Dwayne Thomas was frustrated.
On three straight plays out of the Mustang package, LSU’s defense and its blitzing defensive back, Thomas, failed to get to the quarterback — the primary goal in defensive coordinator John Chavis’ famed defensive formation.
Arkansas walked to the line of scrimmage for Play No. 4.
This time, Thomas thought, this time.
Blitzing from the far right side, LSU’s defensive back wheeled around the right end of the offensive line untouched. He caught Arkansas quarterback Brandon Allen from behind and swatted the ball from his hands.
It’s a good thing he got to him, too.
“They set up a good screen on us,” Thomas said. “I said, ‘Go make the play. If I don’t make the play, there’s a screen coming right behind me.’”
LSU recovered the fumble, won the game and Thomas had his coming-out party as LSU’s blitz-crazy man in the Tigers’ unconventional defensive package.
The Mustang is back for Year 6 in purple and gold. Chavis’ scheme has a much-improved central figure — Thomas, a 6-foot, 183-pound speedy sophomore from New Orleans.
For those new to this, the Mustang is a package LSU uses primarily on passing downs — third-and-long and second-and-long. The personnel includes three defensive linemen, two linebackers and six defensive backs.
The goal: Make bad things happen through the use of speed.
“The other team gets nervous because there’s so much speed,” defensive end Danielle Hunter said. “It’s just fun seeing their faces, like who’s going to come from where.”
Not enough bad things happened last season.
LSU ranked 80th in the country in turnovers gained (19) last year, the worst since Chavis’ first season as coordinator in 2009.
Thomas didn’t get into the backfield as much as he should have. That goes for the line and linebackers, too.
A year of experience has made a world of difference, Thomas said. He’s going backfield-seeking in 2014.
“I’m comfortable with it,” he said a week and a half into LSU’s fall camp. “I’ve got the basics. I watched enough film. Learned from last year.”
Thomas made 10 tackles, had three sacks and two forced fumbles last year — a shade of what the Mustang’s key cog can do.
Remember Tyrann Mathieu? During 2010 and 2011, he had a combined 11 forced fumbles, many as LSU’s speed demon in the Mustang.
Thomas spent time watching film and playing behind Mathieu. Eventually, coaches saw enough similarities.
“I was always watching them and coach would be like, ‘Go back them up and learn the position, ask questions,’ ” Thomas said. “They told me I could be a good player in that role. I took it on really seriously.”
Teammates are seeing the growth of a guy who’s expected to make the Mustang roar again like it did under Mathieu.
“He’s gotten a lot faster, a lot stronger,” receiver Travin Dural said of Thomas. “His ball skills have gotten a lot better. He’s gotten a lot better at stripping and catching the ball.”
Coaches saw enough from Thomas that he was elevated in the secondary pecking order. He began last season, his redshirt freshman year, as the team’s dime, or sixth defensive back. He eventually slid into the nickel role, replacing Micah Eguene, who left the team late in the year.
Eugene and Thomas were the two primary defensive backs in the Mustang for much of 2013. Thomas, though, was the guy who crept close to the line and often rushed around, through or at the offensive line.
He did it in a season-opening win over TCU. On one play, Thomas faked a route to the outside only to cut inside and clip the knees of the running back on a draw play that badly backfired.
“Being in the Mustang is a privilege,” Thomas said. “You can make a lot of plays there, can be the forced-fumble guy, scoop and score, interceptions. A lot of those things. It’s fun and a big deal for a lot of us.”
The Mustang’s personnel can change mid-game like it can throughout the season. It’s not always the same 11.
The new addition this season: freshman Jamal Adams as a safety. He’s known to be a fast guy.
“Mustang is speed,” Hunter said.
Mills is expected to join Thomas as those all-important DBs who creep to the line of scrimmage.
They can only hope they’ll get enough chances.
Thomas rarely sees the field outside of the Mustang package. So when that third-and-long arrives, he’s ready to go — this year more than last.
“I’m itching to get on the field,” he said. “When I hear that Mustang, everything just comes to life for me. I’m like, ‘it’s time to make the play for the team.’ ”