LSU Tigers: Eric Reid
Will Leonard Fournette, Kendell Beckwith or Tre'Davious White become the next Tigers to make their mark in a win against the Crimson Tide? We'll find out when Nick Saban leads his team into Tiger Stadium on Saturay night.
As we approach Les Miles' 11th game against the Tide as the Tigers' coach -- he's 5-5 thus far, although Alabama has won three in a row -- let's review five LSU players from the Miles era who made career-defining plays against Alabama.
WR Dwayne Bowe: Many of the LSU-Alabama games in the Miles era have come down to the final series, and that trend started with his very first game against the Tide in 2005.
No. 3 Alabama had taken a 13-10 lead in overtime when LSU quarterback JaMarcus Russell hit Bowe with the game-winning, 11-yard touchdown pass to hand the Tide its first loss of the season. Bowe finished that game with seven catches for 98 receiving yards.
He again played a key role in the Tigers' 28-14 win in 2006, catching five passes for 71 yards, including a 19-yard touchdown that put the Tigers up 21-7 in the second quarter.
WR Early Doucet: Like Bowe, Doucet built his legacy with late-game heroics against Alabama.
The 2007 LSU team -- one that would go on to win the BCS championship -- trailed the Tide late in the fourth quarter when Doucet and quarterback Matt Flynn combined to create some of the magic that marked that season. Facing fourth-and-4, Flynn hit Doucet with a 32-yard touchdown pass to tie the score at 34-all with 2:49 remaining.
The Tigers eventually won 41-34, with Doucet catching five passes for 67 yards – including touchdowns of 10 and 32 yards.
Doucet also played a leading role in LSU's win in 2006, catching seven passes for 101 yards and a 30-yard touchdown.
S Chad Jones: Doucet scored the game-tying touchdown in the 2007 win against Alabama, and soon thereafter Jones made the play that led to the Tigers' go-ahead score.
The LSU defensive back tracked down Alabama quarterback John Parker Wilson and sacked him for a 16-yard loss, forcing a fumble that Curtis Taylor recovered at Alabama's 3-yard line with 1:39 to play. Two plays later, Jacob Hester plowed into the end zone for the touchdown that secured the Tigers 41-34 victory, wrapping up their rally from a 27-17 deficit late in the third quarter.
Jones finished that game with four tackles, two sacks, a forced fumble and 18 yards on three punt returns.
TE DeAngelo Peterson: Peterson was at the center of one of the plays that defines the Miles era -- a decade where LSU's coach has certainly proven to be unpredictable.
Alabama led 14-13 in the fourth quarter and LSU faced fourth-and-1 at the Alabama 26. So what did the Tigers do? Run right with Stevan Ridley, who then shocked nearly everyone in the stadium by tossing the ball to Peterson as he streaked left on a reverse.
Peterson's 23-run to the Alabama 3 set up Ridley's go-ahead touchdown run. The Tigers would go on to win 24-21.
Peterson also caught a 12-yard touchdown pass from Jordan Jefferson in the Tigers' 24-15 loss to unbeaten Alabama in 2009.
S Eric Reid: Although Alabama's 21-0 win later that season in the BCS championship rematch spoiled what had been a magical 2011 for LSU, Reid provided one of the plays that kept the Tigers' title chase on track.
With the score tied at 6-all in the fourth quarter, Reid wrestled a Marquis Maze pass away from Alabama tight end Michael Williams at the LSU goal line. His interception helped the Tigers dodge another bullet and send the game to overtime. They would win 9-6 when Alabama's Cade Foster missed a 52-yard field goal in overtime -- his third miss of the night -- and Drew Alleman hit from 25 on the game-winning kick.
Reid finished the night with six tackles, a forced fumble and an interception.
Reid recorded a team-high 11 tackles and broke up a pass in the teams' rematch that season, although the outcome was nowhere near as satisfying for the Tigers. He also notched a team-high seven tackles in Alabama's 21-17 win the following season at Tiger Stadium.
Since several open spots on the depth chart make this arguably the most important freshman class in Les Miles’ decade as the Tigers’ coach, we thought it might be a good time to offer a refresher on Miles’ thoughts about each signee once they officially became Tigers on national signing day.
Keep in mind that this is before two junior college prospects -- offensive lineman Jevonte Domond and tight end Colin Jeter -- joined the class as summer additions, so they are not included in this rundown.
Here’s what Miles had to say on what the newcomers might bring to LSU's roster:
No. 1 overall prospect on ESPN 300/No. 1 RB
Miles said: Not surprisingly, the nation’s top overall prospect was a hot topic on signing day. Discussing him publicly for the first time, Miles said, “The inhibitor for a running back, generally speaking, is if he’s got great speed, he’s not very big. And if he’s very, very big, he doesn’t have great speed. And so basically you take a big back and you trim him up and you get him faster and you take the small back and you build him up and hope that you don’t get him slower. But for Leonard Fournette, it’s size and speed and ball skills and great vision. He’s a guy that will step in and play.”
