outside linebacker/defensive end hybrid role in Aranda’s 3-4. And apparently Key feels pretty confident he has found the perfect fit to make the most of his talents.
Arden Key has some lofty goals for himself: 20 sacks, 2 pick sixes, best pass rusher in college football #LSU
— Andrew Lopez (@_Andrew_Lopez) August 17, 2016
Key had five sacks and a team-high nine quarterback hurries as a freshman last year, so if he’s able to finish the job on more of his hurries his goal of 20 sacks is not entirely implausible.
It is, however, still improbable. Penn State’s Carl Nassib led the nation with 15.5 sacks last year, and 20 is the single-season record set by Louisville’s Elvis Dumervil in 2005.
Regardless of the feasibility of Key’s personal goals, it’s clear Aranda is giving the defense an influx of confidence. LSU was stout enough against the run last year, ranking 17th in the country, but pass defense was a weakness. The Tigers ranked 65th nationally, allowing 224 yards per game through the air. They were even worse at forcing turnovers, ranking 87th in the country with 1.4 takeaways per game.
Aranda’s modus operandi of pressure and confusion seems well-suited to improving that standing on both counts, but it’s also worth seeing how much improvement he has made in that department in his first year at other stops.
2009 Hawaii: 202.9 pass yards per game (35th in nation), 1.7 turnovers per game (68th)
2011 Utah State: 238.5 pass ypg (76th), 1.2 turnovers per game (109th)
2012 Wisconsin: 193.6 pass yards per game (18th), 1.1 turnovers per game (112th)
Aranda Year 1
2010 Hawaii: 221.7 pass ypg (63rd), 2.7 turnovers per game (3rd)
2012 Utah State: 208.3 pass ypg (32nd), 1.5 turnovers per game (88th)
2013 Wisconsin: 202.5 pass yards per game (17th), 1.5 turnovers per game (87th)
The takeaway: A Dave Aranda defense is always better in some way than the one that came before it. So it just may turn out all this hype is warranted.