LSU Football fans have suffered a lot over the years. Tiger fans have been exposed to some of the worst offenses the sport has ever seen (thanks, Cam Cameron), with 2019 being the ultimate exception. But at the same time, they’ve seen some of the most dominant defenses in the history of college football. That all comes with the territory when playing in the Southeastern Conference, which is known for its incredibly physical defenses that are littered with NFL-ready prospects.
ESPN Staff Writer Bill Connelly ranked college football’s 50 best defenses of all-time recently in an article. It should be no surprise to anyone that the SEC accounts for nearly half (22 of 50, or 44%, to be exact) of all units named to the list. LSU’s direct rival, Alabama, takes home the gold and silver, occupying the top two places in Connelly’s opinion. However, Tiger fans will be happy to know that their program finds itself on this list more than any other team (five times) not named the Crimson Tide (six) or Michigan (also five).
LSU Football was mentioned five times on ESPN’s top 50 defenses of all-time list
As one would expect, Nick Saban’s national title-winning 2003 defense kicks off the list at No. 50. LSU held every opponent except for two to under 14 points that season, allowing 11.0 points per game over the course of the year. It was Saban’s first National Championship of his seven, and the Tigers put on a defensive clinic against Oklahoma in the 21-14 win, justifying the inclusion. Ironically enough, the 2003 National Champions were the only title-winning LSU defense to be named in the article. The 1958, 2007 and 2019 squads all missed the cut as there was nothing overly exceptional about their squads on the defensive side of the ball. One doesn’t have to look far to see a pair of near national title winners though.
Another unsurprising inclusion came in the form of the 2011 runners-up, who were included in the same excerpt as Saban’s Alabama from the same season. Remember the Game of the Century? A 9-6 scoreline in today’s day and age would be enough to put viewers to sleep, but a decade ago, these two SEC powerhouses put on a defensive masterclass in Tuscaloosa. The star-power on both sides of the ball is astonishing looking back at it. It’s a shame the BCS was a broken system, or else this team would have joined the 2003 Tigers as the two National Champions on this list.
While 1959 is mostly known to the Tigers’ faithful for Billy Cannon’s Heisman Trophy victory, the defense can hold its own against any in the history of the sport. The two teams who met on that famous Halloween night are now regarded as a pair of the best defenses in the sport. Cannon is known as LSU’s hero for winning the Tigers the game against Ole Miss (No. 3 on the Connelly’s list), but the defense (No. 4) held the Rebels to just three points that foggy evening.
The Tigers gave up three touchdowns in a later meeting with Ole Miss, which matched their season total. LSU allowed a punt return touchdown to Tulane, as well as a pick six and a scoop-and-score to Tennessee—that’s it. The Rebels’ three passing touchdowns in the 1960 Sugar Bowl were the only offensive touchdowns given up by Paul Dietzel’s team. This astonishing fact is enough to earn the Tigers their spot amongst college football’s elite defenses.
A few years later, Charles McClendon’s 1962 defense (ranked No. 21 of all-time) gave up a combined 34 points in 11 games. Allowing 3.1 points per contest is absurd in any era, it’s even crazier considering 15 of those 34 points allowed came against the unbeaten National Champions, Ole Miss. This defensive record speaks for itself and it deserves to go down in folklore.
The most surprising inclusion on Connelly’s list—at least as far as LSU is concerned—came in at No. 39. There was a lot going on in 2016, which is probably why the Tigers defense’s didn’t seem like anything extraordinary at the time. The program let go of long-time head coach Les Miles and the aforementioned offensive coordinator, Cameron. Ed Orgeron was named interim and his performance throughout the season later earned him the title of head coach. LSU gave up 15.8 points per game on the entire year. It wasn’t until the Citrus Bowl that first-year defensive coordinator Dave Aranda’s defense decided to truly come alive on a national stage though.
Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson was held to 10 of 27 passing for 153 yards, but it was his rushing stats that were truly mind-boggling. The most elite dual-threat quarterback in the country was locked down on the evening, racking up 33 rushing yards on a whopping 26 carries. The Tigers held one of 2016’s best offenses to single digits in the 29-9 rout to cap off an 8-4 season.
Conventional wisdom constantly says that you don’t know what you have until it’s gone. In the case of these defenses, that would be an understatement. LSU fans would likely give anything to go back in time and watch these units play after the woeful displays we’ve seen over the last couple of seasons. Help us, Brian Kelly, you’re our only hope.
What do you make of ESPN’s rankings and where the Tigers sit on the list? Let us know your thoughts in the comments or on Twitter!