With LSU on a bye this week, SEC Country is taking a look at the plays, players and moments that have defined the first two-thirds of the Tigers’ season. Tuesday, we took a look at the biggest “what if?” of 2017. Today, we honor the Tigers’ best defensive player by contextualizing just how good he’s been.
LSU’s defensive stars
It’s no secret that LSU plays its best football when it has a stifling defense. And while this year has been up and down, there have been a few constants in Dave Aranda’s unit.
Freshman cornerback Greedy Williams has been a revelation, sitting second in the SEC in pass breakups (10) and interceptions (3). As of one week ago, Pro Football Focus graded him as the top freshman in college football. Teams that throw at Williams rarely find success, even pass-happy Ole Miss, which completed only 1 pass on Williams in 7 attempts.
Senior defensive end Christian LaCouture has been a rock in the ever-fluctuating middle of the Tigers defense. His 49 tackles lead all SEC defensive linemen, and his 6 tackles for loss are tied for fifth in the SEC among defensive linemen. That’s not to mention his team-leading 4.5 sacks, his 2 pass breakups or his 3 quarterback hurries. On three occasions this year, LaCouture has finished a game with 9 or more tackles.
The rotating cast of stars on the LSU defense has been endless in 2017. When he’s been on the field, sophomore defensive end Rashard Lawrence has embarrassed offenses, eating double teams and fortifying LSU’s run-stopping units. Defensive backs Donte Jackson, Kevin Toliver II and John Battle have all had their moments, helping to lead the nation’s No. 14 pass defense. Even Arden Key, who missed the first two games of the year and played poorly in his next three, is starting to turn things around to show why he’s a future first-round pick.
But there’s an obvious choice for LSU’s midseason defensive MVP in 2017. We’re looking at the man in the middle.
LSU midseason defensive MVP: Devin White
Sophomore linebacker Devin White has been everywhere for LSU’s defense this year. Stepping in where Duke Riley and Kendell Beckwith left off in 2016, White has been the SEC’s most effective and productive tackler this season.
With 80 tackles in eight games, White leads the SEC in both tackles and tackles per game. He’s the only player in the SEC — and one of just six Power 5 players — to average 10 or more tackles per contest. Additionally, he’s LSU’s leader in TFLs with 7.5, has 2.5 sacks, has broken up 3 passes and has a quarterback hurry.
For his efforts, The Athletic named White a midseason All-American, one of three SEC defenders to make the cut.
No LSU player has finished a season averaging 10 or more tackles per game since Kevin Minter in 2012. That means White is on pace to do something Riley, Beckwith, Deion Jones, Kwon Alexander and Lamin Barrow never could. In that 2012 season, Minter finished with 130 tackles and 15 TFLs. White is on pace for 130 tackles and 12.2 TFLs, assuming LSU plays a 13-game season.
White played his least productive game of the year last week against Ole Miss, notching a season-low 3 tackles. Before that game, he made at least 11 tackles in five straight games.
His ability to clog up running lanes and stuff ball carriers will be at a premium over the next few weeks, but especially against No. 1 Alabama in Tuscaloosa. If White can finish the season as strong as he started it, the Tigers’ run defense might have a chance against the best rushing attack in the SEC.
No man can do it alone. White owes a lot of his success to LaCouture and Lawrence and Greg Gilmore for absorbing blocks up front and creating lanes for him to fight through. But production is production. And for that, Devin White is LSU’s midseason defensive MVP.
Check back to SEC Country Thursday to find our pick for LSU’s midseason offensive MVP.