For most people around LSU the number is one - as in the No. 1 ranking the Tigers football team attained in this week’s Associated Press poll.
LSU’s defensive backs are focusing on other numbers - all of them bigger than one, none of them as pretty.
For them, the key numbers this week are 463, 106, 17 and six.
•?463: The number of yards West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith passed for in LSU’s 47-21 victory Saturday.
•?106: The number of yards West Virginia players picked up after the Tigers’ 17 missed tackles.
•?6: The number of interceptions LSU players say they could have had in addition to the two times they did pick Smith off.
When the Tigers returned to practice this week, as expected they got the fistful of negative stats from defensive coordinator John Chavis (see above) and an earful about their play overall.
“We definitely didn’t play to the best of our ability,” free safety Eric Reid said. “Coach (John) Chavis let us know that in our meetings (Monday). It’s back to the drawing board. I knew from Jump Street he would give it to us.
“I missed the opening tackle of the game and (linebacker) Ryan Baker had to make it. It was disappointing for us as a defense. We have to get better.”
To be sure, LSU’s defenders are holding themselves to an exceptionally high standard.
But the feeling they had of being picked apart by the Mountaineers is one they don’t want to live through again.
“We watched the film and it was actually worse than we thought,” strong safety Brandon Taylor said.
“If we didn’t have the speed that we have, we probably would have lost that game. We had a lot blown assignments and we missed a lot of tackles, but we’re cleaning that up.”
There were certainly bright spots for LSU (4-0, 1-0 Southeastern Conference) going into this Saturday’s 11:21 a.m. home game against Kentucky (2-2, 0-1).
LSU forced four West Virginia turnovers and allowed none. The Tigers’ plus-2.00 turnover ratio is tops in the SEC and tied for fourth nationally with South Florida.
And the Tigers made enough positive defensive adjustments to shut out West Virginia in the fourth quarter as LSU pulled away with a pair of insurance touchdowns.
Afterward, WVU coach Dana Holgorsen alluded to the fact he would like to have a quarterback throw for fewer yards like Jarrett Lee and have a clean sheet to show for it (Lee had 180 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions).
Smith, who set school records for passing yardage, attempts (65) and completions (38), was picked off by cornerback Tyrann Mathieu and Taylor and fumbled a shotgun snap that was covered by defensive end Lavar Edwards.
But the Smith-led offense piled up 533 total yards, a number that Taylor finds hard to accept.
“Like coach Chavis said, it was an ugly win,” he said. “We let ourselves look exposed. We’ve got to get back to the fundamentals of tackling and reading keys and getting back to finishing our assignments.”
A midseason refresher course on the fundamentals is sometimes necessary, cornerback Ron Brooks said, like a carpenter sharpening his tools.
“Once you get into the season, your technique starts to break down sometimes,” Brooks said.
“We’re getting back to basics, going over all our coverages.”
With a national championship as their ultimate target, LSU players like Mathieu use the 2003 and 2007 Tigers defenses as their benchmarks.
“Those guys were aggressive, physical and didn’t make a lot of mistakes,” said Mathieu, named the Walter Camp Foundation’s national defensive player of the week after his interception and fumble recovery against WVU.
“I think we’re pretty much the same. It’s about us finishing what we started.”
Finishing well is a matter of necessity for the Tigers - and pride.
“It’s not whether we play a good or a bad quarterback,” Brooks said. “We pride ourselves at LSU on being a sound tackling team. We didn’t show that Saturday night.”
To successfully navigate all the Saturdays to come, the Tigers feel they need this course correction now.
“It’s the little things that make a team great,” Brooks said. “ We have to go back and tweak the little things to help our team be great.”