Coming into this season, LSU's defense was projected to be one of the best defensive units, not only the Southeastern Conference, but in the entire nation.
The Tigers returned seven starters from 2017, four of them being along the defensive line. This is the Tigers' strongest point with juniors Rashard Lawrence and Ed Alexander manning the interior of the line along with sophomore Glen Logan.
The fourth returning starter, sophomore outside linebacker K’Lavon Chaisson, went down with an injury in the first game of the season that will sideline him for the rest of the year. Many teammates believed Chaisson, a premier pass rusher, could break LSU’s sack record.
“I feel bad for him,” coach Ed Orgeron said. “He’s a great young man. He had totally dedicated himself to this year, but he’s going to get through this. I know his teammates are very sad that he’s going to be out the rest of the year, but we are going to have to step up. Guys will step up at that position.”
The loss of Chaisson is a huge blow to the LSU defense, but LSU has always preached a “next man up” philosophy, and this situation is no different for the Tigers. Chaisson will be replaced by a collection of players looking to make a name for themselves.
A pair of sophomores, Andre Anthony and Ray Thornton, are expected to step up to fill the void left by Chaisson. After seeing limited action in the first game of the season against Miami, the two played admirably, combining for eight total tackles and a sack against Southeastern.
“This game, I feel like, was mostly about opportunity,” Anthony said. “Some guys went down, and it was just everybody getting the opportunity to show what they need to do, play how they need to play and show the coaches that they are ready for the next game and the games after that. I feel like as a whole, everybody who got the opportunity to play fulfilled that.”
The two players will need to improve drastically in the coming weeks as LSU starts its SEC schedule this weekend against the No. 7 ranked Auburn Tigers.
Although the two thought they both played well during the game, Orgeron expected better from the duo.
“I didn’t see a lot of productivity out of them,” he said. “We’re going to watch the film, and maybe it’ll be a little bit different, but they’re going to have to play better than they played tonight.”
LSU’s pass rush will get a boost this weekend as junior Michael Divinity Jr. returns to the lineup after serving a suspected one game suspension on Saturday. Divinity played in 11 games last season, recording 15 total tackles with a career-high of five in his first start against Notre Dame.
The versatile Divinity figures to be firmly in the mix at outside linebacker, recording three tackles and one and a half sacks in the opening game against Miami.
The LSU defense will need multiple players along its defensive front to step up this weekend against Auburn. The unit will need to evolve with the loss of Chaisson, but Orgeron feels comfortable with the defensive makeup that his third year defensive coordinator Dave Aranda is putting together.
“Dave feels very comfortable with his defensive staff,” Orgeron said. “Every defensive staff has a different make up, you know guys who can do this or that. Everyone has different strength and weaknesses. This is a very good defensive staff. We’re able to do a lot of things. Make a lot of adjustments.”
These adjustments will be on full display on Saturday against Auburn. After the loss of Chaisson it will be key for these young players to find success early and often against the War Eagles.
If the likes of Thornton, Anthony and Divinity Jr. can fill the hole left by Chaisson, the LSU defense will once again be regarded as one of the most feared in the country.
The only thing left to do is to see how these young players adapt to their situation and match up against some of the country’s best players on Saturday.