No. 17 on ESPN 300/No. 1 WR
Miles said: One of three No. 1 players at a position to sign with the Tigers, wide receiver Dupre “can jump out of this gym,” Miles said. “He’s a guy that not only has size and height and ball skills and speed, but he has explosiveness that’s just different. Those quarterbacks that could miss him would have to throw it low, not high.”
No. 18 on ESPN 300/No. 2 S
Miles said: Clearly excited about the Texan’s potential, Miles brought up former first-round NFL draft pick Eric Reid as a comparison to Adams. “A multi-dimensional athlete. Played offense, defense, special teams return man,” he said. “Very tough, physical player. Ran track. Just reminds you of Eric Reid, maybe a little bit better ball skills, maybe a little bit more explosive.”
No. 29 on ESPN 300/No. 3 WR
Miles said: One of the most statistically prolific high school receivers in history, Quinn is a “tremendously capable athlete, a guy that can make plays after he catches the ball,” Miles said. “His run after catch will be significant.”
No. 31 on ESPN 300/No. 2 ILB
Miles said: The No. 1 player in Illinois, the middle linebacker is “big, physical, fast -- forced fumbles, sacks, going to give us a tremendous presence inside,” Miles said.
No. 37 on ESPN 300/No. 2 dual-threat QB
Miles said: The coach said early enrollee Harris “may well be as natural a passer as we’ve been around” and added that he has “got great arm velocity, great speed. Will really challenge defenses vertically down the field and have the ability to move his feet to extend plays.”
No. 50 on ESPN 300/No. 4 S
Miles said: The early enrollee, who played cornerback during the spring, has great coverage skills, Miles said. “Again, I say that he is already on campus and has an opportunity to compete this spring for playing time.”
No. 54 on ESPN 300/No. 1 OG
Miles said: The third No. 1 player at his position, Baton Rouge native Brumfield is an “extremely athletic offensive lineman,” Miles said. “Great versatility will give him a chance to play multiple positions.”
No. 134 on ESPN 300/No. 16 ATH
Miles said: Miles said Mississippi’s Gatorade Player of the Year, who is slated to play safety. is “just a very versatile athlete with good size. We’ll enjoy him in our secondary, as well.”
No. 164 on ESPN 300/No. 11 DT
Miles said: The massive four-star prospect “is one of the premier tackles out of Florida. … Big body, really will clog up the middle and push the pocket.”
No. 169 on ESPN 300/No. 5 TE (H)
Miles said: The four-star tight end is “a guy that really is a receiving tight end, can really stretch the field vertically. Again very talented,” Miles said. “He went to the Under Armour All-America Game in Orlando and he won the skills competition.”
No. 213 on ESPN 300/No. 22 DE
Miles said: The four-star prospect, who will start out at defensive tackle at LSU, “had a major knee injury that he recovered from in his senior year,” Miles said. “But he has a very high motor, very athletic and we look forward to him playing with us in the middle.”
No. 261 on ESPN 300/No. 19 OLB
Miles said: Miles called the New Orleans native “one of the top linebackers in the state. … He will fit into our package very comfortably. He’ll be great in space and he is a very vicious tackler.”
No. 271 on ESPN 300/No. 38 WR
Miles said: Miles has frequently mentioned the speedy Chark as a future contender for a kick returner job. On signing day, he said Chark is “really a tremendous prospect at the wide receiver spot.”
No. 273 on ESPN 300/No. 24 DE
Miles said: With severe winter weather in his native Oklahoma delaying the process, Clark didn’t officially sign with LSU until several days after national signing day. But in a release announcing his signing, Miles said Clark “is a very athletic and versatile player who was a standout on both sides of the ball in high school. … He fills a need for us at defensive end. He’ll be able to come in and compete for playing time right away.”
No. 283 on ESPN 300/No. 42 WR
Miles said: He contributed at multiple positions in high school, but the big-bodied Upchurch will play receiver at LSU, leading Miles to say he’s “a very strong, physical [player] that can catch the ball and will give us a great opportunity to use his size and skill set.”
No. 27 DT
Miles said: Although he recently suffered a serious arm injury and jeopardized his 2014 season when he punched through a window, the four-star defensive lineman reminds Miles of a previous LSU standout. “What he would remind you of is Drake Nevis,” Miles said. “He is a little taller, maybe a little wider, maybe a little faster, but he has a very high motor and a real acceleration on the field.”
No. 22 OG
Miles said: LSU likes versatility in its offensive linemen and Miles said LSU gets that with Clapp, noting also that he “comes with an LSU background. His father played defensive line at LSU. … Again, very athletic, has good size and mobility that will allow him to play a number of spots.”
No. 26 S
Miles said: Although he’s listed at cornerback on LSU’s preseason depth chart, Miles said at the time that Battle is “one of the rising safety prospects in this class, a four-star recruit. A very bright guy … a very high-character man, a track athlete and a four-point student. Very hard-hitting safety, a very talented guy that we look forward to him lining up in our secondary.”
No. 41 DE
Miles said: A tweener who could contribute as a defensive end or outside linebacker, Teuhema “has an unbelievably high motor and will play with his hands on the ground or play standing up and just to me is a tremendous prospect,” Miles said.
