They had heard the criticism. The slights. The comments online that said their performance had slipped. They had not played to the standards of an LSU defense, and they knew it, so in practice on Thursday, senior defensive lineman Breiden Fehoko spoke.
“We were doing some recognition plays,” Fehoko said after No. 5 LSU beat Utah State 42-6, “and we were fed up.”
The Tigers’ freshman running backs were running through the defense in an unpadded practice. For two weeks, LSU had focused on tackling. It had worked on proper footwork, angles and approaches to the ball carrier. The team had devoted 30 minutes of practice per day to tackling drills. And here they were, getting gashed by two freshman backs. Fehoko gathered his defensive teammates.
“Hey, thud up,” Fehoko said. “We're sick of it. Even though we're in helmets, if we've got to tackle, we've got to tackle.”
Two days later, on Saturday inside Tiger Stadium, LSU’s tackling improved. So did the rest of the defense.
In Saturday's 42-6 win over Utah State, LSU's offense was as slow and methodical as the pockets of fans who meandered into Tiger Stadium for t…
The Tigers pressured Utah State quarterback Jordan Love, who has appeared in some NFL mock drafts as a first-round selection next spring. They intercepted three passes. They forced five three-and-outs in the second half. Coach Ed Orgeron thought LSU played its most complete game of the season.
“We looked like an LSU defense today,” Orgeron said.
Utah State finished underneath its season averages in every offensive category. It had 159 yards after entering the game averaging 533 yards, which ranked ninth in the country.
The Aggies, who averaged 206.75 yards rushing through four games, rushed for 19 yards on 22 carries, an average of 0.86 yards per rush.
With LSU holding a 7-0 lead in the first quarter, the defense made its first stand. Utah State had returned an interception to LSU’s 7-yard line. Defensive end Neil Farrell Jr. sacked Love on third down, and the Tigers forced a field goal.
In what has to this point felt like a surreal LSU football season, Saturday’s game with Utah State may have been the most unnatural moment of all.
After another field goal, Utah State drove into LSU territory on its fourth possession. Then, freshman cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. intercepted a pass near the end zone, twisting his body to catch the football. Utah State did not pass midfield again.
“We heard a lot of noise about our defense,” junior safety Grant Delpit said. “We came and shut up a lot of doubters."
This performance, one aided by slower offensive pace that allowed LSU's defense to rest and make adjustments on the sideline, came after three shaky games.
The past two weeks, after Vanderbilt gained 148 yards because of 18 missed tackles, LSU analyzed its tackling drills. The Tigers worked on their pursuit to the ball carrier. Two players said during a practice last week, they tackled without pads.