By CODY WORSHAM | Tiger Rag Editor
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Devin White’s speed on the football field is easy to see. It doesn’t take years of coaching or hours in the film room to realize that No. 40 runs faster and hits harder than his counterparts.
His speed off the field, however, is what gives reason for Tiger fans to smile this week.
The day after LSU dropped a 24-21 decision to the Troy on homecoming, the low point of Tiger football this millennium, White – one of the few bright spots in LSU’s losses to both the Trojans and Mississippi State, combining for 22 tackles in both contests – proved to be the first, in a week full of meetings, to meet with his head coach.
“Devin was the first one in the office on Sunday,” Ed Orgeron said. “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.’”
It seems White’s speed is only bested by his follow-through.
In Saturday’s 17-16 win over Florida, White played to a higher standard. Good as they are, his numbers – 13 tackles, 4 solo, 1 for loss, 1 sack, and 1 game-clinching pass break up – don’t do his performance justice.
White wasn’t just flying sideline to sideline to pop Gators in the face on Saturday. He was in the face of his own teammates, too, holding them to the same standard he asked his coach to hold him to.
On Florida’s first touchdown drive on the third quarter, White confronted cornerback Donte Jackson, who gave up outside contain on a long run by Malik Davis. It was a difficult play for Jackson, who was being blocked by a Gator receiver and did almost all he could to keep Davis inside. That Jackson was in the middle of a great game himself – 9 tackles, 4 solo, 1 PBU, and 1 quarterback hurry – didn’t matter in the moment.
For White, it wasn’t good enough. He demanded more.
“We’ve got to respond,” White said he told his teammates. “When the game’s on the line, we want to be the ones on the field.”
White even had problems with his own performance, one LSU fans will surely remember for years. On Florida’s final drive, he read a screen perfectly and avoided multiple Gator blockers to get a crack at Davis, only to miss the tackle by inches. It was only a missed tackle because of the incredible instincts and athleticism he showed to even put himself in position to make the play.
But White holds himself to a higher standard.
[perfectpullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]“At the end of the day, I know I’m not soft, and I know my team isn’t soft. But we were playing soft, and we had to fix it. I’m glad people called us out on it, because we had to respond.”[/perfectpullquote]
“That’s the type of situation I want to be in,” he said. “As the game gets tougher, I want to make big plays. I had a missed tackle on the screen, so all I wanted to do was make a play.”
That’s exactly what he did. First, Jackson took his teammate’s words to heart and picked up a hurry on third down to force Florida to go for it on 4th and 3. Then, Gator quarterback and former longtime LSU commit Feleipe Franks dropped back and surveyed Dave Aranda’s defense. White was one of eight defenders dropping into a zone. He read Franks’ eyes, which focused on Brandon Powell’s crossing route just behind White’s zone, and broke up the pass to seal the victory.
“I just saw Feleipe’s eyes,” White said. “He tried to throw it right behind me, so I just jumped up. I used to play basketball, so I got a good vertical.”
It wasn’t the first time White has gotten the best of Franks. When the Crawfordville, Fla. quarterback de-committed from the Tigers in November of 2015, White called him out on Twitter. To cash in on those comments two years later, White said, “meant the world to me.”
“One time, when I was a recruit, I called him out on Twitter when he de-committed,” White said. “I just wanted to back all those words up. At the end of the day, I know he was saying, ‘I gotta make Devin eat those words.’”
Franks wasn’t the only Florida quarterback to rile up White. The sophomore linebacker said he’d heard Tim Tebow question the Tigers on the SEC Network. White didn’t turn off the TV. He took it to heart. Ten years after LSU got the best of Tebow in Tiger Stadium, White led his team to a Tebow-inspired win in Gainesville.
“I’d seen Tim Tebow say Troy’s linebackers were better than ours,” he said. “I took offense to it. I came to work every day ready to work.”
Tebow’s words fired White up, but the words of former LSU linebacker Duke Riley, White says, brought a tear to his eye. Riley, now with the Falcons, returned to Baton Rouge last week and spoke “straight from his heart,” White said, about leadership and what it means to be an LSU Tiger.
After a week of hearing how his team was soft and lacked leadership, White was as solid as a rock, a leader in words first and then in action.
“I take it personal,” he said of critics calling his team soft. “At the end of the day, I know I’m not soft, and I know my team isn’t soft. But we were playing soft, and we had to fix it. I’m glad people called us out on it, because we had to respond.”
And respond, they did. The team LSU knocked off wasn’t the best Florida squad to face the Tigers in recent years, but it was a measure of vengeance from last year’s 16-10 loss and the fiery passions stirred up by Hurricane Matthew. It was also a critical victory to steady a rocking ship heading into a home clash against Auburn on Saturday.
“It’s just one win,” White said. “We’ve got to get back to work, and do the same thing next week. We’ve got to do everything we did this week moving forward.”
Including, most importantly, following White’s leadership.