No. 57 ATH
Miles said: A late addition to LSU’s class, Gage was “a multi-sport athlete, displayed toughness and physicality and speed, was very competitive in our camp and we knew of him best and he’ll be with us as a corner,” Miles said.
No. 6 KTS
Miles said: Although LSU seems set at placekicker with Colby Delahoussaye, Miles has mentioned Gamble several times as a candidate for the kickoff job in 2014, including on signing day. “Big leg. Nineteen kickoffs went into the end zone as a senior.”
No. 77 RB
Miles said: Fournette gets most of the attention, but Miles said of 2,200-yard rusher Williams that “he’s a tough, physical running back, runs behind his pads, punishes defenders, displays great balance and vision.”
With that history in mind, it should come as no surprise that LSU has plenty of candidates who are poised to repeat what Mathieu and company accomplished in recent seasons by achieving stardom in their second year in the SEC.
The Tigers are next up in our series projecting who might become a second-year star at each SEC program.
Second-year star: CB Rashard Robinson (6-foot-1/163)
Recruiting stock: A three-star athlete from Ely High School in Pompano Beach, Fla. -- the same school that sent Peterson to LSU -- Robinson wasn’t cleared to enroll at LSU until three days before the first game. But his dynamic athleticism helped him begin contributing by Week 2 and start by the end of the season.
2013 in review: Robinson put himself on the map when he shut down Biletnikoff Award finalist Mike Evans for most of the game in LSU’s dismantling of Texas A&M. Evans averaged 107.2 receiving yards per game, but he had only three catches for 13 yards against Robinson before adding a 38-yard reception against a different Tigers defender late in the game. Robinson also notched his first career interception in the game. He finished the season with 16 tackles, 0.5 tackles for a loss, three pass breakups and four passes defended.
2014 potential: Now that he has found his footing, Robinson is poised to team with White to become LSU’s next set of shutdown cornerbacks. As long as he keeps his academic ship in order, the sky is the limit. He probably needs to add some weight to his thin frame, but Robinson has the athleticism and coverage skills to dominate in the SEC and become a pro cornerback in the not-so-distant future.
Also watch for: Aside from Robinson and White, Smith is another top candidate for the “second-year star” honor from LSU. Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron typically utilizes the tight end, and Smith’s receiving skills could make him a major weapon this fall. In addition, Beckwith generated headlines by switching to middle linebacker during spring practice, and he seems ready to challenge D.J. Welter for playing time there. Keep an eye, also, on LaCouture, Tashawn Bower and the previously mentioned redshirt freshman defensive linemen, who will almost certainly all play key roles this fall. Any of these players would make sense as the LSU pick for this series, but Robinson’s potential pushed him to the top of the list.
The Tigers ranked among the nation’s top-five programs at playing freshmen in each of the last two seasons -- 14 freshmen in 2013 (third) and 15 in 2012 (fifth) -- and Miles has all but guaranteed at least 15 more will see the field this fall once a star-studded recruiting class arrives on campus.
It has quickly become a calling card for Miles’ staff on the recruiting trail.
“You can’t guarantee a guy he’s going to play, but if he knows he’s given the opportunity and he’s got confidence in his ability, the track record speaks for itself. Come in and help us win and here’s the key thing, I think, that I’ve learned since being here is our veteran players -- our juniors and sophomores and redshirt sophomores and so forth -- they expect young guys to come help them play. They’re not afraid of young guys coming in and playing with them.”
Considering its recent history at the position group, it should come as no surprise that LSU recruiting coordinator Frank Wilson traces the development of this trend back to the arrival of key players in the secondary. The wheels were set in motion when cornerbacks Patrick Peterson and Morris Claiborne contributed as true freshmen in 2008 and 2009, respectively, but the freshman movement truly took off with the 2010 class that featured Tyrann Mathieu, Eric Reid and Tharold Simon.
Those players -- and several others who played bigger roles the next season when LSU won an SEC championship -- started to show what they could do in the second half of their freshman seasons, capped by an impressive win against Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl where Mathieu, Reid and Simon all intercepted passes.
“It really hit because we had three guys in the secondary because so many spread defenses came (along), so we played a lot of nickel and a lot of dime with five and six defensive backs there,” Wilson recalled. “So Tyrann Mathieu took to the field, Tharold Simon took to the field as well as Eric Reid, and then offensively Spencer Ware began to emerge, et cetera. So probably in that class, the class of , it kind of hit a high point from that point on. These guys have relished and looked forward to the opportunity to contribute as freshmen, and we like it.”
Mathieu went on to become the 2011 SEC Defensive Player of the Year, a first-team All-American and a Heisman Trophy finalist thanks to his dynamic playmaking ability. Reid also became an All-American and first-round NFL draft pick. Simon didn’t earn the same level of acclaim in college, but he was still able to jump to the NFL after his junior season and become a draft pick himself.
All three players had eligibility remaining when they left LSU, which exemplifies the greatest contributing factor in the program’s recent trend of playing youngsters. No program has had more players enter the draft early in the last couple seasons than LSU, and those departures created holes that talented freshmen could fill.
