By JAMES MORAN | Tiger Rag Associate Editor
Florida got the ball three times in the fourth quarter needing only a field goal to pull ahead of LSU in a defensive slugfest in The Swamp.
Three times the LSU defense stopped the Gators cold in their tracks, preserving an emotional 17-16 victory that released some of the pressure on a team and coaching staff that’d endured a week of ridicule and scrutiny on a national level.
It was the kind of response Ed Orgeron’s troops badly needed after a disastrous few weeks and a dismal third quarter from the defense. LSU snatched a 17-3 lead early in the third quarter only to watch Florida run the ball down LSU’s throat on back-to-back touchdown marches.
The game would’ve be tied, but reliable Florida kicker Eddy Pineiro duck hooked the game-tying extra point. The Tigers caught a big break, for sure, but a defense that’d been beat up played with enough passion and intensity to rise to the occasion and make the one-point lead stand up.
LSU, now 4-2 and 1-1 in the Southeastern Conference, still has plenty of issues. The passing game was largely ineffective while the defense continue to give up big chunk plays on the ground.
But LSU showed Saturday that it also has some guts.
After a week of soul searching, as Orgeron called it, LSU played with a fire that wasn’t there against Syracuse or Troy. When the going got tough in the fourth quarter, the Tigers showed a resiliency that appeared lacking when they quit in the second half against Mississippi State.
“It’s a good feeling,” Orgeron told reporters afterword. “I was just happy for our team. I know what happens with they go home, and I know what coaches are reading when they go home or watching on TV. It’s tough on everybody. But we got to work. We stayed focused on the task at hand.
“It shows the kind of football team we can be, but we have to pay attention to the details. It all starts with leadership. It all starts with practice. It all starts with playing within our identity, playing with true grit, and not being denied.”
LSU has also found a leader on the defensive side of the ball.
Young one, too.
Devin White is a tackling machine and the heart and soul of LSU’s defense at inside linebacker. Watch him before the snap and you’ll see him getting the defense lined up — sometimes with a forceful shove. Follow him once the ball gets snapped and you’ll probably find the ball carrier.
Orgeron revealed that White had been the first player in his office on Sunday morning following the 24-21 Troy debacle: “He said ‘Coach, I want you to hold me to a higher standard. We’re going to get the leaders together. We’re going to get this fixed.’”
Later in the week Duke Riley, the Atlanta Falcon rookie whose jersey number and position White now occupies, addressed the team. Riley spoke of playing with “effort and LSU pride” and about how much the program still means to him.
White played like a man who took his mentor’s words to heart.
The sophomore made 13 tackles, his fourth consecutive game with double-digit stops. He again flashed his running back skill set by exploding through a hole for an unblocked sack on a delayed blitz. White shook off a rare missed tackle in the second half and broke up the fourth-down pass to end Florida’s final drive and put the result on ice.
Through six games White has been credited with 62 tackles. No other Tiger presently has more than 38, and at this rate, White could come closer to Bradie James’ single-season school tackle record (152 in 2012) than any player in years. Kevin Minter was credited with 130 in 2002.
A case can be made that Rashard Lawrence is LSU’s most indispensable player on defense. The difference in that unit with him at defensive end compared to without him is stark. And Lawrence, like White, is an unquestioned leader in the locker room as a true sophomore, which bodes well for the future.
But as for the here and now, LSU followed its young linebacker and showed just enough guts to grind out a badly-needed win.