BATON ROUGE, La. – The LSU faithful was yearning for a strong defensive effort after what took place in Seattle, and those who braved the rain and intermittent conditions got just that in Saturday’s 23-9 victory over Vanderbilt.
The Tiger defense held Vanderbilt to 210 total yards of offense which was the fewest yards that an LSU defense has held a conference opponent to since 2006 when Bo Pelini’s crew held Ole Miss to 195 yards.
John Chavis’ unit kept the Vanderbilt running game in check to the tune of 122 yards on 39 carries, a week after the Commodores rushed for 433 yards against Western Carolina.
After Washington quarterback Jake Locker picked the Tiger secondary apart for 321 yards, the Tigers certainly got the best of Vanderbilt signal caller Larry Smith as he completed 11-of-24 passes for only 88 yards.
It was night and day from the season opener when the Tigers yielded 478 yards to the Huskies, and more importantly, they couldn’t get off the field on third down as Washington converted 11-of-19 third downs.
One week later, the Tigers allowed their opponent to convert a mere 4-of-15 on third down – 26 percent – and one of the biggest plays of the game came on a huge third down stop.
Leading 16-7 with 1:35 left in the third quarter, LSU deep snapper Alex Russian sailed a snap over punter Derek Helton’s head and out of the back of the end zone for a safety.
Vanderbilt took the ensuing kickoff and moved from their 39 yard line all the way down to the LSU 23. The Commodores were faced with a third and seven where any points at all would have given them even more momentum in a half where the LSU offense had struggled to do anything.
The Commodore receivers had run several successful routes where they picked and rubbed off LSU corners. But this time LSU sophomore strong safety Brandon Taylor backed off in anticipation of a pick. Not only did Taylor break up the pass, but the ball landed in his arms while he was lying on his back, thus ending any scoring opportunity for Vanderbilt.
Smith and co. gained just 19 yards from that point on, and that was the kind of effort that head coach Les Miles had hoped to see in the Tigers’ home opener.
“Our defense probably played as quality a half of football as we could have expected,” Miles said. “They had bad field position the whole second half and they just kept rallying and getting picks and just kept playing.”
Taylor said that he and the rest of the LSU secondary were well aware of what was being said after the Washington game, and they came out with a chip on their shoulders and with something to prove.
“It gave us a lot of motivation and coach talked to us about that,” Taylor said. “We shouldn’t play like that at all … never really. We just took that upon ourselves and it motivated us. We got in the meeting rooms and we talked about it, and as leaders we decided that we were going to stop it here and get off the field on three and outs.”
The Tigers came out swinging from the opening kick and surrendered only 49 yards in the first quarter. However, the Commodores mounted a 12-play, 80-yard drive on their first possession of the second quarter and a 6-yard run by Smith made it a 10-7 game.
LSU added a field goal with six seconds left in the half to go up 13-7, and once the Tigers made it into the locker room it was Drake Nevis time.
Nevis is an outspoken leader for the defense and he made sure that everyone knew that there was another 30 minutes left on the game clock.
“He was just telling us to keep going,” said Taylor. “We were playing good in the first half and he was just telling us that we were going to go out and finish what we started.”
“Drake is definitely a positive leader and a big guy on our team that I look up to a lot,” added Patrick Peterson. “Drake is a very talkative guy and he did a great job coming in at halftime and telling us we had to kick it up a notch.”
Nevis not only talked it but he also walked it as he logged four tackles including two for loss on back-to-back plays. He led a resurgence from a defensive line that played poorly to open the season, but was in the backfield numerous times on Saturday.
Rahim Alem was in on seven tackles, and Chancey Aghayere, who made his first start, made five stops and was credited with a sack. Lavar Edwards also logged his first sack as a college player, and Charles Alexander added four tackles inside.
“That took a lot of pressure off us because they (D-line) were getting heat on them,” Taylor said. “That motivated us a lot because we didn’t have to stay in coverage as long.”
Miles and the Tiger defenders were all pleased with the effort on that side of the ball, and they all were very enthusiastic in the post-game media session.
But before anyone says that this unit has turned the corner from what took place in 2008 when the Tigers were one of the least effective at stopping opponents, or from the group that was dazed and confused last week, think again.
“We came out with a little more aggression,” Peterson said. “Coming back from last year, it kind of stuck in our head a little bit and we don’t want to go through that again. But we have a lot to improve on and we’re not satisfied by any means.”