LSU's suffocating defense is the real thing

As a beat writer covering Tennessee's football program from 1997-2006, I saw some of John Chavis' best defenses with the Vols up close.

They were fast, aggressive, loaded with talent, and Chavis knew how to get guys in position to make plays.

His 1998 defense, led by future Pro Bowl linebacker Al Wilson, was the backbone of Tennessee's national championship team. It's a defense that saw nine of its starters go on to play in the NFL.

I realize we're only three games into the 2011 season, but there's no question in my mind that Chavis is coaching another national championship-caliber defense at LSU.

Man, those guys are nasty. Even I'm still hurting after watching them rack up 15 tackles for loss in their 19-6 win against Mississippi State on Thursday night.

From a depth standpoint, this LSU defense is superior to Chavis' 1998 national championship defense at Tennessee, in particular the secondary. The Tigers' starters are all former cornerbacks, and they tackle as well as they cover. Try keeping track of nickel back Tyrann Mathieu, who roams and seemingly comes from everywhere to make plays.

I'm not sure the Tigers have a leader and a playmaker in the mold of an Al Wilson, although senior linebacker Ryan Baker is definitely a tone-setter for this group, but LSU's defensive front is suffocating with interior guys who collapse the pocket and outside pass-rushers who are relentless off the edge.

LSU was dominant defensively in the first half Thursday. But when the second half rolled around, the Tigers absolutely turned the lights out on a Mississippi State offense that was averaging 588 yards in total offense and had scored 11 touchdowns coming into the game.

With a little more than five minutes remaining in the game, the Bulldogs had just 6 yards of total offense in the second half.

Chavis' defenses have always been built on speed and pressure, and it's obvious with this being his third season at LSU that the players are completely on board now with his system. They make very few mistakes, and this group is playing faster and more instinctively than either of Chavis' first two defenses at LSU.

Keep in mind that LSU was pretty stout on defense a season ago, finishing 11th nationally in scoring defense.

Here's the other thing: How many teams could lose three players the caliber of Patrick Peterson, Kelvin Sheppard and Drake Nevis and not miss a beat? Peterson was the fifth overall player selected in the NFL draft, and Sheppard led the Tigers in tackles last season and was their unquestioned leader.

All that does is further underscore how much talent is on this LSU defense, and much of it is concentrated in the freshman and sophomore classes.

Anybody who knows Chavis knows how closely he plays it to the vest. He's not a big talker, period, to the media and is never going to say anything that sets his defense up for a fall.

But it was obvious in talking with him this offseason that he felt like he had something special brewing this season and had a special mix of talent to work with in his 17th season in the SEC as a defensive coordinator.

How special?

We'll just have to wait and see, but something tells me the good folks on the Bayou are going to love the ride.