Taking chances is a part of football. Sometimes it pays off, and other times it can cost you the game. For the LSU side: so far, so good.
“The coaches tell us to take chances, because we will have the help behind us,” said strong safety Brandon Taylor. “If one of the linebackers wants to jump a route, then I will be behind him or Chad will be. It is about making the big plays.”
In Starkville last Saturday, Taylor intercepted a Tyson Lee pass late in the second quarter after the ball deflected through the arms of Tiger linebacker Perry Riley.
That was the positive. Then came the negative.
In the third quarter, Taylor was sent on a safety blitz on third-and-one. Lee reversed field and escaped the sophomore’s tackle attempt in time to hit Marcus Green over the top. Karnell Hatcher, who was lined up opposite Taylor at safety, mistimed the tackle and allowed Green to walk in for the score.
What was the message on the sidelines from defensive backs coach Ron Cooper?
“Keep doing the same things,” Taylor said. “I almost had the sack, and the next time I will come up with it. That is just what comes with trying to make the big play.”
For Miles, their performance in the rain was executed nearly to plan.
“Defensively it was a very good game,” he said. “There were only three or so plays where we should have been smarter; where we missed a tackle that led to a big play or missed a tackle in the backfield or mistimed an interception that could have been a big turnaround.
“The defense is playing with great effort, and they can be very strong headed forward.”
In an attempt to keep the aggressive mind frame instilled in the minds of his players, Cooper has given the defense a “word of the day” – which is always the same word, according to Taylor.
“Amnesia,” he said. “Cooper writes it on the board every day and talks about it all the time. If you make a mistake trying to be aggressive, forget about it. You have to have a short term memory to go make the next big play.”
The numbers speak for themselves.
LSU has picked off a pass in every game, with a season-high three interceptions against MSU. Even more impressive, the team’s total of seven interceptions through four games is just one short of their mark from the entire 2008 season.
“This year we had to start playing more aggressive and taking some risks, and that can force the bad throw or give us the shot at making a play,” said cornerback Patrick Peterson, who returned an interception for a touchdown on MSU’s opening play from scrimmage.
“We have to take risks some time. We can’t sit back the whole game and just give a team confidence.”
While a handful of the turnovers have come from being in the right place at the right time, Peterson said that there is something to be said of that alone.
“Chavis puts those guys in the right position to make those plays, and you see it more than you did last year,” he said. “That is one positive. Coach knows the personnel.”
From Peterson’s touchdown in Starkville to Jacob Cutrera’s pick-six in Seattle, points - 31 through four games – have come with the turnovers.
In 2007, the National Championship LSU defense totaled 55 points off turnovers through their opening four weeks. That season, Bo Pelini’s unit finished at plus-9 in turnover margin. This season, Chavis’ unit sits at plus-7.
“The mark of a team is turnover margin,” Miles said on Monday.
From where things stand now, that is good news headed to Athens.
The Bulldogs rank not just worst in the Southeastern Conference, but 115 out of 120 FBS schools in the nation, compiling 12 turnovers while forcing only three. On the other side, LSU’s mark is good for best in the conference and fifth in the country.
When it comes time to suit up in between the hedges on Saturday afternoon, the Tiger defense will be poised to better that mark. And against a UGA attack that boasts A.J. Green, one of the most talented wide receivers in the country, Peterson said that the headman would have the aggressive attitude dialed up.
“Coach Miles is one of the riskiest coaches in NCAA, and he makes the calls and we go after it,” he said.