LSU recruited toward that end for this year's class and cashed in on signing day when it landed the nation’s No. 2 recruiting class, one that featured the top overall prospect in tailback Leonard Fournette, the No. 1 receiver (Malachi Dupre), top guard (Garrett Brumfield) and 16 players who made the 2014 ESPN 300.
“We knew our needs, we knew what we wanted to get,” Wilson said of signing day. “We targeted certain guys, so there was never a panic on our part. We kind of knew early on by way of communication and feedback who we’re in good shape with and who we’re not and have a plan on people to place and sign in those positions.”
Tailback and receiver will certainly be manned at least in part by freshmen this season, and many other freshmen such as quarterback Brandon Harris, safety Jamal Adams and linebacker Clifton Garrett also might follow Mathieu, Reid and Simon’s lead by playing key roles this fall.
LSU isn’t the only school that relies heavily on young players, but it has quickly gained a reputation as a trendsetter in that regard.
“I think that’s a little unique,” Cameron said. “Sometimes guys are afraid of young players coming in and taking their position, but here I don’t sense that. I sense guys like the competition and they know we’re going to need everybody to win a championship.”
“Look out there on the field, and probably 20 of the 22 defensive starters will be playing in the NFL,” said Pendry, who was an offensive coordinator for the Kansas City Chiefs, Buffalo Bills, Carolina Panthers and Houston Texans before ending his career in the college ranks.
Turns out, he might have undersold just how much talent was on the field, which in my 20-plus years of covering the SEC is unquestionably the gold standard for premium defensive talent on the field together at one time.
In that game alone, which LSU won 9-6 in overtime, there were 28 defensive players who played in the game -- 14 on each side -- who would get drafted. That includes 10 first-rounders.
The grand total of future draftees who played in the game was 42, and that doesn’t even count another handful of players who made NFL rosters as undrafted free agents.
“You don’t see that every Saturday,” said Phil Savage, former Cleveland Browns general manager and current executive director of the Senior Bowl.
“That’s why it was a tug-of-war in the middle of the field, all those future pros on defense. We call it a logo game. Neither offense could move the ball very far past the logo at midfield.”
Savage, the color man on Alabama’s radio broadcasts, remembers doing interviews leading up to that epic No. 1-versus-No. 2 encounter and estimating that 40 to 50 players from the game would end up playing in the NFL.
“It’s as close to an NFL game as you’re ever going to see in terms of a college matchup, with so many future NFL players on each side,” Savage said.
The two teams wound up playing twice that season. Alabama avenged its only loss by beating LSU 21-0 in the BCS National Championship in New Orleans. Alabama finished No. 1 nationally that season in scoring defense, and LSU was No. 2. Between them, they gave up 27 touchdowns in 27 games.
The only games in Savage’s recent memory that would come close to that Alabama-LSU affair in terms of producing NFL draft picks were the Florida State-Miami game in 2000 and the Miami-Ohio State BCS National Championship game to cap the 2002 season.
Miami beat Florida State 27-24 in 2000, snapping the Seminoles’ 26-game regular-season winning streak.
In the next three drafts, Miami produced 26 draft choices, although not all of those players played in that 2000 game. For instance, Willis McGahee and Jerome McDougle redshirted in 2000, and Clinton Portis was injured and didn’t play.
Florida State, over the next three drafts, produced 18 draft choices.
But in one game, it’s hard to imagine that we’ll ever see 42 future draft choices again on the field playing, and certainly not 28 on defense.
As a comparison, in that FSU-Miami game in 2000, there were a total of 17 defensive players who would end up being drafted.
Now, when it comes to one team, good luck in trumping Miami’s 2001 national championship team. The Hurricanes had 16 players from that team who would go on to be first-round picks.
Here’s a look at the draftees from that Alabama-LSU game in 2011:
- Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, first round
- C.J. Mosley, LB, first round
- Kevin Norwood, WR, fourth round
- AJ McCarron, QB, fifth round
- Ed Stinson, DE, fifth round
- Vinnie Sunseri, S, fifth round
- Dee Milliner, CB, first round
- Chance Warmack, OG, first round
- D.J. Fluker, OT, first round
- Eddie Lacy, RB, second round
- Nico Johnson, LB, fourth round
- Barrett Jones, C, fourth round
- Quinton Dial, DE, fifth round
- Jesse Williams DT, fifth round
- Michael Williams, TE, seventh round
- Trent Richardson, RB, first round
- Mark Barron, S, first round
- Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, first round
- Dont’a Hightower, LB, first round
- DeQuan Menzie, CB, fifth round
- Courtney Upshaw, DE, second round
- Josh Chapman, DT, fifth round
- Brad Smelley, TE, seventh round
- Odell Beckham, Jr., WR, first round
- Ego Ferguson, DT, second round
- Jarvis Landry, WR, second round
- Lamin Barrow, LB, fifth round
- Alfred Blue, RB, sixth round
- Barkevious Mingo, DE, first round
- Eric Reid, S, first round
- Kevin Minter, LB, second round
- Bennie Logan, DT, third round
- Tyrann Mathieu, CB, third round
- Sam Montgomery, DE, third round
- Tharold Simon, CB, fifth round
- Lavar Edwards, DE, fifth round
- Spencer Ware, RB, sixth round
He views himself as both -- which is coming in handy for LSU’s defense these days.
