By RYNE BERTHELOT, Journal Sports
It wasn’t supposed to be a banner year for LSU’s secondary.
There was no “next man up,” no underclassman that would suddenly take the defense to new heights. There were no surefire first-round picks that the Tigers have produced in past seasons.
Instead, new head coach Brian Kelly had to rely on a slew of transfers, almost all of whom have ties to Louisiana.
Colby Richardson (McNeese State), Joe Foucha (Arkansas) and Greg Brooks, Jr. (Arkansas), all hail from the New Orleans area. Mekhi Garner transferred to LSU after Billy Napier left Louisiana-Lafayette to take the head coaching job at Florida. Major Burns (Georgia), a transfer from last year’s class, is from Baton Rouge. Jarrick Bernard-Converse (Oklahoma St.), played at Evangel Christian Academy in Shreveport. Sevyn Banks (Ohio St.) is the lone transfer with no immediate ties to Louisiana.
With a mostly-bare cupboard and most of the starting spots in the secondary open for competition, tough questions and low expectations clouded a unit that was seen as the Tigers’ weak spot entering the season.
Now, eight games in, the Tigers’ mix-and-match secondary has developed to hold its own well enough to keep LSU competitive with almost any team in the nation. Two of those transfers were recently named among the top 50 impact transfers in college football this season by ESPN — Garner was ranked No. 16, while Brooks earned the No. 25 spot on the list.
Garner was a hot commodity coming out of ULL, and has cemented himself atop the depth chart at cornerback, with Bernard-Converse and Richardson rotating at the other spot. Garner’s reputation in pass coverage followed him to LSU, where he’s allowed a reception on just 48 percent of the attempts opposing quarterbacks have thrown his way, according to Pro Football Focus.
Brooks, a safety, was thrown into the fire early after Burns went down with an injury. Foucha missed the Tigers’ first four games with an academic stumble. He was a multi-year starter at Arkansas and helped the Tigers secure their win against Auburn with a key interception.
While LSU’s secondary has certainly exceeded expectations and kept the Tigers in their fair share of games, the unit still leaves something to be desired in some categories: They’ve allowed an opposing passer rating of 124.63, 45th-best in the nation, and have been complicit in allowing opposing offenses to convert on 38-percent of their third downs, 70th in the nation.
Possibilities for LSU’s best defender — aside from Garner — don’t even play in the secondary.
Shreveport-Evangel Christian product Micah Baskerville, a linebacker, is tied for third in the nation among linebackers with four pass breakups, and has allowed just 10 catches on 23 targets this season. He’s also been the Tigers’ busiest tackler, leading the team with 33.
Baskerville had to earn time in Kelly’s defense, but has made himself indispensable on passing downs for LSU: No other linebacker in the SEC comes close to Baskerville’s 48-percent completion percentage, with Mississippi State’s Nathaniel Watson second at 62 percent with 20 or more targets.
LSU has proudly billed itself as one of the best schools in the nation for defensive backs in past years, adopting the moniker “DBU.”
That title may not ring completely true this season, but LSU’s secondary can still contend with any in the SEC.
Rest assured, there’s still a “no-fly zone” in place in Baton Rouge.
Contact Ryne at firstname.lastname@example.org