SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — The additions of quarterback Joe Burrow and kicker Cole Tracy are widely credited as two of the pivotal moves that helped shape LSU’s improbable season.
LSU wouldn’t be preparing to play UCF in the Fiesta Bowl had those two graduate transfers not made their way to Baton Rouge. Nobody in their right mind would argue to the contrary.
However, it will be LSU’s other summertime transfer who finds himself with the opportunity of a lifetime on New Year’s Day.
Terrence Alexander left Stanford for LSU at a time when the vaunted “DBU” was dangerously short on bodies. Alexander, a New Orleans native, was billed as a probable starter from the moment he showed up on campus back in his home state.
That’s not how things worked out.
Kristian Fulton’s reinstatement locked down the starting cornerback spot opposite Greedy Williams, and Alexander was relegated to a versatile backup as younger corners like Kary Vincent Jr. and Kelvin Joseph ascended to more prominent roles.
Alexander split time between cornerback, nickel and safety this season, depending on the needs of a given week. He appeared in every game with four starts — the first two games of the regular season and the last two — totaling 23 tackles and three passes defended.
“I have a lot of respect for Terrence and his work ethic,” LSU defensive coordinator Dave Aranda said. “You look at the ride he’s been on with his career at Stanford and now here; early in the season he was playing. In the middle of the season he struggled to get on the field. Late in the season he’s back and contributing. Just the way he’s handled all that and his work, I’ve got a lot of respect for that.”
“It’s just part of the process of playing for a team like LSU,” Alexander added. “There’s going to be times where things change and game plans can vary based on the other teams. For me it was just about staying the course.”
That persistence is about to pay off.
LSU again finds itself woefully undermanned at cornerback heading into the Fiesta Bowl. Williams is sitting out to prepare for the NFL Draft. Fulton is sidelined after ankle surgery. Joseph was left home due to a violation of team rules.
That leaves Alexander, Vincent and Mannie Netherly as the last men standing at the position. LSU coach Ed Orgeron announced that Alexander and Vincent will start on the outside while players from other positions are shifted around to serve as backups behind them.
“It’s been tough the past couple of weeks, but we’re fine,” Alexander said. “We’re strong. It’s a lot of guys we have who may not get the reps, but they can go out there and play. This gives everyone an opportunity to step up to the next level.”
That opportunity is particularly meaningful for Alexander in what will be the final game of his college — and perhaps football — career.
UCF and its warp-speed offense figures to put all of LSU’s replacement defenders in the crosshairs. As Aranda explains it, UCF excels at putting defenders in isolation situations to allow its playmakers to attack in space. Alexander and Co. are going to have to hold their own.
Football has taken Alexander from Louisiana to the West Coach and back again. He helped lead John Curtis High School to three state championships only to be overlooked by LSU in recruiting. An injury ended his Stanford career, but it opened the door for him to be a Tiger.
“It all worked out, I can say that much,” Alexander said. “It’s pretty impressive to say I was able to play my last game at LSU in front of my family for the home state. It’s been fun along the way.
“I wouldn’t have it any other way.”