BATON ROUGE, La. — Over the course of the last 12 months, Dave Aranda hasn’t been able to watch TV without catching a glimpse of his own toes.
But with the new contract he signed to stay on as LSU’s defensive coordinator, Aranda can finally remedy this problem.
“My house where I’m at we have a couch and there’s a TV,” he said. “It’s a nice-sized TV. But it was right up against a box. The TV was on the box and you sit on the couch and you have your drink of choice, whatever it is, kind of right in front of it. You sit back on the couch, your feet are up, you’re seeing your toes.
“I remember earlier in the season I was talking to my wife and I said, ‘Should we do something about maybe getting the TV up or something like that?’ She kind of nudged me and she goes, ‘We’ll see after the season.’ So I’m glad we can get the TV up.”
Like the television situation, Aranda has some lofty goals heading into his second offseason as LSU’s defensive coordinator. In his first season at LSU, Aranda’s defense shined, finishing No. 6 in the country in scoring defense and No. 3 in the SEC in total defense.
Aranda said he credits this to simplicity of purpose. Rather than installing every concept under the sun, Aranda said he stuck to the core schemes that worked: a base 3-4 defense and sets that freed outside linebacker Arden Key to rush the passer with his hand in the dirt.
“This year we played a very basic style and very much a ‘Hey, here we are. What’re you going to do about it?’ type of thing,” he said. “I think that was our personality with the [personnel] that we have. But next year is going to be a different year. That allows for whatever creativity of rushers or coverage or whatever else it brings. That’s always exciting.”
A man, a plan, Aranda
It’s no secret that LSU has a lot to replace on defense heading into 2017. Seniors Tre’Davious White, Kendell Beckwith, Duke Riley, Rickey Jefferson, Greg Gilmore and Lewis Neal will all be moving on, and junior safety Jamal Adams likely will join them by declaring for the NFL Draft.
And while Aranda might have obvious contingency plans in place for restocking the secondary and the defensive line, replacing Riley and Beckwith at inside linebacker presents an intriguing challenge.
A linebackers coach by trade, Aranda said he feels “energized” by the challenge of replacing two men who combined for 176 tackles, 15 TFLs, 2.5 sacks, five pass breakups and three quarterback hurries. Solving that challenge begins with the development of rising senior Donnie Alexander and rising sophomore Devin White, but Aranda acknowledged that junior Devin Voorhies also could be in the mix for some playing time.
Additionally, Aranda hinted that some of the burdens of dropping into coverage could fall more on the outside linebackers next year, particularly younger players who have the length and versatility to oscillate between inside and outside linebacker.
“When you’ve got pass rushers, you’re always hesitant about dropping them,” he said. “You always want them to pass rush. But when you have the athletes on the outside, we’re talking about Michael Divinity and Ray Thornton, there’s opportunity to rush and drop and create opportunities for other guys rushing.”
Aranda likened the situation to the one he inherited at Wisconsin in 2013. In his first season in Madison, Aranda coached a senior-heavy team, complete with two veteran inside linebackers. But in 2014, those linebackers moved on to the NFL, and Aranda spent the next two seasons mixing and matching combinations, even netting some of his less-experienced players all-conference consideration.
Aranda said his main objective for 2017 revolves around motivating his players to play more consistently in the fourth quarter. He brought up the Alabama, Mississippi State and Texas A&M games as examples of times he didn’t properly sell his defenders on finishing the game strong. He said he’s accountable for that and plans on fixing it.
The first step toward a remedy will come on Dec. 31 when Aranda coaches the 2016 LSU Tigers for the last time in the Citrus Bowl against Louisville. Aranda said he believes Louisville has the best offense in the country led by Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson, and complimented Bobby Petrino for the deceptive and efficient plays he has designed.
“I think they’re the No. 1 offense in the country,” Aranda said. “Their quarterback is a really good player. It’s a Merry Christmas to everybody.”