BATON ROUGE, LA — LSU coach Ed Orgeron hopes to see evidence this week that the fifth-ranked Tigers' defense is on the mend - both physically and figuratively.
Having last weekend off provided extra time for rest and reexamination of everything that hasn't gone right on that side of the ball.
Defensive end Rashard Lawrence and linebackers K'Lavon Chaisson and Michael Divinity, are still "a little gimpy," but are on schedule to return to full practice this week, Orgeron said. Lawrence and Chaisson have been sidelined since being injured in Week 2 at Texas and Divinity was hurt in LSU's last game at Vanderbilt.
And while LSU (4-0) enters this Saturday's game against visiting Utah State (4-1) as a more than three-touchdown favorite, Orgeron and defensive coordinator Dave Aranda are bracing for an Aggies spread offence that, in Orgeron's view, runs at a faster tempo than that of any opponent the Tigers have faced during his four-year tenure.
Practice will be designed to mimic what he called Utah State's "warp speed" pace.
"We're going to practice just like they run their plays," he said. "We're going to put our best players who can simulate that on the field no matter what position they play.
"Our defense is definitely going to be challenged."
That defense has already been challenged.
LSU is seventh in the SEC in scoring defense, allowing 23.2 points-per-game. That ranks behind fellow league unbeatens Florida, Georgia, Alabama and Auburn.
And while two of the touchdowns allowed came via offensive turnovers, the Tigers are fifth in the SEC in yards allowed at 320.0, not that much better than last year's 338.7 - and that's with conference heavyweights like Florida, Auburn and Alabama yet to come on the schedule.
One significant reason the defense has given up so many yards and points is that the Tigers' quick-striking offense is seldom on the field for long, usually putting the defense back to work in a hurry.
LSU leads the nation in scoring at 57.8 points-per-game, and of the Tigers' 30 touchdown drives, 24 took less than three minutes off the clock.
Still, Orgeron and the coaching staff addressed a primary concern during the team's off week - tackling.
"It's not the actual tackling," he said. "But it's the way we've been approaching it - our footwork, our weight distribution, our eyes, our angles.
"We have some great athletes, and they're trying hard and playing hard. But we've got to do a better job because of so many missed tackles. We're going to slow down our practices and make sure our guys are in the right position."
Creating turnovers also was a point of emphasis last week. A touted secondary has only two interceptions in four games and the team has but two fumble recoveries. With the offense losing four turnovers (one fumble, three interceptions), breaking even puts LSU ninth in the league in turnover margin.
A team leading the country in scoring would seem to have few offensive woes, but Orgeron said improving the running game was another focus last week. At 131.8 yards-per-game, the Tigers rank next-to-last in the SEC, ahead of only Vanderbilt.
"We looked a lot of how we run the ball and when we run the ball," Orgeron said. "And we looked at how we practice running the ball.
"We need to run the ball better and we need to finish better. We have not been challenged in pass protection yet, but we may get challenged this week and I know later on we will be. So we had better get ready."
The running game could get a boost this week with the return to eligibility of guard Ed Ingram, who had been suspended for the past year while a sexual assault charge against him in Texas was being resolved.
Ingram, who started 12 games as a true freshman in 2017, is listed as the backup left guard behind senior Adrian Magee this week, and Orgeron said is ready to see action.
The return of Ingram led Orgeron emphasize another good point - the lack of disciplinary problems the Tigers have experienced this season.
Instead of dealing with the kind of incidents that occur during open date weeks, Orgeron said he and his wife Kelly, were able to go to Lake Charles where their son, Cody, is the starting quarterback at McNeese State, and watch the Cowboys' game against Sam Houston State.
"Our guys know how to protect the team," he said. "The phone didn't ring one time all weekend.
"That is much appreciated by the head coach."