After he got over the initial shock of being awarded the coveted No. 18 jersey, LSU cornerback Tre’Davious White thought of something that he hopes will make his honor a good luck charm for the entire defense.
“The last time we had an 18 in the defensive backfield, LSU did some great things,” White said.
That No. 18 was Brandon Taylor, and that year was 2011. The year the Tigers won their last Southeastern Conference championship and played for the BCS national title.
Yes, LSU fell well short in that ultimate game, but the Tigers had perhaps the best regular season ever. And bitter though the championship game loss to Alabama was for LSU, that wound up being no worst that the fourth-best team in LSU history after its three national champions.
Fourth-best in the country just this year would get you in the College Football Playoff.
It’s far too premature to talk of this LSU team in terms of being a national championship contender. But if there was a common thread among the defensive players who came out for midday interviews Thursday, the first day of preseason practice, it was talk of trying to live up to the standard of the 2011 defense.
Senior safety Jalen Mills remembers as a young recruit coming to watch the Tigers of Tyrann Mathieu and Morris Claiborne and Sam Montgomery conduct their business.
“They way they practiced was the way they played on Saturday,” Mills said. “It was gritty. You would go to their games almost not impressed, because you had already seen it before.”
Aspiring to be as good as LSU’s 2014 defense would be enough. The Tigers led the Southeastern Conference allowing 316.8 yards per game, and ranked second in scoring defense allowing 17.5 points per game.
The question is how can the Tigers hope to be close to that good again? They have to overcome the loss of key players like defensive ends Danielle Hunter and Jermauria Rasco, linebacker Kwon Alexander, safety Ronald Martin and cornerback Jalen Collins, a second-round draft pick. The switch from John Chavis to Kevin Steele as defensive coordinator is sure to cause some trauma, no matter how similar their styles might be. And Monday the surprise departure of defensive end Maquedius Bain only added to the uncertainty for LSU’s front line, which isn’t filled with nightmare-inducing players like Glenn Dorsey or Tyson Jackson this year.
But college football is played by young men, and youth is covered by a shield of perceived invincibility.
They’ll figure it out. At least they believe they will.
“The guys in the room are ready to go,” starting defensive tackle Christian LaCouture said of the remaining LSU defensive linemen. “We’re energized. Coach O(rgeron, LSU’s new defensive line coach) emphasizes giving 110 percent the whole time.”
The Tigers’ hurdles don’t change the fact that they believe they can clear them.
“Come Dec. 5 we want to be in Atlanta,” White said. “We want to be SEC champions. That’s our goal from the first day of practice. The bar is set high here.”
The Domond flap
LSU coach Les Miles and his program have been getting a lot of hammering from a lot of different directions this offseason, some criticism more justified than most.
I don’t have a problem with Anthony Jennings and Dwayne Thomas being reinstated to the team after charges were dropped from unlawfully entering an apartment, reportedly to retrieve things stolen from Jennings. Unlawful, but not awful, given the circumstances.
Offensive tackle Jevonte Domond has also been reinstated to the team despite the fact he has a domestic abuse case pending against him. He has not been charged with a crime and is reportedly trying to enter a pretrial diversion program.
Miles said Wednesday that Domond and his girlfriend are back together and that “everything is positive.”
It perhaps wasn’t the best choice of words, and certainly not the most expansive. And there is no more hot-button topic in sports right now than that of domestic violence.
By every indication, Miles has tuned out the criticism that his Domond decision has received. He has always maintained he treats every discipline issue the same and follows the same procedure.
That may not always look like the right way to handle things from a distance, but it is also easy to direct criticism at a person or subject without having all the facts. One has to believe Miles has more facts in the Domond case than are readily known by the media or the public.
Domond is far from a star player. He is closer to being a backup’s backup. So it’s hard to say Domond is getting preferential treatment from Miles, other than Jonah Austin’s transfer leaves LSU with pitifully few reserve offensive tackles with even a sliver of experience.
So for now, Miles should get the benefit of the doubt in the Domond case. As fashionable as it might be, there doesn’t need to be a rush to judgment for the player or the coach.