BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — LSU coach Ed Orgeron said he’s taking a hard look in the mirror after the No. 1 Tigers’ defense gave up a season-high 614 yards — not to mention 37 points — in their most recent victory at Mississippi.
“The first thing I do is look at myself because I coach the defensive linemen,” Orgeron said Monday at his weekly press conference. “What did we show them at practice last week; what did we not show them?”
The defense got a boost Monday when senior linebacker Michael Divinity returned to the team and participated in practice. But that’s no panacea; some of LSU’s struggles predated Divinity’s initial departure from the team. The game at Ole Miss marked the fourth time this season the Tigers had given up at least 450 yards and 37 points.
Nationally, they’re 44th in scoring defense and 47th in total defense.
None of the other CFP contenders are ranked anywhere near that far down in those categories.
Right after Saturday night’s victory, Orgeron had made a point of not being overly critical of the Tigers’ defense.
After all, his offense had 714 yards — second most in school history — and 48 points, this coming in a Southeastern Conference road game against an old rival with the Tigers’ No. 1 ranking on the line.
But Monday is “Tell the Truth” day at LSU’s football operation building, and Orgeron’s message was decidedly more urgent, especially if the Tigers (10-0, 6-0 SEC), who host Arkansas on Saturday, want to contend for a national championship.
Still, he deflected some blame away from the players.
“I look at how as coaches what we can do to get better. I think yesterday we spent three hours looking at four plays,” Orgeron said. “We give them the right things to do at the right time, and then it’s obviously up to them.”
LSU defensive players, meanwhile, sought to hold themselves accountable.
“We just needed to stay disciplined. And when you do make corrections, play as one instead of trying to play hero ball,” safety Jacoby Stevens said. “We just got caught trying to knock it out ourselves.”
Injuries to some key defensive players have been a concern. Preseason All-America safety Grant Delpit has been playing through pain most of the season. Top defensive linemen Rashard Lawrence and Glen Logan each have missed a few games. Divinity’s temporary departure only exacerbated the lack of lineup continuity.
But Oregon sounded less worried about personnel issues than the fact that defensive schemes simply have not worked out at times — particularly the plan to contain Ole Miss quarterback John Rhys Plumlee, who broke loose for 212 rushing yards Saturday.
“We were trying to be a little too aggressive,” Orgeron said. “We had a couple of guys out of position.”
LSU’s defense aims to show improvement this week, but measuring that could be tricky against the woebegone opponent coming up Saturday night. Arkansas (2-8, 0-6) is at the bottom of the conference, having already fired coach Chad Morris before the end of his second season. It’s the Razorbacks’ first game under interim coach Barry Lunney after an open date last week.
Stevens said LSU defensive players had an “emotional” meeting on Monday.
“I was disappointed in how we played. I expect so much from this defense,” said Stevens, who also was highly critical of LSU’s defense after the game on Saturday night. “We didn’t perform in a positive way. I felt like I needed to kind of light a fire. I felt like I did. Now that we’ve got everything on the table we’ll definitely be focused and ready to go for Arkansas.”
Arkansas ranks 11th in the SEC in scoring (22.3 points per game) and 12th in total offense (353.5). The Razorbacks have lost their last four games by an average of 49.5-15, capped off by the 45-19 loss to Western Kentucky that spurred Morris’ firing before the end of this season.
Orgeron, who himself has twice been an interim coach — at USC in 2013 and at LSU in 2015 — pointed out that a coaching change can give a team a lift. Each time Orgeron was appointed interim coach, his teams won the first time out with him in charge.
Arkansas will “come out on fire,” Orgeron predicted. “You change things up some and they respond to that.
“My first day at USC I brought cookies for everybody and they really responded to that. I’m sure they’ll have something cooked up for us.”