A shift in the secondary

With sophomore safety Eric Reid sidelined with injury, LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis did some shifting of personnel to slow down the Arkansas passing attack.

For LSU, last season's heart-breaking loss to Arkansas kept the Tigers from a trip to the Sugar Bowl.

The reason: A few snafus from the safety spot in the defensive backfield.

One year later, LSU met up with Arkansas again – with eyes still set on New Orleans, but this time for the BCS National Championship Game.

This time the Tigers were going to have to go to battle against a pass-happy offense without sophomore safety Eric Reid, one of the team's top tacklers and an on-field coach of sorts.

As soon as LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis found out that Reid's status was uncertain, Chavis started shifting bodies around in the secondary.

All week in practice, cornerback Tyrann Mathieu took reps in Reid's place, and junior cornerback Morris Claiborne shifted to nickel back when Chavis dialed up the nickel package. In the dime package, Chavis kept Claiborne at cornerback, inserted sophomore Craig Loston at safety, and allowed Mathieu and senior cornerback Ron Brooks to roam as the extra defensive backs.

"We wanted to have our four best (defensive backs) on the field," Chavis said of the shuffle, defined in large part by moving Mathieu from cornerback to safety. "(Mathieu's) a guy who plays the ball really well, and there wasn't going to be a lot of I-back runs at him where he had to come in and play a lot in the box. Him having the flexibility he does, he can play anywhere back there."

LSU coach Les Miles added: "I think we had a good plan. We were confident."

Turned out that confidence was well-founded.

The Tigers held Arkansas junior quarterback Tyler Wilson to 207 passing yards, a touchdown and an interception on 14-of-22 passing. It was the second lowest total yardage Wilson had been held to all season (185 vs. Alabama).

While the defense gave up plays in the passing game, those were few and far between – and never deep grabs that shifted field position in one snap.

The longest pass play came in the second quarter on a 60-yard screen from Wilson to Cobi Hamilton that gave Arkansas the ball at LSU's 28-yard line.

Even then, the defense buckled down and forced a field goal.

"I thought we had them figured out early on," senior safety Brandon Taylor said. "They tried a lot of crossing routes, and they got the long run on the screen. We knew that would be the game plan.

"At the end they started to go deep, but we covered it well."

With Reid out and Mathieu playing safety for the first time, why didn't the Razorbacks go vertical more often?

"I was expecting it, but it didn't happen," Claiborne said. "I was surprised. I thought they would try to take shots with Tyrann back there."

Chavis, with the knowledge that his defensive front could cause mayhem for an Arkansas offensive line playing in a hostile road environment, sang a different tune.

"We felt like if we could pressure then it would be difficult to (go vertical)," he said. "We were not concerned at all. We made the adjustments we needed to make and went about our business.

"This week it was easy to make those decisions knowing what we were going to face and knowing our personnel."

Thanks to five sacks and nine tackles for a loss by the LSU defense, Wilson was forced out of his comfort zone in the pocket, which in turn minimized the chances he had to reel back and go over the top on the Tigers.

"We had to get pressure on the quarterback up front and lock the receivers down in the secondary," Brooks said. "We had something we wanted to prove."

Miles added: "It kind of told (Wilson) that the pocket wouldn't be a comfortable place for him."

The stat sheet tells the tale for the LSU defensive backs.

Mathieu led the team with eight tackles, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. Brooks had six sacks and a fumble recovery. Taylor had four tackles, one for a loss. Tharold Simon recorded three tackles and forced a fumble.

Then there was Claiborne, who was in on three stops and pulled down an interception in the fourth quarter that took the last winds out of the Razorbacks' sails.

Of course, sitting at 12-0 with one of the nation's most dominant defenses, Chavis knew he had the chess pieces in place. All he had to do was move them around and the Tigers remained on track for a trip to both Atlanta and New Orleans.

"We got six or seven guys that can play anywhere in this secondary," Brooks said. "You have to know more than your position. Everyone stepped up and showed that in this win."

Tigers weather early storm, thump Hogs

NOTES: Crowd honors LSU seniors

SCORING RECAP: LSU 41, Arkansas 17

Recruiting glance: Arkansas game visitors

VIDEO: TSD 1-on-1 with Les Miles after Arkansas win


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