--- There wasn’t any doubt that LSU’s safeties were uber-talented, but that didn’t mean there weren’t question marks.
After he suffered a season-ending foot injury against Alabama last fall, was Brandon Taylor completely healthy? And who would start opposite Taylor: Eric Reid or Craig Loston? And how would the pair’s chemistry be?
Oregon brought answers to all three questions, and for LSU fans it was positive news across the board.
When Taylor chased down speedy Oregon running back LaMichael James from behind, all worries of recovered speed were tossed out the window.
And it was Reid who got the starting nod at free safety, and he and Taylor combined for 13 tackles. Reid also recovered a fumble, which landed in his hands after defensive end Sam Montgomery tracked freshman running back DeAnthony Thomas out of the backfield and popped the ball loose.
However, Reid’s most important contribution might have been his knowledge of the game.
In a deafening Cowboys Stadium, Reid – in the same fashion as Taylor before his injury last season – called the defense for the Tigers each time he was on the field.
“(Reid) knows the defense inside and out and I know the defense inside and out,” Taylor said. “We made a lot of checks, and being that it was pretty loud in there, we were using a lot of hand signals. We communicated very well with that.”
--- At cornerback, Mo Claiborne and Tharold Simon get to wear the label of starter.
But if the Oregon game plan gave any glimpse into the future, LSU will spend plenty of time in nickel – meaning Tyrann Mathieu gets to stay on the field as the team’s third cornerback, a role that he flourished in as a true freshman last fall.
“It’s a great fit for not just me, but the team,” Mathieu said. “Tharold is definitely shaping into a premier corner in the SEC. He has rare blend of size and speed. It’s about us keeping each other fresh and motivated.”
In the opening act of his sophomore campaign, Mathieu picked up where he left off, leading the Tigers with 10 tackles and two pass breakups. On special teams, he forced a fumble, picked it up off the turf and danced into the end zone for the first six points of the game.
“I think a lot of people were thinking I would have a slump year,” Mathieu said. “It was about me staying motivated and hungry.
“I tell Tharold all the time, there is always another level. No matter how good or great you are, there is another level.”
Claiborne and Simon combined for 14 tackles, and Simon added an interception and three pass break ups – the sophomore’s best stat line in nine career games played.
--- After the win, the LSU defense – from Sam Montgomery to Mathieu – talked to reporters about comments made by Oregon head coach Chip Kelly, who had casually referenced the preparation for LSU’s defense as the same as any other regular season game the Ducks game plan for.
On Tuesday, Montgomery and defensive tackle Bennie Logan singled out the locker room material handed over by Kelly as one of the key motivating factors behind the defense’s suffocating approach on Saturday night.
“This game, for the (defensive line), was more of a personal thing,” Logan said. “We were just dominating because of some things that were said.
“It was told to us that the Oregon head coach compared us to Washington State and Tennessee. We take that personally. We are training to be the best defensive line. We don’t want to be average or compared to some other team. These other schools don’t train like we train and don’t have the mindset like we have.”
Montgomery, who returned to action for the first time since being injured in the fourth game of the 2010 season, said that Kelly likely now has a new view of the Tigers defense.
“I hope they left with an impression that we are a good defense, that we are quick and fast,” Montgomery said. “Before we were being compared to Washington State, and the guys didn’t like that too much. So we decided to turn it up.”
--- While Montgomery is a familiar name to action up front, the Cowboys Classic served as a coming out party for Logan.
In his first college start, Logan finished with four tackles and the defensive line’s only pass break up. Other linemen had better lines, but Logan’s surprise start and consistent production from beginning to end is the most promising thing to take away from the night.
“During fall practice I started to go with the ones, but I didn’t know that I was going to be starting,” Logan said. “I just practiced the way I have been practicing. I come every day to get better at something. I didn’t know until the game that I was starting.”
With a game like this weekend’s now under his belt, the experience factor – which was minimal – shot up, and Logan’s confidence level went with it.
Though Logan hadn’t stepped to the field for meaningful snaps, effort in practice and dedication in the film room quickly paid off against one of the nation’s most productive offenses.
“We watched film so long. We watched these guys and watched these guys and watched these guys,” he said. “So when it was time to play them, the first snap of the game me and (Brockers) came to the sideline and said that these boys couldn’t block us.
“Every series we came off the field we told each other to turn it up a notch. We had them beat by 20 points, but we wanted to play like we were down. That’s the mindset now.”
--- It’s not often that a fullback gets the game ball from Les Miles, but it was that kind of night last Saturday for walk-on James Stampley.
“He went hard the whole way,” said right guard Will Blackwell.
With LSU looking to be physical against Oregon, Stampley – a bruising blocker who put a helmet on just about every Ducks starter - was just what the doctor ordered.
“(Stampley) was MVP for the game,” Blackwell said. “That should tell you enough right there. He had a great game. We have been watching him hit guys like that in practice every day, and he’s broken a few helmets. To see him actually go out there and do it in a game is very impressive.”
Miles said that Stampley will start versus Northwestern State this weekend, and he was already named a captain for the team’s opener in Tiger Stadium.
“We love the physicality of the game, and to have a fullback that enjoys it maybe more than we do,” Blackwell said. “It’s an honor to have James Stampley back there.”