Kendell Beckwith is the leading tackler for LSU, but he won’t be playing in the bowl game due to a torn ACL. So, LSU will be without their senior leader on defense but I don’t think it will matter much. Beckwith is a stud middle linebacker and he’s is absolutely great inside the box. But, the middle linebacker spot is probably the deepest spot on the defense. Donnie Alexander will step into his spot and he should do just fine. Alexander has played plenty this year at MLB as well as special teams. he also gets to line up next to Duke Riley who was just voted team MVP for the season. Riley is the team’s second leading tackler and he is likely to be the guy left on the field when LSU goes to a nickel or dime package.
The Tiger defense has some similarities to UofL’s. Riley mans the weakside inside linebacker spot that Stacy Thomas plays for the Cards. One of the things that stood out to me about Riley is that he will “green dog” when able. This means that he will man a zone or a running back assignment but if he ends up being free, he will come on a delayed blitz. Another huge factor in the game is the fact that Riley is quick enough and fast enough to get an angle on Lamar Jackson. We watched defenders for Houston have success getting to Lamar on blitzes as well as scrambles. Riley is an athlete that can do those things also.
The outside linebacker position is a very strong sub-unit for the Tigers. Arden Key is one of the best pass rushers in the country and this season he has really improved his skills when dropping into zone. Key is 6-6 and he’s super long and super athletic. Key does a great job of using his length to keep tackles out of his pads and he has the speed to bend around the edge. While he doesn’t have great power yet, he does posses the skill set that UofL’s tackles have struggled with. I would say that he is one of the key players in this game. Tashawn Bower lines up opposite Key when the Tigers are in their base set, which isn’t too often. Bower hasn’t put up numbers that would even make you take a second glance, but he is a talented player. He’s the kind of player that is always around the ball and he typically is sound in his assignments. When playing against a guy like Lamar Jackson, you need players like that.