BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Defensive coordinator John Chavis was brought to LSU to fix a disastrous defense, lost in the disorganized chaos of a two coordinator system and he certainly did just that.
During Chavis' first season in 2009, the Tigers weren't overwhelming or great, but they were definitely solid. A miraculous goal line stand in the final moments at Mississippi State preserved a heart-stopping 30-26 win. And even in defeat, the defense could be impressive, evidenced by a 13-3 loss to No. 1 Florida and superstar quarterback Tim Tebow in Tiger Stadium.
Overcoming LSU's offensive ineptitude would without question be a common theme for Chavis' defenses for years to come. During the 2010 regular season, LSU's starting quarterback threw a total of four touchdown passes - four. I once received a text message from a friend referring to LSU's offense as "immeasurably boring." That text was certainly recycled again this year. But thanks largely to a menacing defense (and granted, large, thumping doses of running back Stevan Ridley), the Tigers somehow finished the 2010 season 11-2 and No. 8 in the country. LSU also beat No. 22 West Virginia earlier that same year at home 20-14 with just 230 yards of total offense. How? Well, mostly because the Mountaineers could only gain 177 yards themselves. Linebacker Kelvin Sheppard made 116 tackles to lead the Tigers that year, while defensive lineman Drake Nevis rivaled the domination of Glenn Dorsey, totaling 13 tackles for loss and six quarterback sacks. A defensive back named Patrick Peterson wasn't too shabby either.
Before the explosive Oregon Ducks program reached the national championship game this season, they opened the 2011 campaign against LSU near Dallas in The Cowboys Classic. Months of rigorous preparation by Chavis and his staff undoubtedly had the Tigers ready for then head coach Chip Kelly and his dynamic, uptempo, scoring machine. A garbage touchdown by Oregon in the final moments made the final score a little more cosmetic, but LSU still recorded a dominating 40-27 victory over the No. 3 Ducks. Chavis' defense held Oregon to a staggering 95 yards rushing on 28 attempts, while quarterback Darron Thomas threw the ball 54 times for just 240 yards net passing. It was a defensive clinic by "The Chief," without question. Oregon would finish the year 12-2 overall and Rose Bowl champions.
That was just the beginning for the swarming 2011 Tigers, as Chavis and his unit mauled opponent after opponent. Without LSU's smothering and swaggering defense, there's absolutely no way the Tigers would've won "The Game of the Century" 9-6 in overtime at powerful Alabama. Even in the infamous BCS national championship rematch and 21-0 loss to the Crimson Tide, it was hard to fault Chavis. The defense was really the only reason the Tigers stayed somewhat within striking distance during this dark and depressing nightmare, as LSU's putrid offensive game plan netted 92 total yards and five first downs. The Tide led just 9-0 at halftime, 15-0 entering the fourth quarter.
That spectacular 2011 LSU defense allowed a measly 11.3 points per game and a minuscule 2.7 yards per carry. The Tigers sacked the quarterback nearly 40 times and forced 30 turnovers. Some Chavis critics will point to an LSU roster bursting with future professional talent, as if he's supposed to apologize or something. There was no doubt it was an embarrassment of defensive riches - Tyrann Mathieu, Eric Reid, KeKe Mingo, Sam Montgomery, Morris Claiborne, Bennie Logan, Michael Brockers, Brandon Taylor, Kevin Minter and Ron Brooks - that reached the NFL. But a coach was needed to scheme properly and put these guys in position to succeed. Chavis did that and LSU's defense was simply amazing that season. In my opinion, this group belongs in the same conversation as the 1958 and 2003 national champions for the best in school history.
From the 2012 season until now, the Tigers have certainly delivered some more impressive defensive performances. Texas A&M quarterback and Heisman trophy winner, Johnny Manziel, was given his best glimpse into future NFL struggles by LSU, going 0-2 against Chavis and the Tigers. In those defeats, Manziel threw just one touchdown pass against five interceptions. He was hardly dangerous as a runner either, carrying 32 times for just 57 yards and being sacked by LSU five times. Again, Chavis was the defensive mastermind behind stopping a star player and juggernaut offensive attack.
But the subject of LSU's defense has certainly become a more murky one in recent years. The Tigers last two bowl losses - to Notre Dame this year in Nashville and Clemson in Atlanta to end 2012 - both featured game-winning drives and field goals at the gun. Alabama also inflicted nauseating defeats to LSU during its last two trips to Tiger Stadium, largely because LSU couldn't get off the field in the waning moments. First, it was Crimson Tide quarterback AJ McCarron hitting TJ Yeldon with a screen pass and 28-yard touchdown with just 51 seconds left to win 21-17 in 2012. This season, it was Blake Simms forcing overtime with a field goal march with just three seconds left in regulation, before a scoring strike to DeAndrew White in the extra session led to the 20-13 Alabama triumph.
If the Tigers have needed a defensive stop recently to salt away victories, LSU fans have certainly hoped more than expected it would happen. Defensive back and White Castle native Ronald Martin intercepted Bo Wallace as Ole Miss was marching late to complete an exhilarating 10-7 upset of the No. 3 Rebels in Death Valley this year. But reflecting on it now, it seems more like another dreadful goof by "Bad Bo" than an incredible stand by LSU.
And although LSU finished No. 1 in the SEC in total defense, the early games count, too. Wisconsin shredded the Tigers for 253 yards rushing through the first three quarters and honestly, the Badgers would've likely won the season opener had star running back and Heisman finalist Melvin Gordon not left with an injury. Mississippi State and Auburn gained 570 and 566 yards respectively against the Tigers, as LSU started SEC play 0-2. Chavis did a tremendous job turning this group around, but the damage was certainly done.
I truly admire John Chavis as a football coach. The man's blood is certainly in the LSU bricks, as they say. His fierce, thundering shouts triggered the start of fall camp each August and were a true sign football was back. The passionate coaching he exhibited was always great video for our sportscasts, that's for sure. I can also argue no Les Miles assistant has been more pivotal to the success of the program than Chavis. It's really not close, actually. There are some that believe he saved Miles' job.
But after six years, "The Chief" and LSU have met an impasse and I can certainly understand both sides of the argument. Did athletic director Joe Alleva and the powers that be screw this one up? Or was Chavis a little too sensitive about his contract negotiations and then made an emotional decision as retribution? The truth may fall somewhere in the middle. We do know Chavis has received a raise of roughly $300,000 annually and is "excited to play with a great offense" at Texas A&M. My opinion? No one on the highest paid staff in college football deserved a raise after LSU went 8-5. And, it's obvious Alleva agrees.
Things with LSU football have unquestionably grown a bit stale. While the Tigers' inability to be competent and properly execute a forward pass is the overwhelming gripe concerning the current state of the program, maybe this change will lead to the injection of new blood that LSU needs. Things are certainly becoming more interesting in the SEC West, as LSU must not only battle Nick Saban annually, but now Chavis as well. The addition of Will Muschamp as Auburn's new defensive coordinator doesn't make things any easier either. There's moving and shaking all around the SEC landscape.
Your move, LSU.