“When you come in, you call yourself a defensive back,” said Mills, a rising junior who started at safety for the first time in the Tigers’ Outback Bowl win against Iowa. “That means you can play corner to nickel to safety to dime. You want to be able to play all positions. You don’t want to be a single-position type of guy if you’re a defensive back.”
The Tigers need him most at safety for the time being, which was the message that defensive backs coach Corey Raymond imparted prior to spring practice.
“Him and Chief [defensive coordinator John Chavis], they kind of talked to me or whatever and they were like, ‘Right now we need help at safety. You played a pretty good job those last two games of the season. Can you play it for us?’ And I was like, ‘Yeah,’ ” Mills said. “And he said, ‘But we’re still going to need you at corner and you’re still going to be our starting nickel when we go Mustang package.’ ”
With Thompson on the shelf and a group of talented safety signees -- led by ESPN’s No. 18 overall prospect and No. 2 safety Jamal Adams -- not yet on campus, the Tigers are primarily using Mills and Ronald Martin with the first-team defense.
Rickey Jefferson and Dwayne Thomas are also working at safety, and thus far the foursome is pleased with what it has accomplished.
“Rickey, if he keeps coming along, he’s going to help us out a lot. Jalen Mills is doing a good job back there, also. And Dwayne Thomas, he’s doing a good job,” Martin said. “That’s the only other ones that we’ve got working in right now in the spring, just us four. Us guys, we’re doing a pretty good job so far, so we’re just trying to keep it going.”
Perhaps that’s a good sign, as safety was a problem area for much of 2013. Loston was the one constant when healthy, but the starting spot opposite him was a revolving door partially because of inconsistency. The Tigers used seven different starting combinations at safety, with Martin, Thompson, Mills and Jefferson all starting at least once.
Once Adams, Devin Voorhies and John Battle IV arrive on campus this summer, Raymond will have even more safety options from which to choose. And Tigers coach Les Miles said the newcomers will indeed get a long look from the coaching staff.
“We’ll have guys back, but I think we’ll be looking at some of these young guys that are coming in,” Miles said.
Thompson will also be back by then. The rising junior missed the final two games of 2013 after injuring his left knee against Texas A&M and undergoing surgery in December. He said after Tuesday’s practice that the knee is back to about 80 percent, but he will not attempt to test it during spring practice.
“I aim to be 100 by May,” Thompson said. “I don’t want to rush it, get back too early. But then I feel like May is a good time to be 100 and do everything to get in shape and be ready for the season.”
So for now, the Tigers will continue to function with the four available safeties -- a group attempting to prove that last season’s lapses were only a temporary hiccup for a program known for solid defensive back play. LSU’s pass defense totals actually improved slightly (from 206.0 ypg in 2012 to 197.5 last season), but the Tigers’ overall defensive slide continued, with Chavis’ group dropping from second nationally in total defense in its 2011 SEC championship run (261.5 ypg) to eighth in 2012 (307.6) to 15th last fall (340.7).
That’s an 80-yard increase in just a two-year span, and the safeties know they must perform more consistently in order to improve those numbers.
“We’ve just got to show that we can be leaders out there -- show that we can lead the defense just like those guys in the past like Eric [Reid], Brandon [Taylor], LaRon [Landry] and so on and keep the pedigree going,” Martin said.
Continued progress from Mills at the position would offer a big boost, just as he did in his first-ever attempt at playing safety when he intercepted a pass during a comeback win against Arkansas.
Mills still has nuances of the position to learn, such as how to make new reads that are different at safety from those at cornerback, but he believes he is making the transition smoothly.
“I really didn’t have a problem with [shifting positions],” Mills said. “Just coming from corner, you know where you want your safety to be sometimes in different types of checks. So just going from cornerback to safety, I know what the corner wants, so I just try to do it.”
In the first two days of this week's series listing five position groups with room to improve in the fall, we discussed the tight ends and defensive tackles. Now we move onto the safeties, where LSU must replace starter Craig Loston, though the Tigers have added some excellent young players in the most recent signing class.
Battling for No. 1: For a school that prides itself on its defensive back legacy, LSU's secondary was far too erratic in 2013. Of course, there was a lot to replace -- Eric Reid made the Pro Bowl as an NFL rookie, for instance -- but it was certainly a transitional season for the Tigers. The transition continues this season with senior Craig Loston leaving for the NFL. It appears that Jalen Mills -- whose transition to safety was eased by the emergence of Rashard Robinson and Tre'Davious White at corneback -- might be in the running for a starting spot. Mills (who had 67 tackles last fall and tied for the team lead with three interceptions) started for the first time at safety in the Outback Bowl win over Iowa after starting the first 12 games at corner. That was the last of seven different starting safety combinations for LSU in 2013, and Corey Thompson (40 tackles), Ronald Martin (38 tackles) and Rickey Jefferson (six tackles) also return among safeties who started at least once last season. But it wouldn't be much of a surprise to see some talented new safety signees immediately enter the mix this fall -- and in the case of early enrollee Edward Paris Jr., this spring.
