If you don’t want to talk about Dexter McCluster, don’t bother striking up a conversation with anyone from LSU’s defensive unit this week.
The 5-foot-9, 170-pound senior is the talk of the town – and for good reason.
Last weekend against Tennessee, McCluster finished with four touchdowns and set school records with 282 yards rushing and 324 all-purpose yards.
He is listed as a wide receiver, but after watching the Rebels run an offensive series you come to realize that he is much more than that.
“McCluster is a hell of an athlete,” said LSU defensive end Rahim Alem.
Alem’s description of the Rebels’ Mr. Everything hit the nail on the head.
From the spread attack at Florida to Alabama’s power run game, the Tigers are convinced McCluster and coach Houston Nutt’s “Wild Rebel” formation will be their biggest test to date.
“One missed tackle, and you will be hitting your head on the goal post,” said linebacker Harry Coleman.
For comparison’s sake, think freshman Russell Shepard – plus three years and a whole lot of touches.
“He’s the smaller, quicker back,” said linebacker Perry Riley. “He will look for the cutback, so we have to be fast on the front side and slow play the backside. You can’t go for the kill shots, you have to pace it and make the sure tackle.
“This dude definitely brings a different dynamic. It will be a difficult time for us.”
Different dynamics usually means a different approach. In McCluster’s case, the approach brings plenty of film study. By Monday, head coach Les Miles was already immersed.
“I have watched a lot of his film in the last 24 to 48 hours, and I can tell you that he has great speed,” he said. “He anticipates the cut. He’s tough to touch, and he’s a physical runner as well. He’ll pound it up in there.”
First year defensive coordinator John Chavis has the task of prepping his side to stop the red-hot McCluster, who has rushed for 594 yards in his last three games.
To stop Vaught-Hemingway from turning into McCluster’s playground for the second time in as many weeks, cornerback Chris Hawkins said that Chavis is taking things back to preseason camp, where fundamental football was stressed as paramount.
“Coach told us that we can’t just freestyle, where we get out there and shoot our guns to make plays,” he said. “Knowing that you have a great back coming in your direction, you have to approach him with the right technique. The main thing is tackling, cutting off the lanes and staying in the right gap.”
Sophomore Brandon Taylor, a converted corner who has found a home at strong safety, said that defensive backs coach Ron Cooper began coaching his unit up on McCluster the day after the win over Louisiana Tech.
“McCluster is fast, and he knows what he is doing back there; he’s a veteran,” Taylor said. “I am working on my angles, because the coaches say that when I come down [in pursuit], I come down fast. Coach Cooper told me I have to be more under control. I have got to play more of a complete game.”
Like most of the Tiger defense, Coleman watched the entirety of last Saturday’s Ole Miss game. Despite seeing McCluster run wild, the senior linebacker said that he took a step closer to bottling up the Rebels this weekend.
“They have [Shay] Hodge and [Jevan] Snead, but if we can stop McCluster, we can stop the offense,” Coleman said. “On third-and-long, [Ole Miss] took the Wildcat out of the game. We need to get them in long-yardage and force them to be one-dimensional.
“They play off him. When he gets going, the defense plays well and other players on the offense step up. If we stop him, we stop Ole Miss.”