Back in August, we talked a bit around here about how this would be a season of offense. So far, it hasn't disappointed much.
The flip side of the increase in offense is the apparent decline of defense in the conference. Alabama allowed 42 points and 628 yards of total offense in a single game; in past years, that'd be about three games' worth of figures. Georgia's defense has been torched almost as badly as its offense torches other teams (reference what that offense did to South Carolina's defense not too long ago). It's to the point where you don't have to go far to find people wondering just how many "true SEC defenses" there are this year.
Putting aside for the moment all of the caveats that you're already thinking of (Small sample size! Some offenses are just that good!), one of the candidates for a "true SEC defense" is LSU's. You won't find the Tigers at the very top of the conference's statistical ranks, but here's what you need to know. In its past three games, two against cupcakes and one versus Auburn, LSU has allowed a grand total of zero points when leading by fewer than 21 points. The revamped offense jumped out to at least a 21-point lead before the defense gave up anything, and however you measure it, that's a defense doing its job. The D is not elite just yet in the S&P+ rankings, thanks in part to being a bit generous in the success rate department, but it's hard to draw too many conclusions when half of its games were pointless blowouts.
The LSU defense was a point of concern all offseason after losing approximately 500 players to the NFL, if I remember the stat correctly from the preview magazines. It's easy for Tiger fans to try to say "I told you so" about it not falling off too far on the rationale that John Chavis defenses are always good, but that's not quite right. Chavis had a bad season, ironically, in Tennessee's last good one, as the 2007 Volunteer offense had to overcome a young and disturbingly uneven defense to win the East. No one is bulletproof, not even the Chief.
In any event, the Tiger defense is going to face by far its toughest test yet this weekend in Georgia's offense. Even without Malcolm Mitchell, it's one of the best units in the country. What must LSU do to keep its standing as a "true SEC defense"?
For starters, it's going to need to hold UGA below 35 points, its currently lowest output on the year. Every bit lower than that will certainly help. Georgia has had over 500 yards in each game so far, so keeping the Bulldogs under that total will be a bare minimum baseline. Forcing turnovers will work too, though they have to look like they're LSU's doing and not just UGA being dumb. In fact, being aggressive is a must. LSU has to look the part every bit as much as the box score does.
If that sounds a bit superficial, well, it is. Crowning a unit as a "true SEC defense" is largely the realm of Hot Sports Takes artists. The blessed reality of LSU's defense is that it doesn't have to be as good as those units of the past few seasons. LSU's offense is finally picking up some slack. The two units just have to work more or less harmoniously, with one making up for any occasional failings of the other. LSU football previewing is no longer a case of wondering how many toxic waste spills the defense will have to clean up each weekend.
LSU's defense could limp out of Athens having allowed 30 points and 540 yards, and it just might be OK. Georgia's defense hasn't wowed anyone, and if the early season success isn't a mirage, Cam Cameron's side of the ball might just go get 33 points and 550 yards of its own. In that kind of scenario, LSU's D will have done its job well enough to survive and advance. Against what is just a brutal conference slate, that's all that matters.
Maybe LSU's defenders will earn their "true SEC defense" label this coming weekend. Maybe they won't. It shouldn't be the top thing on their agenda, however, and you can go ahead and ignore anyone who harps on that point for any serious amount of time.