Strength in numbers: LSU's coaches did a superb job of not only replenishing the depth chart at safety last week, but in adding players with the potential to play early. Jefferson could play a larger role this season after he was only a minor factor last fall as a true freshman -- one who most recruiting services graded as a wide receiver. Rising junior Thompson also seems like a candidate to occupy a prominent spot on the depth chart, if not start.
New on the scene: This is the area that has to excite LSU fans. There might have been a program that signed a better crop of safeties last week, but the Tigers' group looks about as good as it gets. In Jamal Adams and Paris, LSU added ESPN's Nos. 2 and 4 safeties in this class. The Tigers also landed ESPN 300 athlete (and likely safety) Devin Voorhies and three-star safety John Battle. Finally, late addition Russell Gage has multiple-position ability, but safety could be his eventual landing spot as well. With that collection of talent joining the roster, don't be surprised if freshmen challenge veteran players for spots on the depth chart this fall.
If the offense was a bit better than expected, the defense might have been a bit worse. Everyone knew it was a rebuilding year after John Chavis' group lost a whopping seven players to early entry into the draft. Losing Eric Reid, Barkevious Mingo and Kevin Minter hurt badly, as some of the totals opponents posted early showed. LSU's defense did improve as the season progressed -- an impressive late-November performance against Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M was the highlight -- but it was still not as consistent as Chavis certainly would have preferred. Nonetheless, LSU finished the season ranked third in the SEC in total defense (340.7 ypg) and fourth in scoring (22 ppg). Those aren't bad numbers, but they aren't up to the standard Chavis' recent defenses have set.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B
Having Beckham on its side helps LSU quite a bit here. The Paul Hornung Award winner and all-purpose All-American helped the Tigers lead the SEC in kickoff return average (25.5) and rank fifth in punt return average (7.5). His 109-yard touchdown return of a missed UAB field goal was one of the season's most electrifying plays. Kicker Colby Delahoussaye (13-for-14 on field goals and 56-for-57 on PATs) had a solid freshman season, but the Tigers were fairly average on special teams aside from his kicking and Beckham's work as a return man.
With division rivals Alabama and Auburn having either won or played for the BCS title in each of the past five seasons, LSU might be getting a bit tired of its bridesmaid status of late. It's not as if the Tigers have been pushovers, however. This marked the first time in school history that LSU won at least 10 games for a fourth straight season, and included in those 10 wins was the only victory against eventual SEC champ Auburn in the regular season. Considering the roster turnover that took place on defense, a 10-win season and a New Year's Day bowl in Florida were perfectly acceptable results.
But signing a talented player is only the first step. A coaching staff must also excel at developing talent, which LSU frequently accomplishes since every All-American was not a coveted recruit.
Let's look at how LSU's recent Associated Press All-Americans graded out as high school prospects:
2013 third-team All-American (all-purpose)
ESPN rankings: 78 grade (three stars), No. 62 athlete in 2011
Evaluation highlights: “Beckham is an exciting athlete that displays some versatility and range as an offensive weapon. He is undersized, but very explosive and shifty with good change of direction and excellent overall instincts with the ball in his hands. ... We feel he would need to be a utility player and certainly has a chance to be an excellent return man.”
In hindsight: Not a bad call. ESPN's analyst pegged Beckham's athleticism correctly, as he developed into one of the nation's most electric receivers and return men. He turned out better than a three-star grade, however.
2012 second-team All-American (linebacker)
ESPN rankings: 81 grade (four stars), No. 133 overall prospect in 2009, No. 11 outside linebacker
Evaluation highlights: “Minter has a great blend of size, speed and toughness. He isn't tall, but has a thick build and carries his weight very well. He's physically ready to make the jump to the next level. ... He should give his future defensive coordinator the flexibility to play him in the middle or on the strong side.”
In hindsight: Good call. Minter had an outstanding junior season, ranking third in the SEC with 130 tackles and fourth with 15 tackles for a loss before jumping to the NFL.
2012 second-team All-American (safety)
ESPN rankings: 81 grade (four stars), No. 71 overall prospect in 2010, No. 7 safety
Evaluation highlights: “Reid is a very gifted player that can really excel at the free safety position. He is an excellent field general that plays with confidence and possesses the necessary skills to run the secondary both physically and mentally.”
In hindsight: Good call. Not only was Reid good enough to rank among the SEC's tackles leaders in 2012, he became a 2013 first-round NFL draft pick and made the Pro Bowl as a rookie for the San Francisco 49ers.
2011 first-team All-American (punter)
ESPN rankings: 74 grade (two stars), No. 24 kicker in 2010
Evaluation highlights: “His long frame and good leg speed allow him to drive the ball 50-60 yards down field. His ability to hang the football is also impressive, with game punts in the 4.8 sec. range. ... Brad has some very good tools to build on. He should become an excellent college punter.”
In hindsight: Not quite. Wing was second in the SEC and 11th nationally in punting for the 2011 conference champs. He encountered problems later in his career, but they were not related to his football talent, which proved better than his prospect ranking.
