LSU coaching changes bring uncertainty for Missouri defense

Missouri will likely face an offense that looks different than the previous four games.

Spending hours watching Louisiana State’s film might be ill-advised for the Missouri defense this week.

Studying Cam Cameron’s offense would be a necessary element to prepare for the game in Baton Rouge on Saturday — that is, if Cameron still coached for LSU.

LSU announced Cameron and head coach Les Miles had been fired on Sunday, promoting defensive line coach Ed Orgeron to fill Miles’ position in the interim. The terminations leave LSU with plenty of uncertainty as to what happens next.

The Tigers from Baton Rouge aren’t the only ones wondering; the Tigers from Columbia don’t know what to expect either.

DeMontie Cross, Missouri’s defensive coordinator, said it puts him and his defense in a tough position defending an offense that will likely look different from the one in the previous four games.

Cross won’t include guesswork in his game preparation, though.

“We are not going to chase ghosts,” Cross said. “We are going to defend what we know and prepare for a couple of other things.”

One player who could pose a threat to Missouri is running back Leonard Fournette. Fournette, a 2015 consensus All-American and Heisman Trophy candidate, is dealing with an ankle injury that could keep him out of the game. But if he plays, Missouri knows it will need to limit him if it wants to have a chance at winning. He’s no ghost, but Fournette scares his opponents.

“He’s fast, he’s big, he runs hard, and he breaks tackles,” Missouri defensive line coach Jackie Shipp said.

Coach Barry Odom said Fournette has tremendous speed, and he wouldn’t be surprised if Fournette weighs 260 pounds, even though LSU lists him at 235 pounds on the roster. Shipp also said Fournette reminded him of running backs such as Gerald Riggs, Earl Campbell and Marcus Dupree, all players Shipp faced as a linebacker at Oklahoma.

"He's really good, and that's an understatement,” Odom said.

Fournette rushed for 1953 yards and 22 touchdowns in 2015. He averaged 162.8 yards per game, the most of any player in the Football Bowl Subdivision.

Thus, many fans had high expectations for Fournette coming into his junior season. Dealing with a sprained ankle, Fournette has failed to produce this season, however. In three games, he has rushed for 386 yards and two touchdowns. He has yet to rush for 200 yards in one game this season after turning in four in 2015.

Missouri won’t let his lesser production this season fool them.

“You don’t stop him,” Cross said. “[You] just contain him.”

To contain him, Shipp said the defense needs to maintain gap integrity, be sound with assignments and gang tackle.

Missouri used gang tackling to limit Georgia running back Nick Chubb, a pre-season Heisman hopeful, to 63 yards on 19 carries. Cross said a repeat performance is necessary to slow down Fournette.

“We have to do a great job of surrounding the ball and trying to overpopulate him,” Cross said. “We have to get more bodies around him.”

Getting bodies around Fournette does not automatically equate to tackles. Just ask any defender he has run over or flipped over his back.

“When you've got an opportunity to tackle the guy, you better have your mind right because he's going to have his right, I guarantee you,” Odom said.

Cross also said once defenders get to Fournette, they cannot let him slip tackles if they want to keep him to three or fewer yards per carry.

“If you can do that, and you get enough hats on him, then hopefully we can wear him down,” Cross said. “There aren’t many teams that can wear this guy down, though, and we are going to have our hands full just like we did with Chubb.”

If Missouri can slow down Fournette similar to how it limited Chubb, it would give the team a chance to escape Death Valley with a victory. But in addition to Fournette, the Tigers will need to stop anything new LSU offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger concocts.

Fortunately for Missouri, LSU will only be able to change so much in five days worth of preparation. Even if there are new things, Cross won’t let the unknown overwhelm him.

“I believe in this theory of defending what you see,” Cross said. “I can’t anticipate what they’re going to do. I’ve just got to be ready to adjust to what they do.”

Edited by Peter Baugh | pbaugh@themaneater.com

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