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LSU secondary vows to correct coverage issues in final games

Busted coverages have been a problem for LSU, an issue Dwayne Thomas says the Tigers have to correct. Derick E. Hingle/USA Today Sports

BATON ROUGE, La. -- If LSU's secondary is to live up to its self-anointed “Defensive Back University” legacy, junior Dwayne Thomas said a requirement is that “guys don’t bust coverages.”

If that’s the standard, the No. 4 Tigers (7-0, 4-0 SEC) realize they didn’t live up to it in the first half of the season. There were simply too many uncovered receivers running free for LSU to play its trademark brand of suffocating pass defense.

“We have given up a lot of just giveaway touchdowns,” Thomas said. “We’re correcting that because we know this November stretch is about to be huge for us and we can’t afford to give opponents points like that, easy points.”

To be fair, LSU’s pass defense has not been horrible. The Tigers are average or better in opponent passing yards per game (64th at 222.1 ypg) and yards per pass attempt (22nd at 6.03), and they have surrendered just 16 completions of 20 yards or more (tied for first in the SEC and seventh nationally). The problem is that most of their lapses have not been minor, they have been complete catastrophes.

LSU has surrendered 14 passing touchdowns this season. On seven of them, the receiver was either well behind the defender because of a miscommunication or was not covered at all.

That is simply not good enough for DBU, particularly, as Thomas mentioned, with a grueling November schedule ahead. In two of their remaining games after Saturday’s visit to No. 7 Alabama (7-1, 4-1), the Tigers will face No. 19 Ole Miss and No. 25 Texas A&M, both of which rank in the SEC’s top three in passing offense.

“Giving up a play is always too many for any secondary. But it’s a new month. It really is,” safety Jamal Adams said. “It’s really a new month. We’re not focused on October and the past. It’s really going to be a new month after the bye and it’s going to be our month. The secondary, we’re going to get right.”

Several Tigers said the coverage busts were the product of miscommunication. Five of the seven wide-open touchdowns came at home, where the noisy Tiger Stadium crowd actually makes it more difficult for LSU’s defense to make pre-snap checks to adjust their coverage plans.

“Nobody actually just doing something to us that we couldn’t control,” senior safety Jalen Mills said. “It was all on us.”

Not that Mills was present for many of those lapses. In fact, his return to the lineup -- he missed the first five games following August foot surgery, played sparingly against Florida and then sat out most of LSU’s last game against Western Kentucky with a calf injury -- should actually help clean up the Tigers’ communication issues.

A four-year starter, the preseason All-SEC pick is the most experienced player in the defensive backfield.

“Playing with Jalen is like having a guy out there who knows everything,” Thomas said. “So he’s just helping us more to get the call out, he’ll make it faster because he’s a veteran. He knows when something’s coming, he knows when he sees a different formation, he knows to make the right check.

“So he’s not going to be hesitant and slow about it. He’s going to give it to us quick, fast and in a hurry. Even if we make the wrong call, we’ve got time to make another call because he’ll give it out so fast. That’s just the advantage that Jalen has.”

It will also help if cornerback Tre'Davious White is able to go Saturday. ESPN NFL draft analyst Todd McShay listed White last week as his No. 3 defensive back prospect for the 2016 draft, so the junior would obviously play a key role against Alabama receivers Calvin Ridley, ArDarius Stewart and Richard Mullaney, if healthy.

LSU coach Les Miles said Monday that he expects White to be available Saturday.

The Tigers will need him because this is an all-hands-on-deck game for LSU. With SEC West and College Football Playoff goals hanging in the balance, LSU can’t afford to keep making the mental mistakes that have created problems this season.

To snap a four-game losing streak against Alabama, they need their best personnel available and they’ll need to play their cleanest game of the season on the back end of the defense.

“We’ve got to be on top of that,” Thomas said. “You don’t see the mistakes up front, you see the mistakes on the back end, so that’s on us. We just have to pick it up and get better at that.”