Tiger defense turns in best performance yet

NASHVILLE - Picking a defensive player of the game in LSU's 34-6 victory over Vanderbilt would be like asking what is the best part of the new Lamborghini Gallardo Spyder. All the parts sort of work together, and when they do, it is one impressive machine.

The most valuable player on defense was awarded to the entire LSU defense for a dominating effort in Nashville on Saturday night. The Tigers stared down the Southeastern Conference's No. 2 offense, headed by NFL prospect Jay Cutler, and simply owned it for 60 minutes.

 

"Our defense played extremely well from start to finish," said LSU coach Les Miles. "That is a style of defense we have to have."

 

The Tigers held Vanderbilt to 138 yards, with 40 of them coming on the game's final play. Prior to the meaningless run, the Commodores managed 98 yards on 58 plays, or an average of 1.7 yards per play. The Tigers forced three turnovers, scored a defensive touchdown and recorded a safety.

 

Vanderbilt earned a meager 10 first downs, a category it was leading the SEC in prior to Saturday.

 

"They had some good pressures that we did not do a good job picking up," said Vanderbilt coach Bobby Johnson, whose team entered the game averaging 441 yards and 27 points a game. "We had people available to pick them up. We just didn't do a very good job."

 

The game plan for LSU heading in was to pressure Cutler and make him get rid of the ball quickly. The Tigers felt their secondary of Ronnie Pride, Jessie Daniels, Laron Landry and Chevis Jackson could match up with Vanderbilt's receivers and allow the front seven to concentrate on getting to Cutler.

 

"We knew he was a good quarterback and the leader of the team," said linebacker Ali Highsmith. "We knew to win the game, we had to rattle him so he would be out of his game. Once we got into his head with all the pressure, we knew we got to him because he looked frustrated."

 

Cutler was frustrated, for even when he wasn't getting sacked, the Tigers were knocking him down after throws and generally getting him off his game.

 

"Every time he got hit he was looking frustrated and fussing at folks, so we knew we were getting in his head," Highsmith said.

 

Highsmith put an exclamation point on the Tigers' defensive effort with a sack, strip, scoop and fumble return for a 22-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter. The play capped the scoring and created the 34-6 margin.

 

"I wasn't going to let anyone catch me from behind," he said.

 

Highsmith's was the sixth and final sack of the night for the Tigers and his second of the game. Others to reach Cutler were Tim Washington, Daniels, Melvin Oliver and Chase Pittman. Even when he wasn't sacked, Cutler was knocked down eight other times and completed just 11 of 32 throws for 113 yards.

 

"They were bringing the backside guys a lot more than we thought they would," Cutler said. "The Will (linebacker) and the free safety. We'll just have to look at the film."

 

Arkansas tried a similar strategy against Vanderbilt, but the Commodores were able to protect Cutler in that game and pull off the upset. That was not the case on Saturday.

 

The ability of LSU's secondary to cover up the Vanderbilt receivers and produce turnovers (Jackson and Landry had picks) allowed defensive coordinator Bo Pelini flexibility on how he could attack Vanderbilt's passing game.

 

"We were sending a lot of guys on blitzing and getting after (Cutler)," Landry said. "That is why he was rattled. At the beginning he was mobile, but once we got him a few times, he slowed down."

 

LSU's defense allowed the offense to muck around for three quarters without falling behind. Twice LSU stiffened after turnovers, forcing Vanderbilt to settle for field goals. In the second quarter, LSU turned the ball over on its own 20-yard line, but Vanderbilt drove just one yard in three plays and kicked a field goal. In the third quarter, after a JaMarcus Russell fumble at the LSU 36, Vanderbilt could only muster five yards and settled for a 48-yard field goal. Those were the Commodores' only scoring drives of the night.

 

"As a defense, our job is to get the ball for the offense," Highsmith said. "It is part of the job description."

 

To see just how much of a team defensive effort it was for LSU, one needs to look no further than the stat sheet, where the Tigers had two defenders with four tackles, three with three and eight more with two tackles each.

 

A key component, besides slowing down Cutler, was LSU's ability to eliminate the Vanderbilt running game. Vanderbilt tailbacks Jeff Jennings and Cassen Jackson-Garrison combined for 15 yards on 13 carries prior to the last play of the game.

 

"I don't care how good your passer is, you have to be able to run the football," Johnson said. "We were not able to do that today and that allowed them to run the pressures. Sometimes they beat us without pressures. They did a good job covering. When we did have good protection, they did an outstanding job of covering up our receivers."

 

Prude had four pass break-ups to go along with a pair of tackles.

 

"I was just out there covering my guys," Prude said. "I left it to everybody else to get after the quarterback. With the defensive line we have, they are going to get back there great. I knew they would get back there."


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