LSU has established itself as such a clear-cut No. 1 in the BCS rankings that it might well be able to advance to the BCS national championship game even if it were to lose to Georgia in the Southeastern Conference Championship Game Saturday in the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.
But the Tigers (12-0, 8-0 SEC) don’t want to hear anything about cushions or mulligans or anything else that suggests the next game is anything but of the utmost importance to win.
“There would be no way that this team could come to Atlanta and not play their best,” Tigers coach Les Miles said after the 41-17 victory against Arkansas on Friday.
Fifth-year senior cornerback Ron Brooks was a freshman on the last LSU team to play in the SEC Championship Game. The 2007 Tigers beat Tennessee to win the SEC title and subsequently beat Ohio State to win the BCS Championship.
“It just feels like my freshman year all over again,” Brooks said, “going to Atlanta and maybe even getting a chance to play for the national championship, but right now we’re going to focus on this game coming up.
“We’ve accomplished a lot to this point, but we don’t want to relax and rely on our accomplishments to get us through the next game. We want to continue to be hungry and go out there and work and fight and play a good game.”
The Tigers can add not only the SEC title but a school-record 14-0 record to their ultimate goal, if they keep winning.
“We know we still have some work to do,” defensive end Barkevious Mingo said. “It’s all about remaining perfect. ”
Randle, Claiborne impress
Two juniors who might be tempted to enter the NFL draft — wide receiver Rueben Randle and cornerback Morris Claiborne — left a mark in what might have been their last home game.
Randle had career highs of nine catches and 134 yards.
“It was a big game, and I wanted to make plays,” Randle said. “I did it for my team today. Whatever they needed me to do, I wanted to do it.”
Claiborne made his team-leading fifth interception to set up a touchdown that gave LSU a 38-17 lead in the fourth quarter.
“That interception is a play that he has made countless times in practice, that he has made many times on game day,” Miles said. “It’s Mo Claiborne giving to his team. You listen to him talk. You listen to him represent us; he does it so humbly and so well. I hope like heck that he returns, and if he doesn’t return, I hope that whoever fills his shoes has the same characteristics like Mo Claiborne.”
Mathieu makes move
When a thigh injury sidelined starting free safety Eric Reid for the game against Arkansas, the Tigers had several options for replacing Reid. They settled on moving Tyrann Mathieu from cornerback to safety and using Brooks and Tharold Simon at corner. It paid off as Mathieu forced two fumbles, which Brooks and he recovered, and Mathieu finished with a team-high eight tackles, all solo.
“The defensive staff said that frankly there are some things that (Mathieu) can do, and we all could see that he has a natural feel for the ball,” Miles said of Mathieu. “He’s very bright. He’s a guy that knows all of the coverages and all the safeties’ responsibilities, and so it was a nice, easy move.”
Miles also praised Brooks (career-high six tackles and one sack) and Simon (three tackles, one forced fumble, and one pass break-up) for their play.
Ford shows toughness
Miles has been emphatic all season about turnovers being unacceptable, which is one of the reasons the Tigers had the fewest turnovers in the country going into Friday’s game (six). No one understood that better than running back Michael Ford, who saw his playing time dwindle for a couple of games after he fumbled against Kentucky.
Ford fumbled again Friday on his first carry when Tramain Thomas put his helmet on the ball and popped it loose from Ford’s grasp. The ball popped into the air, and Alonzo Highsmith grabbed it and ran 47 yards for a touchdown that gave Arkansas a 14-0 lead.
This time, though, Ford stayed out of the doghouse. He went on to carry 11 times for 96 yards.
“I said (to Ford),” Miles recalled, “as much as I hate to admit it, because I’m a guy who coaches ball security and I want to keep hold of the ball, but sometimes you put a helmet on the ball, sometimes that does happen to our guys, and they take it to heart, because they don’t do it routinely. You could tell that he was wearing it a little heavily, but there was a time or two in that game where I told him, ‘you know what, Ford? You’re awfully tough.’”
Miles dismisses boo-birds
Miles playfully dismissed a smattering of boos that came from the stands in the second quarter as the Tigers offense was scoreless and being plagued by penalties.
“I thought that was a group of fans who thought that (running back) Alfred Blue had (run the ball,” Miles said. “I realized right then that were going ‘BLUE! BLUE!,’ and I realized, guys — he didn’t even play. That’s how I looked at it.”