The LSU Tigers began their 2023 campaign in extremely disappointing fashion with a 45-24 defeat to the Florida State Seminoles. One of the biggest storylines was how outside linebacker Harold Perkins was misused. LSU’s defensive game plan capped Perkins’ potential impact.
Tigers head coach Brian Kelly and defensive coordinator Matt House used Perkins as an off-ball linebacker. Perkins played a career-high 28 snaps in coverage. He only rushed the quarterback on seven occasions, per Pro Football Focus. Perkins graded out as LSU’s worst defender as a result.
It was a peculiar way to manage Perkins’ skill set. It also backfired in every way imaginable. Perkins playing in coverage did nothing to slow down FSU quarterback Jordan Travis, who completed 23-of-31 passing attempts for 342 yards, four touchdowns, and one interception. It also prevented Perkins and LSU’s front seven from impacting the backfield with the desired effect. Travis wasn’t sacked throughout the course of the game. Perkins often played as a spy to prevent Travis from rushing.
Perkins led all LSU defenders last season with 7.5 sacks. He was a 2022 First Team All-SEC selection as a result despite being an 18-year-old defender learning a new position. His natural ability to rush the passer was on full display despite some creative defensive usage. Perkins wasn’t utilized as a full-time pass rusher last season either.
The 6-foot-1, 220-pound Perkins played multiple positions as a first-year contributor. He played the SAM position in base defense. It made more sense than Sunday’s debacle because B.J. Ojulari was LSU’s primary pass rusher. With Ojulari now in the NFL, there’s no reason for LSU to continue moving Perkins around. Stop pretending like he’s not their best pass rusher. Perkins should be playing the JACK position that Ojulari played last year.
Perkins possesses the game-changing speed required to threaten the outside shoulder of opposing offensive tackles. Perkins’ explosiveness allows him to bend around the edge. The New Orleans, Louisiana native is capable of getting tackles outside of their base while eluding their punches.
In recent seasons, we’ve seen former off-ball linebackers develop into high-quality pass rushers at the next level. Micah Parsons has totaled 26.5 sacks across two professional seasons despite playing inside linebacker at Penn State. Haason Reddick recorded 16.0 sacks for the Philadelphia Eagles last season despite an all-too-familiar failed stint at off-ball linebacker. LSU is currently making a similar mistake with Perkins, who carries more value as a pass rusher than he does as a traditional linebacker.
LSU must course-correct Perkins’ usage immediately. The good news? The upcoming schedule leans favorably toward an LSU bounce-back. They’ll play a non-Power-5 Grambling State in Week 2, and a Mississippi State offensive line that can be exposed by Perkins in Week 3.
Sunday’s error in judgment should have provided Kelly with an opportunity to learn from his mistakes. The Tigers’ defense shouldn’t overcomplicate Perkins’ usage despite his small-ish frame. Perkins possesses the ability necessary to be one of the nation’s most haunting pass rushers on a snap-by-snap basis. LSU just has to let him be.
- Sep 29, 2023
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