Spears, Tiger defense: Shades of Sugar

Perhaps for the first time in 2004, the Fighting Tigers' defense made LSU faithful forget about the 2003 defensive unit. <br><br> More than likely that actually wasn't the case. <br><br> If anything the Tigers' performance evoked floods of memories from 2003, right down to Marcus Spears' interception returned for a touchdown that harkened back to the Sugar Bowl against Oklahoma.

Unlike Spears' 20-yard pick-six against Heisman Trophy winner Jason White that proved to be the difference in LSU winning the national championship, his 35-yarder last Saturday off of Omarr Conner served only to widen a gulf Mississippi State never had a chance of crossing in the first place.


With 12:26 remaining in the second quarter, Spears helped extend the Fighting Tigers' lead to 27-0 on a day where LSU would record four interceptions.


"Not quite the Sugar Bowl, but it was a great one…the same feeling," Spears said with a smile.  "For a big guy to score man, it's just something special about that.  We're not fast, we're not very athletic, we're just – you make a play like that it kind of makes a statement."


Many statements were made by LSU's defense against the Bulldogs, and honestly the first one was to coach Nick Saban.


"It was a big emphasis because coach Saban challenged us this week and I think that's a tribute to his coaching style," Spears said of the Fighting Tigers creating turnovers.  "He got us going.  Monday when we came in he got us going and he got everybody's mind focused on getting back to square one and playing football the way we play around here.  And we had kind of lost that for these first three games.  And us as seniors we had to step up and show these younger guys that how we play around here is something that is our trademark and we have to have that identity every time we step on the field.  And it was important for them to see us as leaders and us as playmakers come out and do that today."


Against Auburn, LSU failed to generate a single turnover.  And while the defense held the Tigers to a meager three points until the waning moments of the game, breakdowns on a fourth and long and a third and long proved to be the difference.


In the wake of their first defeat of this campaign, Spears remarked for LSU the season had to continue.


"I think you always want to get back on the field as soon as possible when you suffer a loss like that," Spears said.  "It kind of takes away the bitter taste you have in your mouth.  You know that the season is going to go forward no matter what happens in each game, but you kind of take that with you."


Despite not giving up a touchdown to Auburn until the Tigers' second to last possession of the contest, Spear acknowledged that a lack of turnovers allowed their hosts to put LSU's offense in tight spots and didn't give the Fighting Tigers the same type of field position they were privy to against the Bulldogs.


"We did not do a good job of that against Auburn, and I think that's something that coach stressed," Spears said.  "And for this whole team to be successful, defense has to play well.  And we understand that.  And if we continue to do that and give those guys balls on the 40 and 50 yard line, or on our own side of the ball we'll be okay ‘cause there's some pretty good guys playing over there on that offense."


On that defense there are obviously some pretty good players too, and Spears is of course one of them.


When picking off White in the Sugar Bowl, Spears did so by dropping back into coverage and getting lost in the shuffle.  Against Mississippi State, it was a case of being in the right place at the right time when a near sack by Cameron Vaughn convinced Conner flicking the ball away was his best option.


"I've been there one time before," Spears said of getting to the end zone with the ball.  "It's exciting to get in there man.  When a big guy gets into the end zone it's kind of extra special because you don't expect that man.  To get one this game feels great.  It was not about the touchdown, it was about doing things right.  And when you come to the sideline and you see that sparkle in those young guys' eyes that ‘I want to do those types of things when I get into the game.'  That's how you know you're setting the tone for a football team."


As for the fact that LSU's production in turnovers spiked tremendously against the Bulldogs, Spears attributed it to execution.


"We executed very well," Spears said.  "We didn't make a lot of mistakes; guys were in the position they were supposed to be in and getting pressure on them and forcing them to make some bad throws.  All those things go with getting turnovers and knocking balls loose and just playing well, just playing well all across the board, everybody doing their job.  And I told the team before we went on the field, ‘Everybody is out here for everybody.  Don't let that guy you're playing against down, or you're playing aside of.'  And that's the mentality that we took into the game today."


Known for his skills on the court and for his talents at the tight end position coming out of high school, Spears assured that defensive coordinator Will Muschamp won't have to worry about quashing any dreams the defensive end has about being an offensive threat for the Fighting Tigers.


"I haven't heard the word ‘tight end' in probably two years," Spears said following a chuckle.  "So I ain't thinking about it.  I'm trying to get mine on the other end.  And you know I've gotten into the end zone, that was a dream for me coming in as a recruit, and I've been there so it's exciting."

Even so, there is still some carryover from his high school days Spears can't let go of.


"My eyes get very big," Spears said of when he sees the ball coming to him, " ‘cause when I played basketball I was a ball hog and I wanted it all the time and I thought if I had the ball my team was going to be okay.  So I think when I catch interceptions I want to try to get it as close as to the end zone as possible.  And it helps the whole team out.  So, get huge.  They get huge.  You see a ball coming at you as a D-lineman, they get huge."


In addition to allowing Mississippi State to convert just 2-of-10 third downs, Spears and the rest of the defensive unit gave up just seven first downs to the Bulldogs all game long, and kept their opponent from crossing midfield for all 60 minutes.


"I think it's a good statement," Spears said of the latter feat.  "It's something that shows – It's more for this team to understand if we play the way we're supposed to play we can be successful against anybody."


No doubt the Fighting Tigers will be looking to play the way they are supposed to when they travel to Georgia Saturday.  Now it appears they will be traveling for the first time in 2004 with a certainty about them they didn't really have until after beating Mississippi State.


"We stepped up man," Spears said.  "Coach Saban has challenged us, and we're taking his challenge personal."


Forget the Bulldogs – any Bulldogs – the Fighting Tigers are out to prove the only team that really has any obstacles requiring conquering is the one they see in practice every day.

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