Jalen Collins knew things had gotten real when running back Terrence Magee — Mr. Quiet — rose from his seat to talk during an LSU players-only meeting a few weeks ago.
“He’s a leader, but he doesn’t really say a lot during practice or pregame,” said Collins, a junior cornerback. “For him to get up and speak, that was kind of big for me.”
Players aired their grievances with one another during a meeting less than 48 hours after a 41-7 loss at Auburn on Oct. 4. They got things off of their chests, one player said. Even the most quiet of players delivered messages, another added.
What’s happened since? No. 14 LSU (7-2, 3-2 Southeastern Conference) has won three straight games, knocked off a Top-5 team, and jumped back into the Top 15 ahead of a battle Saturday against No. 4 Alabama (7-1, 4-1).
Does the players meeting get all of the credit for this recent surge? No.
It’s one of a host of things, players said, that’s helped coach Les Miles’ crew turn a possible bowl-less season into one in which a championship is still possible, though unlikely.
A players-only meeting. A dramatic road win. A key defensive personnel change. They have all led to an improbable winning streak.
The Tigers won at Florida on a last-minute field goal days later, surviving a see-saw final few minutes and overcoming an early 10-point deficit. LSU also made a change at middle linebacker, replacing D.J. Welter with Kendell Beckwith.
Gone are the days of opposing running backs ripping through LSU’s defensive line. Gone are those games of speedy quarterbacks slipping by Tigers defenders.
Will they return against Alabama? The Crimson Tide has the talents to do it: a big physical offensive line, a dual-threat quarterback in Blake Sims, and two former five-star prospects.
That doesn’t mention receiver Amari Cooper, a guy with 71 receptions, 1,132 yards and nine touchdowns.
“Very talented,” Miles said of the Tide.
LSU’s defense gets its stiffest test since that drubbing a month ago at Auburn.
So much has changed: a new middle linebacker, a players-only meeting and a confidence-filled defense playing at its best.
The group has allowed 836 yards in the past three games, a 278-yard average. That’s after the Tigers gave up 570 and 566 yards to Mississippi State and Auburn, the two worst defensive outings in the Miles era.
“Some people wanted to be heroes,” linebacker Kwon Alexander said, explaining the defensive turnaround. “We understood everybody can’t make that big play. Everybody’s got to be where they’re supposed to be, and when everybody is where they’re supposed to be, then you can make the big plays.”
It began, in part, with that meeting on the Monday after the loss to Auburn, the program’s worst loss in 15 years.
“People had stuff they held in,” Alexander said. “A lot of people got up that you didn’t expect to get up. They said what they needed to say. We’ve been playing hard after that.”
The numbers don’t lie. LSU has allowed 10 combined points in back-to-back SEC games for the first times since November of 2011.
Excluding those two long punt returns against the Gators, one for a touchdown and the other setting up a 9-yard touchdown drive, LSU has allowed 23 combined points in three games.
Among the many changes is the recent success is the slowing or stopping dual-threat quarterbacks. LSU has allowed the sixth-most yards (506) nationally to opposing quarterbacks, according to ESPN stats and info.
But the Tigers held Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel to a 3.4-yard average and Ole Miss’ Bo Wallace to 40 yards. They’ll get another test against Sims, a speedster who’s had touchdown runs of 43 and 28 yards in the past two games.
Miles attributes the quarterback run success to some “technical changes” and players “recognizing that they can’t be washed out of a gap,” he said.
Miles wasn’t in a meeting that may have changed the season, though.
“Everybody got everything off of their chest,” Alexander said. “After that, everybody has been playing hard and fast.”