The Tigers are first in the league in total defense, and they also hold the top spot in passing defense (149.5 ypg), which ranks fourth nationally.
“This team has an uncanny knack for being in the right place at the right time,” said senior quarterback Greg McElroy. “It’s a credit to their execution as a defense and also their talent level. I think they do a good job of anticipating. They do a good job of just making things difficult for the wide receivers on the edge and they definitely pose a pretty big threat on the defensive front.”
An LSU defensive player that McElroy and the Tide are keeping their eyes on is cornerback Patrick Peterson, one of the best defensive backs in the country. Peterson was recently named to midseason All-American teams by SI.com, Rivals.com, and collegefootballnews.com. He is also one of the nation’s top return men.
“Patrick Peterson is one of the best defensive backs in the country, not only in terms of what he does as a defensive back, but he is a great return man, too, and has had a significant amount of production in both kickoff return and punt return,” said head coach Nick Saban. “He’s a physical guy. He’s got great athletic ability, good size and speed for his position, but he’s also a very instinctive. He’s got great ball skills, good ball judgment, is a good tackler and he can cover.
So far this season, Peterson has taken home two SEC Special Teams Player of the Week honors, a Lott IMPACT Player of the Week, a Hornung Award for Versatile Performance Award, and the weekly Jim Thorp Award.
Junior wide receiver Julio Jones spoke on what it will be like going up against Peterson on Saturday. Jones emphasized Alabama offensive coordinator Jim McElwain’s confidence in him as a player going up against Peterson.
“Coach McElwain believes in me and he knows I set up and make big plays when I have to,” Jones said. “Not to take anything away from Patrick. If we go one-on-one, it’s going to be a battle. He is a great competitor. He is not going to give you a single play. I like the challenge.”
Peterson isn’t the only major contributor on LSU’s defense, though. Defensive tackle Drake Nevis has been named the SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week three times in seven games. Nevis ranks third on the team with 38 tackles and five sacks.
LSU has already racked up 22 sacks on the season, and McElroy said the LSU defense is a force to be reckoned with.
“[The game] will be difficult,” he said. “I don’t think it’s anything you ever want to do as a player is play against a great defense like this, but it’s definitely going to be a great challenge for us. We need to… be able to execute on all cylinders on Saturday because that’s what it’s going to take.”
The Tigers have yet to give up a rushing touchdown and a passing touchdown in the same game this year. LSU has allowed just two first-quarter touchdowns in its last 11 SEC games dating back to last year, and only 26 total first-quarter points in those 11 games.
“The LSU defense is fast, they’re athletic, they run real well,” said junior running back Mark Ingram. “They play the game the way it’s supposed to be played – with a lot of passion, a lot of heart, and every single year, they have been a great challenge for us on offense. We are just going to need to focus real hard this week because they are a great team and we have a big challenge ahead of us this week.”
So who’s to credit for LSU’s success on the defensive side of the ball? Second-year defensive coordinator John Chavis is a good start.
Chavis has spent 15 years as a defensive coordinator in the SEC, after 14 of them at Tennessee.
“Chavis has done a really good job there,” Saban said. “Chavis has a good system, he’s very multiple and I think even this year, being the second year that he’s there, the players probably feel a lot more comfortable with the system and execute it very well. He does a fantastic job. He has good players, but they all play pretty well and they’re sound in what they do.”
Chavis also coaches the Tigers’ linebackers, a position that proved to be the strength of the LSU defense in 2009. Last year was the first time the Tigers’ top four tacklers were linebackers since the 1985 season.
“Defensively, they’re probably the best team in our league, maybe one of the best defensive teams in the country,” Saban said. “Good quickness up front, they run really well, have a good secondary and they’re very well-coached. They play physical. People have struggled to run the ball until the last game against them. It’s going to be important that we can continue to have balance in moving the ball effectively against them.”