Offenses haven’t been able to do much against a punishing, in-your face LSU defense. Defenses haven’t been able to slow a balanced, often explosive LSU offense.
A series of suspensions and off-field distractions? They’ve been reduced to media fodder.
With leading rusher Spencer Ware, defensive star Tyrann Mathieu and cornerback Tharold Simon suspended for violating team rules, the Tigers simply turned to the next group of players in line and again showed they have strength in numbers.
Substitutes like freshman running back Kenny Hilliard, senior cornerback Ron Brooks and senior safety Derrick Bryant filled right in as top-ranked LSU trounced No. 19 Auburn 45-10.
“A team is never about the single player,” LSU coach Les Miles said. “It’s about the strength and the quality of the sum. This is a quality team. Great kids and great young people. They fight like hell. They’re tough, and they enjoy playing.”
Auburn seemingly caught a break earlier this week when news broke that Ware, Mathieu and Simon would not suit up, reportedly because they failed a drug test.
Mathieu generated early Heisman Trophy buzz with his penchant for forcing turnovers and converting them into scores. Simon was a steady, often-used backup who played corner for the Tigers when they were in their nickel package. The bruising Ware started six of LSU’s first seven games at tailback and entered the week with a team-leading 512 yards on 128 carries.
Turns out, LSU was fine without them.
Hilliard complemented sophomore Michael Ford in the ground game, carrying 10 times for 65 yards and scoring the fist two touchdowns of his career. Not bad for a true freshman who’d played mostly fullback until Saturday and had only carried five times.
Brooks, who got the start in place of Mathieu at corner, did his best impersonation of the “Honey Badger” when he intercepted a Clint Moseley pass and returned it 28 yards to complete a whirlwind third-quarter scoring spree.
Bryant, with only 26 career tackles entering Saturday in four years as a backup, saw his most significant action as a regular defensive replacement. He made five stops, including a sack of Moseley on third-and-goal to force a Cody Parkey field goal.
“Here at LSU, we try to make sure we have everybody ready, whether you’re a backup or starter,” Brooks said. “When your number’s called, you have to step up and make plays just like the guy in front of you would do it.”
It wasn’t the first time LSU backups had their number called.
Quarterback Jordan Jefferson missed the first four games of the season following an arrest for his alleged role in an August bar fight, wide receiver Russell Shepard missed the first three games because of an NCAA violation, and linebacker Ryan Baker was suspended for the Northwestern State game for violating team rules. But the Tigers have always rolled along. “That’s the mark of a great team,” Miles said.
After catching the ire of Miles with a couple of first-half penalties, Brooks finished with four tackles, one pass breakup and the interception for a score.
“He was looking forward to playing the game that he had put himself in position to play with training and the want to contribute to this team,” Miles said. “He deserved the game he got.”
Ditto for Bryant, a player most LSU fans may not have heard of.
Bryant has bided his time in the secondary since arriving at LSU in 2008 as a touted prospect from Lawrenceville, Ga.
Hilliard, unlike the seniors who subbed on defense, has plenty of time to make his mark. He had his coming-out party banging through the line with Ware-like abandon, showing everyone why he became Louisiana’s all-time leading rusher at Patterson before enrolling at LSU in January and going through spring practice with his new team.
Miles said he knew Hilliard was ready for a bigger role when he saw him burst for 13 yards in a 38-7 win at Tennessee on Oct. 15.
“It’s just about time for another young runner to emerge and grow,” Miles said. “Another big, strong tailback.”
Miles wouldn’t say if the three suspended Tigers would return for the Alabama game Nov. 5. LSU has an open date next Saturday.