2011 first-team All-American (cornerback)
ESPN rankings: 77 grade (three stars), No. 36 cornerback in 2010
Evaluation highlights: “Mathieu is an underrated defensive back with a good blend of range, athleticism and closing burst. ... Looks and plays taller on film than his listed measurables. ... Just when you think he is a bit-straight lined he will impress you with his lateral fluidity as a return specialist; overall just a very good, instinctive athlete who should only get better as he receives full-time positional coaching.”
In hindsight: Not quite. Mathieu was probably difficult to grade because of the freewheeling style that turned him into a college star. But he made possibly the biggest impact of any individual player on LSU's outstanding 2011 club, generating key takeaways and highlight-reel kick returns all season.
2011 first-team All-American (cornerback)
ESPN rankings: 80 grade (four stars), No. 26 athlete in 2009
Evaluation highlights: “Claiborne is a bit of a secret in recruiting circles, but his talent level won't be kept at bay for long once he enters the college ranks. ... He works out of the QB position in high school and sees some duty on defense, as well. We feel he'll be a wide receiver, but in time cornerback could be where he finds the most success. ... Overall, we would be very surprised if this kid didn't have a very productive college career.”
In hindsight: Good call. ESPN's analyst was on the right track in projecting Claiborne's eventual college path, which is difficult when a prospect plays multiple roles in high school. He was possibly the nation's top cover corner by his junior season before becoming the No. 6 overall pick in the 2012 NFL draft.
2011 second-team All-American (offensive guard)
ESPN rankings: 79 grade (three/four stars), No. 15 defensive tackle in 2007
Evaluation highlights: “Blackwell is an athletic big man who displays good football intelligence. He has a good get off and does a good job of shooting his hands. He can create separation and read blocks. He is physical at the point of attack and displays the ability to hold his ground. ... As he physically grows, he has the tools to be a big, quick, disruptive presence in the trenches.”
In hindsight: Wrong position. The evaluation graded him as a defensive player, but some of the tools that made Blackwell a valuable offensive lineman emerge in the analyst's comments.
2011-12 third-team All-American (defensive end)
ESPN rankings: 84 grade (four stars), No. 26 overall prospect in 2009, No. 2 defensive end
Evaluation highlights: “Montgomery got a late start in the game, but is an exciting prospect. He is green (only one year of football under his belt), but he appears to be a natural. Has excellent athletic ability and also shows a grasp of some of the game's nuances. ... Montgomery is an excellent prospect who has both immediate value and considerable upside.”
In hindsight: Good call. Natural athleticism helped Montgomery become a two-time All-American. He has yet to maximize those talents, but became a third-round NFL draft pick when he left after his junior season.
This year, the Pro Bowl changed its selection format. Former NFL greats Jerry Rice and Deion Sanders drafted from a pool of Pro Bowl players who were selected earlier in the season. Team Rice and Team Sanders went back-and-forth with their picks, and four of the first 10 players in the first Pro Bowl draft were former SEC players, including former Auburn quarterback Cam Newton (Carolina Panthers), who went No. 3 overall to Sanders.
Tennessee led the SEC with four selections. The game is Sunday night at 7:30 p.m. ET on NBC.
The 24 former SEC players selected to this year's Pro Bowl:
- Eddie Lacy, Alabama (Green Bay Packers)
- Jason Witten, Tennessee (Dallas Cowboys)
- Jason Peters, Arkansas (Philadelphia Eagles)
- Mike Pouncey, Florida (Miami Dolphins)
- Ben Grubbs, Auburn (New Orleans Saints)
- Evan Mathis, Alabama (Philadelphia Eagles)
- Greg Hardy, Ole Miss (Carolina Panthers)
- Kyle Williams, LSU (Buffalo Bills)
- Justin Smith, Missouri (San Francisco 49ers)
- Marcell Dareus, Alabama (Buffalo Bills)
- Justin Houston, Georgia (Kansas City Chiefs)
- John Abraham, South Carolina (Arizona Cardinals)
- Patrick Willis, Ole Miss (San Francisco 49ers)
- Patrick Peterson, LSU (Arizona Cardinals)
- Joe Haden, Florida (Cleveland Browns)
- Tim Jennings, Georgia (San Francisco 49ers)
Just as Georgia had 12 key defensive players to replace this fall, LSU actually set an NFL draft record with six defensive players selected in the 2013 draft's first two days. And just as the Bulldogs have discovered, it has been difficult for LSU to pick up exactly where it left off without players like Barkevious Mingo, Kevin Minter, Eric Reid, Sam Montgomery, Tharold Simon and Bennie Logan.
So as No. 9 Georgia (2-1) and No. 6 LSU (4-0) prepare to meet on Saturday, they do so with young in places defenses that have delivered uneven results. Neither group lack potential, but they both have dealt with the understandable lapses that typically arise when new players take over for established stars.
“I think our players are as talented as we've ever had and I think there's a maturity that needs to take place so they can play with their cleats headed north and south and ready to make a tackle and show the style of confidence, if you will, that other defenses that have played in this uniform have shown,” LSU coach Les Miles said. “I think that's coming. I see it, in last week, better in certain spots and certainly that's got to continue.”
