A number of variables were thrown out as X-factors leading into No. 24 LSU's meeting with No. 3 Ole Miss, but once the game got underway there was one undeniable constant for the home team - dominant defense.
The Rebels came in averaging 433.3 yards per game, 282 of those through the air. Bo Wallace & Co. were converting 44.4% of third downs and putting up 35.4 points an outing.
But Hotty Toddy left Tiger Stadium with a 10-7 loss, the first of the season for Ole Miss, and totals that paled in comparison to those statistics. John Chavis' defense registered nine tackles for loss and 12 pass breakups en route to holding the Rebs to 313 total yards, 176 passing yards and only 29.4 percent completion (5-of-17) on third down.
Senior safety Ronald Martin was a key cog in the machine Saturday, racking up five tackles, a forced fumble, a pass breakup and the game-saving interception with two seconds to go near the Tigers' goal line.
"I just read the quarterback," Martin said, looking back on the crucial pick. "I just got depth and when he threw it I broke on it as fast as I could. I knew they were going to try and get to the end zone one more time, and I just tried to make a play for my team."
Martin credited the defense's effort to coaching throughout the week and a desire to get back at an Ole Miss offense that rolled up the passing yards on LSU in Oxford a season ago.
"The coaches did a great job adjusting. Coach Chavis, he challenged us early in the week to be prepared and to take on the challenge because last year those guys threw for 300-plus yards on us," explained Martin. "Coach [Corey] Raymond challenged us also, so we just had to step up."
Perhaps more impressive than the single-game effort is the overall turnaround the defense has engineered in recent weeks, now having held consecutive SEC opponents to seven points or less.
The White Castle native and former dual-sport athlete at LSU told TSD short memory was the key component in changing the group's mindset.
"We just came together as a group and we said we were going to put all that behind us and keep moving forward because we knew we were a great defense," Martin continued. "We were going to have to keep our confidence up. That's what I think we did."
For Martin and the rest of LSU's players, the game Saturday night obviously meant a little something extra. Part of it was the fact Ole Miss came in undefeated and a consensus top-three team in the land. An equally big part, if not bigger, was Les Miles' announcement to the team Friday night that his mother, Martha, had passed away.
No one may be able to relate to what Miles is going through more than Martin, who lost his father, Ronald Sr., to cancer the week of the Kent State game last season only to play in the game on Sept. 14, 2013.
"That played a big part in it," Martin said postgame of the effect Miles' news had on the team's focus. "I understand coach's pain. Last year I lost my father, and I knew how he felt during that moment, but he was a man about it. He came and instilled that in us and that made us feel great. That made us step up and want to rally around him."
As for Miles' insistence that he be the same "aggressive man" on the sideline despite an obviously tough emotional time in his life?
"That just let us know that he really believes in us and he really cares for us," concluded Martin. "A guy when his mother passes, most guys would just let it go and be to the side and want to be with their family, but coach stepped up like a man and came and took care of what he needed to do."
So too did LSU's defense, which carried the Tigers to a season-salvaging victory Saturday night and could have them in line for bigger things than anyone expected just weeks ago down the home stretch of the season.