LSU’s annual spring game was defined by one thing: defense.
First-year defensive coordinator Dave Aranda and his unit stole the show during the Purple team’s 17-7 victory over the White team Saturday afternoon. The scrimmage started with the No. 1 units competing against each other, and LSU’s defense won the battle against the starting offense.
LSU’s shorthanded offense wasn’t bad, but it didn’t show much explosiveness, either. Tigers fans probably weren’t convinced that the 2016 offense would be much better following Saturday’s performance.
So how well did LSU perform Saturday afternoon? Here’s the report card:
Those looking for immediate assurance that LSU’s offense had improved may be longing for more after the spring game.
But it is important to note that running back Leonard Fournette barely played (yet he somehow still scored a touchdown). The Tigers were without offensive line starters Will Clapp, Ethan Pocic and Toby Weathersby and also missed their No. 2 wideout, Travin Dural.
The first-team offense mustered 10 points against the first-team defense during the first half of the scrimmage. Quarterback Brandon Harris was decent, completing 11 of 16 passes for 106 yards. Fournette carried the ball eight times for 49 yards and a two-yard touchdown, and sophomore wideout Tyron Johnson led the Tigers with four catches for 44 yards.
Backup quarterback Danny Etling had an up-and-down LSU debut. He threw an ugly interception right into defensive end Isaiah Washington’s hands on his first series with the No. 2 offense. But he also showed off his arm with a 70-yard touchdown pass to freshman wideout Dee Anderson for the Purple team’s first touchdown of the day.
The Purdue transfer completed 6 of 12 passes for 106 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions. Etling proved he can compete with Harris for the starting job once the summer arrives.
LSU’s offensive line also didn’t have a great day without three of its starters. The Tigers could be in trouble if injuries afflict them in the trenches during the regular season.
Tigers fans should be ecstatic about what they saw from LSU’s defense under Aranda. The No. 1 defense was exceptional against the No. 1 offense on Saturday, and the second and third units weren’t too shabby either.
Aggressive would be a proper word to describe LSU’s defensive style, especially on third down. Combine that with some complex nuances, and Aranda’s defense could cause plenty of ruckus next season. The Tigers harassed the quarterback all day, and Aranda wasn’t afraid to blitz his nickel cornerbacks in passing situations.
The Tigers racked up eight total “sacks” (the quarterbacks weren’t actually hit) on Saturday. Safety Dwayne Thomas recorded a game-high eight tackles with two sacks, and defensive lineman Davon Godchaux and safety Xavier Lewis earned two sacks each.
Early enrollee and former four-star cornerback Saivion Smith also had a strong day. Smith picked off Etling late in the game and also recorded three tackles in his LSU debut.
Overall, it was a strong day for Aranda and the defense.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B
It’s tough to truly evaluate LSU’s special teams units since kickoffs and punts were not live, but the kickers were successful. Starter Trent Domingue booted home a 42-yard field goal and three different kickers converted their extra-point attempts.
LSU’s special teams were disappointing last season.
Defensively, the Tigers couldn’t have had a much better day. Offensively, there still will be some major questions heading into the summer. Harris’ performance was sufficient but not inspiring.
The Tigers have plenty to build and improve upon as they begin summer break.