By Trey Mongrue
Three games into the 2014 season, things could not be going much better for LSU.
Sure, there was that first half scare in the season opener against Wisconsin, but from the second half on, the Tigers have played some pretty potent football, particularly on the defensive side of the ball. With last Saturday’s 31-0 pasting of Louisiana-Monroe, the LSU defense extended its streak of holding its opponents scoreless to 31 possessions.
With the beginning of Southeastern Conference play and a Tiger Stadium date with Mississippi State approaching, the chances are that scoreless streak will come to an end. However, that does not mean that the Tiger defense is any less confident that they will dictate this Saturday’s game.
The main reason for that is because of the stellar play from the LSU defensive backs.
“I feel like we have prepared well for this season and I think it’s showing,” said sophomore cornerback Tre’Davious White. “We’re just trying to bring that ‘DB-U’ thing back.”
Of course, the “DB-U thing” that White is referring to is “Defensive Back University” – the unofficial nickname that LSU has earned because of the great defensive backs, such as Patrick Peterson, Eric Reid and Tyrann Mathieu that have taken the road through the Baton Rouge campus to the NFL in recent years.
However, the moniker’s association with LSU took a bit of a hit last season after the Tigers gave up 11.5 yards per catch and 15 passing touchdowns – the most they’ve allowed in both categories since defensive coordinator John Chavis came to LSU in 2009.
Many of the defensive backs on this year’s squad, including White, were there last year and have been waiting all summer to make amends. And under the tutelage of third year defensive backs coach Corey Raymond, the secondary made huge offseason strides.
“We’re accepting the challenge,” said White. “Last year we had some setbacks and it made us more humble. It gave us a different mindset when putting work in the offseason and it’s starting to pay off.”
Pay off it has.
Through three games, LSU’s opponents are averaging just 94.3 yards through the air while opposing quarterbacks are completing just 40-percent of their passes. And on the off chance that a pass is completed, the unlucky soul who made the reception is sure to get tackled very soon – the Tigers are allowing just 8.6 yards per catch.
A lot of the early success has to do with the number of defensive backs LSU is switching in and out of games.
In addition to White, who has started in all three games this season, the Tigers have gotten good minutes out of Jalen Collins and Rashard Robinson at cornerback. The two safety spots are just as deep with Jalen Mills and Ronald Martin rotating with sophomore Rickey Jefferson and freshman Jamal Adams.
“We can call on any one of those guys at any point of the game and there is really no drop-off,” said Mills “We’ve worked so hard and me just being a part of this, I’m so thankful.”
Mills’ versatility has been one of the reasons why guys like Jefferson and Adams have been able to flesh out on the field.
“They can be as good as they want to be,” Mills said of the two young safeties. “They come in and work hard every day. You can tell that they are hungry and I like that.”
Though one of the starting safeties, Mills’ versatility that comes from his previous experiences as a cornerback allows him to line up as a nickelback at times and opens a spot at safety.
This has come in handy in LSU’s Mustang package that calls for six defensive backs with Mills and sophomore Dwayne Thomas usually blitzing off the edge to either sack the quarterback or force a hurried throw.
Thomas actually leads the Tigers with 16 total tackles and, along with Mills, Jefferson and Martin, has recorded an interception.
“It’s a big advantage,” Mills said of the different looks the LSU secondary can give on defense. “There are just so many different ways to disguise what we are doing and it’s just a big part of our defense.”
Despite missing summer workouts due to a suspension stemming from a second-degree battery charge, Mills returned in time for fall camp where he quickly assumed the role as leader. Coming to LSU during a time when the likes of Reid, Craig Loston and Tharold Simon were still around, Mills saw firsthand what it takes to be the best and he pushed his current teammates to strive for that benchmark.
He did this by setting tangible short-term goals. If a player recorded the first interception in practice, he’d treat that player to dinner. Whoever had the least amount of picks would have to backpedal the length of the football field.
This did not make things all too pleasant for LSU quarterback Anthony Jennings.
“I know first-hand from going up against those guys in the secondary that it is very hard to move the ball on them,” Jennings mentioned. “They come up and tackle, defend the receiver, defend the backs. It wasn’t fun.”
But while things seem to be on the right track for the defensive backs, none of them are ready to pat each other on the back just yet, nor rest on their laurels. With a slew of good offenses in the SEC on the horizon, the LSU secondary’s road to restoring the “DB-U” nickname has only just begun.
“We’ve still got a lot of things that need to be cleaned up,” explained White. “We’ve built some momentum but we are not where we want to be just yet.”