With apologies to Les Miles and his colorful postgame tirade, the LSU defense was being hammered like a nail for most of this 2013 season — just so you know.
Not tackling. Not covering. Not pressuring the quarterback. Not looking like an LSU defense is supposed to look.
LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis, for one, didn’t want to look beyond anyone but himself to find the reason.
“You’re not happy,” said Chavis, who didn’t admit to resorting to sleeping in his office but probably added a gray hair or two to his impressive moustache. “There’s a standard that was set at LSU long before I got here. I certainly want to be part of the answer, not the problem. You take pride in what you do. You can’t be happy when you don’t perform and execute the way you should.
“When the execution’s not there, I look right at me. We looked at what we could do from a coaching standpoint, and we wanted to make sure maybe more than at any time that they understood exactly what they do when a call is made. I think tonight we saw what this team is capable of.”
A college football season is one of trends and runs, of rises and falls. No team remains static for an entire season. They get better or they get worse. You don’t have to look farther than the injury-ravaged Georgia team that lost to Missouri on Saturday, a team that was clearly not the same squad that beat LSU two weeks ago.
To that end, the Florida team the Tigers beat 17-6 on a broiling Saturday afternoon in Tiger Stadium wasn’t the offensive juggernaut Georgia was. No one is going to put Florida, Texas A&M, Oregon and Baylor in a lineup and accuse the Gators of being the one most likely to commit offensive assault.
But Florida had enough ground and pound in its running game, enough slipperiness in quarterback Tyler Murphy, to give Chavis a raging case of heartburn and Chavis’ defense fits.
That the Tigers held the Gators out of the end zone for the first time since 1979 says two things: 1. Florida’s offense has reverted to pre-Steve Spurrier Fun ’N’ Gun standards, and it’s stunning that the Gators can’t recruit enough quality offensive playmakers to be more potent; 2. You still have to stop the team you’re playing and, for most of this season, the Tigers looked like they couldn’t stop anyone.
That began to change last Saturday at Mississippi State, when LSU’s defense was in full retreat for most of the first half up just 28-23 at the break. But the Tigers began to clamp down and turn things around in the final 30 minutes, outscoring the Bulldogs 31-3 en route to a rout by a 59-26 score.
Saturday’s game makes six straight quarters that LSU has kept the other team out of the end zone. Again, you have to consider the quality of the opposing offense, but it is the Southeastern Conference and that is doing something. It’s certainly a claim the Gators defense, ranked No. 1 in the SEC in virtually every major statistical category, could make after this one.
A prideful defense has at least a measure of its swagger back, and Saturday it was a sight to behold.
“LSU has always been known for great defense,” defensive tackle Anthony “Freak” Johnson said. “A great run defense and putting pressure on the pass. Honestly, we haven’t been doing that the last couple of games. Coach Chavis told us all it’s time to step up and do what we do the best around LSU.”
A players-only meeting after the Georgia game may also have had something to do with it, said cornerback Jalen Mills.
“We preached it all week,” Mills said. “We have not played our best football yet. We still had some errors in this game, and we are going to get better.”
The Tigers rattled Murphy, sacking him four times and getting their hands on him about 10 other times. That left Florida’s conservative attack relying on a less than spectacular band of running backs, and in the SEC that usually isn’t going to be a recipe for victory.
The Tigers can still tackle better, could have easily wrapped their hands around a couple of interceptions that could have made this game into a rout.
It’s a start, but few in the LSU locker room were satisfied. Just perhaps even more determined.
“Everyone is saying how young we are,” defensive end Jermauria Rasco said.
“We’re not young. We’re are all just getting comfortable with each other and starting to play LSU football.”
If that happens, maybe this LSU defense will start hammering some of the teams it has left on its schedule.