LSU prepares to add Harold Perkins, Maason Smith to pass rush

On3 imageby:Matthew Brune09/07/23

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It seemed after the first drive of the game, LSU’s defense had settled in. The Tigers forced three punts and one interception, only allowing one first down in that stretch where LSU jumped back in front on the scoreboard.

Florida State got the ball back with six minutes left in the second quarter, and from that point on scored five touchdowns and one field goal in its next six drives. The stretch exposed LSU’s issues in the back end, but the Tigers’ push up front was also negated, both on the ground and in the pass rush.

A lot of the talk has been about star linebacker Harold Perkins and how he fits in this defense. Head coach Brian Kelly said the staff has been trying to develop him as an inside linebacker to prepare him for the next level, but one thing became apparent in the loss: LSU needs to be more dynamic as a defense. 

Getting Perkins back on his front foot

It’s back to the drawing board for defensive coordinator Matt House and one of the first things he’s done this week is put Perkins back on the edge.

“[Perkins] is trying to learn inside backer,” senior linebacker Omar Speights said. “This week, we’re going to put him outside the box and let him be him, then bring Greg Penn back in the box and open up some opportunities for him.”

It’s not just about where Perkins lines up, though, it’s about how aggressive LSU is with him. The Tigers could have rushed him up the middle more on Sunday, after all, that was the entire point of moving him around. There’s hope we see more of this in the future, because having Perkins reacting to a play instead of creating chaos proved to be the wrong choice in game one.

“When you’re playing outside, you’re in space and have more freedom and things happen slower,” Speights said. “When you’re in the box things happen fast and you have to be there right away. It’s just a learning curve. He’s still young and learning everything, but that’s the biggest thing is he’s learning the speed of that. It took me a while to learn that when I got to college.”

In the NFL, Perkins might be an inside linebacker, but at this moment, the Tigers need him to “see ball, get ball” as Kelly puts it. We’ll see the Tigers’ star on the edge against Grambling State this week and likely watch him make several awesome plays. It’s one week too late for these adjustments, but at least the staff is looking to make changes moving forward with its best player on its defense. 

Maason Smith’s return sets up elite D-Line

lsu maason smith
(Jonathan Bachman / Getty Images)

The brightest spot from Sunday’s loss was LSU’s defensive line. It’s the only unit that slowed down the Seminoles in the first half as junior Mekhi Wingo was dominant and others including Jordan Jefferson and Bradyn Swinson showed excellent flashes.

Now, this unit gets even better with the return of Maason Smith, a preseason All-SEC player with legitimate first round potential if he can stay healthy. Coming off of an ACL injury in the first game of the 2022 season and a one-game suspension from the NCAA over an autograph signing incident in 2021, Smith is anxious to just get back on the field

“I’ve been waiting so long,” Smith said. “I’ve had visions of  playing against all these teams knowing the things I had going on. I just have visions of me going out there and dominating.”

Smith gets to line up alongside Wingo on the inside and form perhaps the most talented defensive tackle tandem in the country. The pass rush against Florida State was without Smith and Perkins (for different reasons) and now it seems both will be getting after quarterbacks for the remainder of the season.

“With Wingo and Maason on the inside and with the edge rusher we got, it’s going to be [elite],” Speights said. “You’re going to have to double somebody and then give somebody a one-on-one. When we get rolling, it could be scary.”

With the question marks in the secondary, the pass rush has to be the point of domination for this defense. The sense of urgency has skyrocketed over the past few days as LSU not only looks for answers, but looks to start stacking wins to save its season. The pressure is on, but fortunately, the Tigers have three NFL-caliber pass rushers the SEC will have to be ready for.

“It can be one of the strongest pass rushes in the country,” Smith said. “With all the pieces all around, there’s not one place where you can slide the protection or double team one person because we have a bunch of athletes on that line with me, Mekhi, Perkins, and Swinson. We can all affect the quarterback. There’s no one person you can focus on.”

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