“Three is a magic number,
Yes it is, it’s a magic number.
Somewhere in the ancient, mystic trinity
You get three as a magic number”
The popular Schoolhouse Rock song proved prophetic for LSU.
Less than a day after LSU dominated their third top 25 ranked opponent in four weeks, the Tigers jumped #1 Oklahoma to take the top spot in the AP top 25 poll.
The game against 16th ranked West Virginia was LSU’s second appearance on ESPN’s College Game Day and also the Tigers third nationally broadcast performance. Their first appearance on nationally television was the Cowboys Classic kickoff against Oregon in the first week of the second and their second national appearance came on a Thursday night game against Mississippi State in Starkville.
Perhaps the most telling outcome of their drubbing of West Virginia was the respect LSU garnered on a national level.
#3 Oregon opened up as a 3.5 point favorite against LSU and the game was close until the second half when LSU’s defense begin to squeeze the life out of Oregon much like a python wrings the life out of its prey. The Ducks ended up finishing the game with less than 340 yards of total offense and last year’s Heisman Trophy runner-up LaMichael James rushing for less than 55 yards.
Despite their double-digit win, skeptics still remained over the prowess of Les Miles damn strong football team.
Against 25th ranked Mississippi State, who the Tigers were just 3.5 point favorites against, LSU contained the SEC’s most prolific rushing attack to less than 53 yards while also limiting the Bulldogs to less than 200 yards of total offense. LSU’s fifteen tackles for loss impressed a handful but questions still remained about the LSU offense.
But it was the game against West Virginia that the national media begin clamoring for LSU to be number one. Ironically, it came in the game where the vaunted LSU defense gave up almost 200 more total yards than it did against Oregon. The Tigers also gave up more than 200 more yards through the air than they did against Oregon.
In the past three games combined the teams LSU faced threw for just 17 more yards combined than West Virginia threw for the entire game. Oregon, Northwestern State, and Mississippi State combined to throw for 480 yards. Mountaineers quarterback Geno Smith alone threw for 463 yards.
LSU also matched its record so far this year in turnovers. Against Oregon the Tigers’ defense recovered three fumbles to go along with interception Ducks QB Darron Thomas once. Against West Virginia, LSU’s defense intercepted Mountaineers QB Geno Smith twice while recovering two fumbles.
Those stats, though, are just that. They don’t tell the whole tale.
LSU’s “honey badger”, Tyrann Mathieu, played like a man possessed stripping the ball from Brad Starks grasp. What’s more impressive is that Starks stands seven inches taller and weighs twenty more pounds than Mathieu.
Then, later in the game, Mathieu came on a blitz, deflected a Geno Smith pass into the air, caught it and ran it back to the West Virginia one yard line. One play later Jarrett Lee would connect with tight end Chase Clement to put LSU up by 20.
Watching the game, you would see that Mathieu’s mouth kept running; he was constantly talking to either his teammates or talking smack to opposing receivers. Listed at 5’9” according to LSUsports.net, Mathieu has become the most heralded defensive back in LSU’s loaded secondary with Maurice “Mo” Claiborne being second in attention received.
Mathieu, Claiborne, and the rest of the Tigers defense can talk as much smack as they want because they back it up. This LSU defense possesses a swagger about them that the 2003 and 2007 squads lacked. The amount of tackles for loss, sacks, QB hurries, QB pressures, forced fumbles, and interceptions created by the defense makes them more fun to watch the offense – something the preceding defensive units have in common with the most current one.
Tharold Simon, a shutdown corner in his own right, and the hard-hitting Eric Reid receive even less attention, however, the dynamic play-making abilities of Mathieu couple with the shutdown and return abilities of Claiborne have propelled LSU to the #1 spot in the AP poll.
It was their performance in the West Virginia game that did. Claiborne’s 99 yard kickoff return for a touchdown and Mathieu’s forced fumble and interception opened the national audience’s eyes to what LSU fans were already aware – this is one of the two best defenses in the country. The other being Alabama.
The dominating performance over West Virginia has put to rest the lingering questions and doubts that surrounded LSU in the off-season, especially the ones concerning Jordan Jefferson.
Fifth year senior Jarrett Lee has been more impressive than any Tiger fan could dream. So far on the season he has thrown for six touchdowns to one interception. He’s passed for over 600 yards with a completion percentage of 64.4%. The rumors of Jordan Jefferson usurping Lee when the former returns have been put to rest. This is Lee’s world, Jefferson just lives in it.
What makes LSU even scarier is that the defense is extremely young. Mathieu is a sophomore along with Tharold Simon, Craig Loston, Eric Reid. Claiborne’s a junior. Along the defensive line Michael Brockers is a redshirt sophomore and Bennie Logan is a redshirt freshman. Defensive ends Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery are also both sophomores. Anthony “Freak” Johnson is a true freshman. The most experienced player along the d-line is senior Kendrick Adams.
The only seniors on LSU’s defense are starting linebackers Stefoin Francois and Ryan Baker, back-up cornerback Ron Brooks, and safety Brandon Taylor.
Two senior linebackers at what is considered to be the weakest part of LSU’s defense, if you can call any part of LSU’s defense weak. Even on offense LSU is young with only four seniors that start on that side of the ball.
It took three times for LSU to dominate three top 25 opponents. It was the most difficult September schedule played by any FBS school and LSU made it look easy but finally, on their third attempt, the Tigers made believers out of the national media. Now they coast into SEC play with Kentucky coming to Baton Rouge and Death Valley. Expect more of the same results on defense and the same solid, effective play on offense.