Someone asked Michael Brockers about the play of LSU cornerback Tyrann Mathieu, who combined with defensive end Sam Montgomery to make what is surprisingly the only sack so far in the Tigers’ first two games.
“I’m really sick of him getting the sacks before I do,” Brockers said, offering only mock indignation.
“He’s an amazing guy. He does some things that are hard to believe.”
Funny statement by Brockers, considering he defined “amazing” and “hard to believe” in LSU’s game Saturday against Northwestern State.
Two vise grip points of pressure were coming right at Northwestern State quarterback Brad Henderson - Morris Claiborne from one flank, Barkevious Mingo from the other - as he tried to throw the ball away near the line of scrimmage. A danger zone to be sure, but a place where no one should be able to get it.
The ball was about to hit the turf when Brockers leaped to his left, prone to the ground, reached out with his left hand and hauled the ball in as he tumbled at the Demons 15. The play set up a 6-yard Spencer Ware touchdown run two plays later, putting the Tigers up 21-3 midway through the second quarter and putting them on their way to a 49-3 victory.
“The play he made is one of those that will be remembered for quite some time,” LSU coach Les Miles said.
That Brockers, an interior lineman, could pull off such a play is remarkable in itself. Defensive tackles are space eaters, occupying blockers (more than one if they can) allowing the ends and linebackers and defensive backs (like Mathieu) to swoop in and rack up the statistics.
His numbers, by comparison to Mathieu’s, are modest: seven tackles, one-half tackle for loss - and that lightning bolt pick at the Northwestern 15.
But Brockers is, perhaps, another of those atypical, exceptional defensive tackles that LSU seems to produce the way Detroit churns out cars.
“He doesn’t give up on anything,” said fellow defensive tackle Bennie Logan, who starts alongside Brockers. “He made that interception. I’m really happy for him. That’s a highlight for your LSU career.
“Brock is having a great season. I’m looking forward to more big things from him.”
It is no small thing to play defensive tackle at LSU because of the players who came before you.
The list of great former tackles at LSU reads like a Who’s Who of Tiger football: Glenn Dorsey, Chad Lavalais, Kyle Williams, Claude Wroten, Sid Fournet, Remi Prudhomme, Ronnie Estay, John Sage, Steve Cassidy, A.J. Duhe, Chuck Wiley and Drake Nevis, a 2010 All-American who started next to fellow senior Pep Levingston.
Brockers, a 6-foot-6, 306-pound sophomore from Houston, considers it a responsibility to uphold their legacy.
“It’s a standard,” Brockers said, “a big standard. These guys leave and you fill their place and keep the tradition going.”
Brockers and Logan (6-3, 287), another sophomore, are in the two starting roles, backed up by junior Josh Downs (6-1, 287) and true freshman Anthony “Freak” Johnson (6-3, 294), who enrolled in January and has immediately pressed his case for significant playing time.
“I’m really proud of us because none of us have ever really started,” Brockers said. “I had started just one game (Alabama). But we have experience in playing big games that has really helped us.”
Brockers and his fellow tackles will have to draw upon all their resources to hold back the tide against No. 25 Mississippi State.
The Bulldogs (1-1) dropped their Southeastern Conference opener 41-34 last Saturday at Auburn, but except for the one last inch quarterback Chris Relf couldn’t gain at the goal line as time expired, it wasn’t because of the running game.
State comes into Thursday’s contest (7 p.m., ESPN) leading the SEC with 321.0 yards per game rushing, stark contrast to LSU’s SEC-leading rush defense (45.5 ypg).
“Very physical,” Brockers said of MSU. “They run out of a spread that’s almost an I-formation the way they come out. Oregon tried to run us east-west (in its spread). Mississippi State will try to get you out of your gaps.”
Defending the A gaps (between the center and guards) and B gaps (between guards and tackles) will be Brockers’ key mission Thursday.
“I’m thinking two for one,” Brockers said. “If I take a double team on, that means a linebacker can scrape and make plays in the backfield.”
Of course if Brockers can scrape up another interception in the process, none of his teammates will mind.