The LSU defense isn’t necessarily taking an all’s-well-that-ends-well approach this week.
But the Tigers’ psyche got a boost from a three-point second half after a poor first half in a 59-26 victory at Mississippi State on Saturday on the heels of a 44-41 loss at Georgia a week earlier.
They hope there’s a carry-over effect as they prepare for No. 17 Florida on Saturday in Tiger Stadium.
“Ending the game that way, with a dominant performance and allowing just three points in the second half, and that coming at the start of the third quarter, that gives us confidence as a starting point with Florida coming to town,” linebacker D.J. Welter said Monday. “If we can carry that over, we’re going to be the team that we want to be.”
Coach Les Miles said that confidence is what the defense needs more than personnel or schematic changes.
“Really all we have to do is play our technique and do the things that we’re being coached to do and be confident and play with poise,” Miles said. “It’s the things that we’ve coached you to do, and accept the adjustment in a like fashion and play.
“Tackle well and do the things that we’re used to doing, our defense will take strides really each week.
“I think our guys took a stride, and I think they’ll continue to take steps there.”
Miles said the Bulldogs ran four schemes and some pass routes that the Tigers hadn’t seen previously.
“I felt like the staff did a great job,” Miles said. “Anytime you run into things that you see for the first time, that defense needs some adjustment. I thought they did a really fine job.”
Corey Thompson, who started in place of injured Craig Loston at safety, said defensive coordinator John Chavis was a little more demonstrative at halftime at State than he was at Georgia.
“The Georgia game he was more about telling us to calm down and teaching us how to handle our assignments,” Thompson said. “This game he got into our grill a little bit. He raised his voice a little bit and made sure we tackled better and carried out our assignments.”
Thompson said the defense’s pride was tested after the first half, and the second-half improvement was more about “attitude” than anything else.
“We’re the LSU defense,” he said. “We’re not used to getting scored on like that.”
Defensive tackle Anthony Johnson said the defense played harder in the second half.
“Coach Chavis came in at halftime, and there were very few changes to the scheme,” Johnson said. “He told us it was up to us. Our coaches said we were in the right places, we just have to tackle better.
“(Linebacker) Lamin (Barrow) and I and (cornerback) Jalen Mills and (tackle) Ego Fergsuon all stepped up as leaders and said, ‘You know what, we’re not playing hard enough. We’ve never let these people come out and score as many points on us.’ So we took it by the horns, and that’s why we changed up on them in the second half.”
Johnson said the defense has more confidence than it had coming out of the game against Georgia.
“It’s because as a defensive line when you see defensive backs playing like that and making an interception and you’re putting pressure on that quarterback, it gives you a lot of confidence,” he said. “When you see linebackers getting behind the line of scrimmage and making plays, everybody doing their job, it gives you confidence.”
LSU had three sacks against State after having virtually no pressure against Georgia. Johnson said the plan against Georgia was “to just press the pocket and stay in our lanes” against Aaron Murray.
Johnson said the linemen told defensive line coach Brick Haley, “Just let us loose.” And, Johnson said, “He let us loose.”
Mills said some of the younger players might have had “a few jitters” at the start of the game before settling down. In addition to Thompson making his first start, sophomore Kwon Alexander started in place of injured senior Tahj Jones at linebacker, and freshman cornerback Tre’Davious White made just his fourth start.
“We really grew up as a defense in this game,” Mills said.
Though LSU gave up 468 yards and several big plays, it forced State to try field goals on its first two drives of the second half, the first of which was good, then kept the Bulldogs in check.
“That was definitely a huge turning point,” Welter said of the first drive of the third quarter. “They had their way and pushed down the field. And all of a sudden, we got a stop, and that carried through the second half. Any time you get a stop, it gives everybody more energy and a little more oomph.
“We’re going through some growing pains, but I feel like we’re really starting to find our identity. We know we’re better than the way we played at times these last few games.”
“I like how our defense is coming,” Miles said. “And I think we’ll get back to great LSU defense very quickly.”