Defense goes back to basics

After being gashed by West Virginia, the Tigers got back to business against Kentucky.

In front of a national television audience last week against West Virginia, one of college football's most impressive defenses wanted to make sure everyone understood its style.

LSU had shut down LaMichael James and the high-powered Oregon offense, then went to Mississippi State and squashed everything coach Dan Mullen dialed up.

So en route to a 47-21 road win over the Mountaineers, the Tigers showed off some swagger – celebrating nearly every play and going jab-for-jab verbally with WVU players from start to finish.

The only problem: The LSU defense allowed 533 total yards, the most a Miles-led team has given up since his first game with the program in 2005.

"The coaches talked to us about that after the West Virginia game," safety Eric Reid said. "They said to talk less and play more."

Reid said soon after the lecture from the staff, the defensive backs – touted by many as one of the nation's elite – held an impromptu meeting to discuss a new approach going forward.

"We were definitely disappointed with how many yards we gave up in that secondary," he said. "You can't do that if you want to win a national championship. All week we stayed focused. We didn't want to give up that many yards this week. "If we execute our keys and execute on the game plan then it would be hard for anyone to get yards on us. Last week we didn't do that."

LSU senior linebacker Ryan Baker, a veteran and one of the spoken leaders on defense, said the team came together as a whole later in the week, and all parties agreed to tone it down a notch – at least until the defense was back to its typical level of production.

"It was really getting back to basics," he said. "It was what has gotten us to where we are now." Their first charge from Miles was simple.

After West Virginia's Geno Smith carved up the secondary for 463 yards and two touchdowns, Miles told his defense to buckle down against Kentucky's Morgan Newton.

"Coach gave us a little speech about not giving up any completions, and we took on that personality (Saturday)," Baker said.

Newton finished the game 6-of-20 passing for 57 yards and a touchdown, but those stats sell the defense a bit short.

Newton didn't complete a pass until the final minute of the first half, and 29 yards passing and his lone touchdown came in the fourth quarter - when LSU's reserves were on duty.

"We were just getting the job done and capitalizing on opportunities," Baker said.

And as planned, the defense did it with a silent confidence.

Gone was the trash talk and dramatics, and back was the suffocating defense that has SEC offensive coordinators working deep into the night as they prepare for the Tigers.

"I don't know that they played as an impassioned defense," Miles said. "I think they just did the things that they always do."

Sophomore defensive end Sam Montgomery had a similar mission for the linemen.

"We have been defending the run, but we haven't been as successful against the pass as we wanted to," Montgomery said. "(Saturday) we went out there with a lot of speed on our minds. There was a lot of getting to the quarterback, and you noticed two people getting to the ball."

The most memorable moment came from the player who earned the nickname ‘Honey Badger.' LSU was already comfortably in front 21-0, but a big play from Tyrann Mathieu confirmed that all nails were firmly in the coffin.

Kentucky was facing 3rd-and-10, so defensive coordinator John Chavis dialed up a heavy blitz. Coming fast off the right side from his nickel spot, Mathieu stripped Max Smith, found the loose football and scooped it up for the 23-yard touchdown.

"I'm surrounded by a lot of great guys that want to be great," Mathieu said. "So I'm really just trying to match their effort and match their energy."

It wasn't just Mathieu's big play.

The defense was in the Kentucky backfield all afternoon, finishing with 10 tackles for a loss – and five sacks. Montgomery led the way with six tackles, 1.5 sacks and two tackles for a loss.

"People were making big plays, and we had to reestablish that part of our game to let people know that we can get to the quarterback off the pass rush," Montgomery said. "We have to show people we have speed."

Soon, the Tigers face a much bigger test.

Next Saturday the Florida Gators travel to Baton Rouge, and no bout with the orange-and-blue goes by without a little sweat from both sides.

But for Miles, there is confidence – in large part because his defense heard his plea and answered it in short order.

"They are an intense group, and that's how they come to play," Miles said. "And I think you will see better play next week."

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