Linebackers adjust to spark LSU's defense

Minter, Baker, Barrow and Jones highlight Tigers' second-half performance

Fairly or not, LSU's linebackers have been maligned this season for non-production – real or perceived – for one of the top defenses in the country.

For one night anyway, the Tigers' backers quieted that criticism in a 42-9 victory against Western Kentucky.

Kevin Minter

Sophomore Kevin Minter led LSU (10-0) with a career-high 11 tackles, Ryan Baker contributed a season-best 9 and Lamin Barrow recorded 6 to match his career best. Of the team's 93 tackles, the linebackers had 34.

Tahj Jones also picked off a pass – the first by a non-defensive back this season – as the linebackers were key to second-half adjustments that contributed to a stouter defensive performance after halftime.

Though the competition wasn't SEC-caliber, the linebackers made their presence felt – a promising sign for a group that has been seemingly non-existent on some Saturdays. .

"I thought the linebackers played pretty well, and they needed to," LSU coach Les Miles said. "(Western Kentucky was) going to run the football, and those guys made big plays."

Baker has been the constant this year, and the future appears promising because of the emergence of players like Minter, Jones and Barrow.

With starts made in each of his last three games, it appears Minter has done enough to win the middle linebacker job over Hatcher – a position Minter will likely occupy alone in 2012.

Ryan Baker

"I think (Minter) is a great player," Baker said. "The future is bright for him. As long as he keeps working hard and believes in the system, I think he'll be a great player here."

Jones, who earned his first career start against Tennessee and has seen significant reps in every game since, is another young linebacker that the group is excited to see develop into a go-to man on game days.

Though the wiry, 6-foot-2 sophomore weighs just 200 pounds, Jones has done enough this fall at strongside linebacker to impress Chavis and earn minutes over Francois, a starter all last season.

"Tahj is a great player, and people are starting to see it," Minter said. "He's a small guy, but don't try him. He's a great player who is all over the field. He's really fast. Nobody really understands how fast this guy is.

"Now he's finally coming along."

With Jones' interception and Minter's emergence as the keys, LSU clamped down on WKU after a rocky start.

After the Hilltoppers (5-5) gouged LSU for 140 yards in the first half and rattled of a pair of time-consuming drives by converting 5-of-10 third downs, the Tigers tightened up and allowed only 86 yards and two third-down conversions in the final two quarters.

Tahj Jones

"I don't think we came out playing like we are supposed to be playing," Jones said. We picked it up in the second half after the coach talked to us. The adjustment we made in the second half was both intensity and being where we supposed to be."

One of those tweaks came against WKU's passing scheme to the tight end and tailback Bobby Rainey coming out of the backfield.

In the first half, Tight ends Jack Doyle caught five passes for 44 yards, backup Mitchell Henry had one for 10 yards and Rainey contributed two receptions for 15 – accounting for 69 of WKU's 78 passing yards.

Four catches by that group – three by Doyle – converted third downs.

None of that trio caught a ball after halftime.

Jones said the adjustment was to not allow those receivers to "sit down" underneath coverage.

But it might have had just as much to do with attitude.

"We had a sluggish start and normally we don't play like that," Minter said. "We came out flat. In the second half, we decided to buckle down and play our game."

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