In Saturday's win against Auburn, Miles' Tigers could not have been more impressive early. They limited Auburn to just 41 yards of offense in the first quarter in jumping out to a quick 21-0 lead. However, Auburn made it a more competitive game -- LSU still won 35-21 -- by generating 333 yards in the second half and running a whopping 85 plays against a suddenly reeling LSU defense that was facing its first legitimate test.
“Everybody probably mentally may have gotten a little bit down. We had a couple of calls that were questionable, but we've got to be able to shrug that off,” LSU defensive end Jordan Allen said. “We have a couple things happening and not sure what's going on and we're not communicating on some things and we'll get it straight.”
LSU's early schedule was much more generous toward its defensive rebuilding effort than was Georgia's. The Tigers played TCU, UAB, Kent State and Auburn in the first four games, with only the TCU game -- it was held at the Dallas Cowboys' stadium in Arlington, Texas -- being played away from Tiger Stadium.
Their defensive statistics reflect that advantage, as LSU is tied for third in the SEC in total defense (310 yards per game), is second against the pass (173.8 ypg), seventh against the run (136.2) and fifth in scoring (19.5 points per game).
Because its first two opponents were top-10 teams with impressive skill talent, Georgia's defense looks much worse on paper. The Bulldogs are 13th in the league in scoring defense (29.7 ppg), 11th in total defense (388.7 ypg), eighth against the run (143.3) and ninth against the pass (245.3 ypg).
However, they actually enter the LSU game after their best performance yet. In Saturday's 45-21 win against North Texas, Georgia surrendered just 7 rushing yards and 245 total yards -- nearly 400 fewer than the Bulldogs' offense generated that afternoon. Further, the Mean Green scored just one offensive touchdown -- the other two came on special-teams plays -- and otherwise sputtered on offense .
“I feel like we really stepped up this game,” Georgia sophomore safety Josh Harvey-Clemons said. “We had the off week to kind of get everybody in the right spot or whatever, and I feel like we're really jelling together and really getting that chemistry that we're going to need next week against LSU.”
It was still far from a perfect effort, but Georgia has now allowed opponents to score just 13 points in their last 18 drives, dating back to halftime of the South Carolina game when the score was tied at 24-24 before the Bulldogs pulled away for a 41-30 win.
“You want to have confidence,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said of his defense after the North Texas win. “I don't think this bunch is going to be overconfident after this game. I think they did begin to play well together and I think they can be proud of what happened. It was a very good performance. But LSU's a good team, and we want them as confident as possible, but we don't want them to think they've arrived, that's for sure, because we've got a long way to go.”
Miles' coaching staff can certainly empathize with that sentiment, particularly as it prepares to face a Georgia team that ranks sixth nationally in total offense at 574 ypg -- in the Tigers' first true road game of the season, no less.
Inconsistency has characterized both defenses over the first month of the season, but they realize that excuses over inexperience have nearly lost their shelf life. The defense that is better at minimizing its mistakes on Saturday will almost certainly win what should be one of the most impactful games either team will play this fall.
1. The offensive line might shuffle: Right tackle Vadal Alexander was hobbled in the Chick-fil-A Bowl and rumors were, he was being seriously challenged for his starting spot by redshirt freshman Jerald Hawkins.
Little has happened at camp that would suggest otherwise after Alexander missed Tuesday and Wednesday’s practices and Hawkins was running with the starters at right tackle. The Hawkins-as-a-starter scenario is looking more and more plausible.
But with so many players to choose from, how do you determine the best athletes to compete in the rivalry, the ones who have shown up and played their best when the two schools met on the football field each year?
TideNation writer Alex Scarborough and GeauxTigerNation writer Gary Laney did their best to answer that difficult question.
To continue reading this article you must be an Insider
Head to head, the Crimson Tide and Tigers have had some of the most thrilling games in recent memory, often propelling one team or another on to the SEC championship and beyond. Each matchup has had its defining play or its defining performance, whether it was T.J. Yeldon's last-second touchdown in 2012 or Eric Reid's acrobatic interception the year before.
Breaking down each game was no easy matter. In fact, when TideNation writer Alex Scarborough and GeauxTigerNation writer Gary Laney sat down to make up a top 10 list of the best games since 2007, determining No. 1 was so difficult they had to split the difference and stop just short of calling it a tie.
Looking at numbers three through seven wasn't much simpler. But they persevered and ranked the games from best to worst, and here's the order they came up with:
To continue reading this article you must be an Insider
That's a little trickier to figure out at LSU than many other schools because the frequency of underclassmen departures. But we can take a guess based on likely attrition.
To continue reading this article you must be an Insider
Saturday's top plays in the SEC
Final Eastern Kentucky 3 Florida 52 Final Charleston Southern 9 10 Georgia 55 Final South Alabama 12 South Carolina 37 Final 8 Ole Miss 0 Arkansas 30 Final Western Carolina 14 1 Alabama 48 Final Samford 7 14 Auburn 31 Final 20 Missouri 29 Tennessee 21 Final Vanderbilt 0 4 Mississippi State 51