Defensive youngsters play big role in win

Another game goes buy without an opponent touchdown in Tiger Stadium. Touchdowns are becoming scarce for the opposition when they come to Baton Rouge.

For the fourth time this season, the visiting team has failed to reach the endzone against the nation's best defense when LSU (6-2, 2-2 SEC) defeated Fresno State (1-6, 0-3 WAC) 38-6 on Saturday.

 

So far this season, the LSU defense has allowed just two touchdowns in Tiger Stadium, none which have come against the starting defense. In fact, the Tigers have outscored their opponents in home games this season by a margin of 274-36.

 

"I think they're a heck of a football team," Fresno St. head coach Pat Hill said. "I really respect their defense, and it's just a shame that a team with a 6-2 record like that in the way football is right now is considered not being in it. That's a shame because that team can play with anybody in the country, and I watched their game against Florida.  I watched their game against Auburn, but that's how were judged. We're judged by winning and losing."

 

In the first quarter, LSU has outscored its opponents 94-0 in home games this season and 160-9 in the first half. Of all the streaks that were continued against the Bulldogs of Fresno St., perhaps the defenses proudest streak was broken when the group failed to grab an interception.

 

The streak ended at eight straight games with at least one pick. The last time the Tigers failed to intercept a pass was against Georgia in the 2005 SEC Championship game.

The player responsible for keeping that streak alive for four straight games was Craig Steltz. The junior from New Orleans had an exception game against Fresno State, but did not have an interception.

 

Steltz made the fourth start of his career and recorded a career-high 11 tackles with one sack and a quarterback hit. The safety was all over the field dropping painful hits on receivers crossing the middle of the field and running to his side.

 

Steltz leads the team with four interceptions on the season.

 

Joining Steltz was linebacker Berry Beckwith. The sophomore also tallied a career-high 11 tackles, eclipsing his previous best of nine, and grabbed a sack for a loss of six yards.

"You always want to dominate a team but sometimes it just doesn't fall that way," Beckwith said, who is part of a defense that has not allowed a touchdown in nine quarters. "We had some adversity tonight and we overcame it."

 

Beckwith leads the team in tackles with 51 as just a sophomore on the nation's best defense. 

 

Ali Highsmith followed Steltz and Beckwith, contributing eight tackles, three that were for a lose of six yards and two sacks for a lose of four yards. Between Steltz, Beckwith, Highsmith and senior free safety LaRon Landry, the foursome dashed around the defensive backfield the entire night terrorizing receivers, running backs and Fresno St. quarterback Sean Norton.

 

"That's just the way coach Pelini coached us at practice," Chevis Jackson said. "Practice hard and fly around to the ball, and it shows on the field."

 

Of Steltz, Beckwith and Highsmith, the trio joined a slew of other young defensive players that played well against the Bulldogs on Tiger Stadiums soaked playing surface.

 

Of LSU's top 12 tacklers on Saturday night, only one was a senior (LaRon Landry), five were juniors (Steltz, Highsmith, Jonathan Zenon, Glenn Dorsey and Chevis Jackson), three were sophomores ( Beckwith, Charles Alexander and Tyson Jackson) and three were freshmen (Jacob Cutrera, Danny McCray and Ricky Jean-Francois).

 

"From a defensive standpoint, personally playing in the rain is one of my favorite kinds of play because you just go out there and get dirty across the field and make tackles," Highsmith said.

 

Norton, who played well in relief of Tom Brandstater in a lopsided loss to Hawaii a week earlier, was named the Bulldogs starter this week and completed 13-of-20 passes for 134 yards. He was sacked four times by the Tiger defense, which also held running back Dwayne Wright, who came in averaging 113 yards, to 43 yards on 15 carries.

 

"The defensive played well," head coach Les Miles said. "(Fresno) made a change at quarterback, and I thought he was really efficient. He gave them some mobility. They are much better than their record indicates. I liked the way we played. It was the kind of game we have to have when we go forward from here."

 

On the evening, LSU's young defense held Fresno St. to 211 total yard of offense, giving up 134 yards through the air and 77 yards on the ground.

 

No. 14 LSU is now 6-0 at home on the season and could complete the year undefeated at home with an unpredictable Alabama (5-3) team coming to Death Valley next month and rival Ole Miss (2-6) left on the schedule.

 

The Tigers have yet to win a road game.

 

"We have a lot to prove as a team," Steltz said. "We are 0-2 on the road and ready to get over that hump."


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