Will LSU's pass rush take a needed step forward this year?
In 2011, LSU reached the BCS national championship game as the No. 1 team in the country after an unbeaten regular season. The Tigers were dominant in defense that year, particularly on the line, where defensive ends Sam Montgomery, Barkevious Mingo, Ken Adams and Lavar Edwards racked up 20.5 of the team's SEC-leading 39 sacks overall.
Since then, LSU has regressed each year record-wise in the regular season, going from 10-2 to 9-3 to 8-5. Perhaps not coincidentally, the Tigers' sack numbers have regressed during that time as well, dropping from 39 in 2011 to 35 in 2012, 27 in 2013 and then just 19 last year.
The stats are illustrated in the graphic below from ESPN:
With those 19 sacks in 2014, LSU ranked next to last in the SEC. Remarkably, the Tigers still ranked eighth nationally in total defense and second in pass efficiency defense but had just 10 interceptions, tied for 82nd nationally ... and that was with renowned longtime defensive coordinator John Chavis.
Chavis, of course, left this offseason for the same position at Texas A&M and was replaced at LSU by former Alabama linebackers coach and Clemson defensive coordinator Kevin Steele. The expectation is that the defense won't suffer a significant drop, but with Steele transitioning to a 3-4 and LSU lacking any proven pass rushers, it would help greatly for someone -- anyone -- to step up and put some pressure on opposing quarterbacks this offseason.
Granted, the bigger question for the Tigers this year is on offense, especially at quarterback, after an overall ugly performance on that side of the ball in 2014. But that makes it even more important for LSU's defense to come up with more big plays and turnovers in order to take the pressure off of the offense, which even if improved likely will still be a laggard in an extremely strong SEC West.
Since leading the SEC in sacks in 2011 (reached BCS champ game), the Tigers have fallen steadily in that category » pic.twitter.com/4i2DI8fjhY— ESPN CollegeFootball (@ESPNCFB) August 13, 2015