BATON ROUGE, La. — We forget sometimes that college football players are young.
That they’re as likely to listen to, and believe, a coach as they are a parent or a teacher.
LSU’s defense is fairly young and hasn’t appeared itself this season. It hasn’t been the stout, physical juggernaut we’ve become used to with John Chavis – the man called Chief – at the helm of the unit.
There’s a reason for that and it has to do with college students being college students.
There’s also a reason No. 18 LSU pummeled No. 9 Texas A&M 34-10, shutting down one of the most explosive and exciting players college football has ever seen.
Let’s allow senior linebacker Lamin Barrow to explain both.
“Every week, Chief goes out and draws a great game plan for every team that we play,” said Barrow, who prepped at the West Bank’s Ehret High. “But I think us as players sometimes don’t trust into the scheme and we try to do our own things so we just said Chief is our leader and we’re going to ride for him tonight.
"We were going to do everything he needs us to do and I think everybody took it upon themselves to play their positions and do their part.
“I think we see what happens when we follow the rules like that.”
A young group grew up after the veterans stepped in by calling a meeting.
Johnny Football became Johnny Frustrated.
For the first time in 20 games, Johnny Manziel didn’t generate at least 300 total yards. LSU’s plan, which incorporated defensive ends playing containment with interior linemen pressuring from the middle, allowed only 278 net yards to Manziel.
For the first time in 16 games, a streak that began after LSU dominated him in 2012, Manziel didn’t account for at least two touchdowns in a game, throwing for just one on a play in which the defensive back slipped on a wet surface.
The Tigers’ defense held Texas A&M to 279 yards less than its season average, and 39.2 points below what it scores weekly. It was the first time in 14 games that the Aggies haven’t scored 40 points, a streak that had been the longest currently in Football Bowl Subdivision.
LSU’s coverage was so tight and consistent on the Aggies’ wide receivers that they were constantly complaining, looking for calls. Mike Evans, one of the nation’s top receivers and a Biletnikoff finalist, caught only four passes for 51 yards.
Chavis had LSU’s much-maligned defense as prepared to face Manziel as any team has been.
“Tremendous,” cornerback Jalen Mills said. “Chief, it’s really unexplainable what he did with us. Our individual periods, it was more about technique and knowing the type of guy Manziel was, is really breaking down and knowing he’s going to spin out of the pocket, and knowing he has this certain move.”
The question is why did it take so long for everything to click? Why, in the penultimate game of the regular season, was a young, athletic group finally able to put it all together?
You have to start with the fact that seven of the players from last year’s hard-nosed defense is playing on Sundays and it takes time for young players to learn how to play with each other.
But that’s not an excuse for allowing Ole Miss to gain 525 total yards, Mississippi State 468 or Georgia 494.
That’s not an excuse for allowing Alabama to score 38 points or Georgia 44.
The defense might not admit it, but they were frustrated with the criticism, irritated that their ability was questioned.
Saturday, for 60 minutes, LSU played like the Tigers of old, the ones annually fighting for a spot in the SEC and BCS championship games.
“Obviously, we have tremendous talent on our defense,” LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger said. “Really, Coach Chavis got those guys so prepared for this game and obviously they’ve been criticized all year and they’ve been hearing it and really kind of came out and quieted the critics, really.”
Yes, they did.
“The defense rushed and spilled and the defense rushed and maintained leverage,” LSU Coach Les Miles said. “We put speed on the field and the young corners – the secondary – covered. ... That’s the kind of LSU defense that we’re used to.”
Those old enough to remember couldn’t agree more