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5 things to know about new LSU DC Blake Baker’s defense

LSU made a change at defensive coordinator last week, firing Matt House along with several defensive assistants. After that, it wasn’t long before reports of a potential replacement broke.

Blake Baker quickly emerged as the leading candidate after putting together a strong Missouri defense in 2023. It made sense given Baker’s connection to Louisiana and his familiarity with LSU, given he was on staff in 2021.

Missouri just had one of its most successful seasons in school history, capping it off with a win over Ohio State in the Cotton Bowl. Baker was a large part of that and his defense was one of the best in the SEC.

That leaves LSU fans feeling optimistic about the defense taking a step forward in 2024. Here are five things to know about Baker’s defense.

8th in success rate when the offense had a scoring oppurtunity

Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports
Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

When it mattered the most, Baker’s defense buckled down. Opposing offenses ran successful plays just 34.1% of the time when they had a scoring opportunity.

Missouri ranked second nationally in creating negative plays in these situations with 19.5% of plays losing at least one yard. Only Texas A&M forced more.

Success in these spots can signal a playcaller knows what he’s doing. The scheme becomes more important when you get down into the red zone and Baker had a good read on what opposing coordinators were drawing up.

Missouri faced some GOOD offenses

Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports
Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Missouri faced a tough offenses in 2023, which prevented some of its raw stats from ranking among the elite. Missouri was 40th in yards per play allowed and 35th in points per drive. Those are good numbers, but the unit was even better.

Missouri faced a slate of offenses that, on average, put up 6.04 yards per play. But Baker’s defense held opponents to 5.1 yards per play in FBS games.

LSU and Georgia had two of the most efficient offenses in the country, and Missouri held them both below their season total in yards per play. It did the same against decent Memphis, Tennessee and Kansas State teams.

On three separate occasions in 2023, Missouri held Power Five opponents under five yards per play.

9th in sack rate

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Missouri ranked ninth nationally in sack rate, getting to the quarterback just over 9% of the time.

LSU fans will remember how blitz-heavy LSU got down the stretch in 2021. A lot of that can be attributed to Baker. This is a guy who likes to get after the quarterback.

Missouri had 19 different players record a sack in 2023, along with eight different guys notching 10 pressures or more. That group of eight includes players from all levels of the defense — the line, linebackers, and the secondary.

Baker isn’t afraid to send pressure from anywhere, which is good news for an LSU defense that struggled to get creative in that department last year.

There were some big plays

The Columbus Dispatch
The Columbus Dispatch

If you run an aggressive defense, you have to be willing to trade away some big plays. Missouri allowed its fair share in 2023.

Baker’s unit was 97th in 20-yard play rate and 99th in 10-yard play rate. That was still better than what LSU managed to put out there last year, but it could signal its a problem that will remain.

LSU, yet again, will have a young and inexperienced secondary. Some of these corners will have to punch above their weight for Baker’s defense to work.

Again, Baker made up for it last year with a defense that got after the quarterback, created havoc in the red zone, and ranked top 50 in turnover rate. The success of LSU’s defense in 2024 will depend on figuring out how to do it again.

Advanced metrics speak highly of Baker's 2023 unit

Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports
Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Advanced metrics really like the product Baker put on display last year.

Missouri’s defense ranked 14th in SP+, 13th in DFEI, and 14th in SRS. This is a consensus top 15 unit that remained consistent throughout the year.

All of this is to say there aren’t many red flags with this hire. The LSU administration feels the same if the 2.5 million per year is any indication.

Baker had some really good players at Missouri last year, and LSU needs some perssonel upgrades to go along with the scheme changes Baker will bring, but LSU should feel good about a competent defense in 2024.

Story originally appeared on LSU Tigers Wire