BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) -- LSU safety Brandon Taylor wonders
whether he's only beginning to understand how dominant the Tigers'
defense can be this season.
He'll have a better sense after second-ranked LSU (3-0) travels to meet No. 16 West Virginia (3-0), which has demonstrated a knack for racking up yards and points in bunches. In the meantime, he can only go by how well the Tigers have bottled up their first three opponents, two of which were ranked in the Top 25.
After holding Oregon, which boasts one of the most explosive offenses in the country, to about half its usual production in a season-opening 40-27 victory in Dallas, LSU kept the last two team it played out of the end zone entirely.
That might have been expected against FCS foe Northwestern State, but not last Thursday night at Mississippi State, which had racked up 1,176 yards of total offense in its first two games, a school record for a two-game span.
"I kind of expected them to score like one touchdown," Taylor said of Mississippi State. "But seeing that we held them to (none) ... I have a lot more confidence in our defense -- not to a point where we're cocky, but that we just know we should hold ourselves accountable and hold ourselves to that high ranking and we shouldn't let anybody score on us. Not even West Virginia."
Defense tends to play better at home, where favorable crowds can
drown out the opposing offenses calls at the line of scrimmage. Yet, even with the Bulldogs able to communicate before each snap last week, blockers still had trouble keeping LSU linemen and blitzing defenders from bursting into the backfield, where the Tigers racked up a total of 16 tackles for losses.
Mississippi State, which had scored 93 points in its first two games against Memphis and Auburn, managed only two field goals against LSU.
"If the defense continues to play with that intensity, it has the opportunity to be a special defense," LSU coach Les Miles said.
Giving up 207.7 yards per game, LSU ranks second in the Southeastern Conference in total defense behind only Alabama. Nationally, the Tigers rank sixth in that category.
The Tigers could argue they are better than their ranking, given that they opened with a neutral-site game against an Oregon squad that is now averaging nearly 540 yards and 51 points per game.
Miles has had dominant defenses before, most notably in 2007, the last time LSU won a national title. That unit included defensive linemen Glenn Dorsey and Tyson Jackson, who are now NFL
Miles said he did not think it was fair to call his 2011 defense the best he's ever coached, but added, "I can tell you that this defense is one of the fastest teams that I've had. There are more big-time plays made on this defense than I've been around for a while."
The strength of the defense stems from the speed, depth and athleticism of both its defensive line and secondary. Quarterbacks
aren't getting much time to throw, and the defensive backs believe
they can cover anyone one-on-one.
The speed of LSU's end rushers was evident when reserve defensive end Barkevious Mingo, caught Oregon running back
LaMichael James from behind. In LSU's next game, 6-foot-6, 306-pound defensive tackle Michael Brockers made a diving interception of a screen pass.
"He can take on two blocks and get some penetration when needed," safety Eric Reid said of Brockers, then added with a grin, "he has more picks than I have."
So far, LSU defensive players have forced seven turnovers on three fumbles and four interceptions, including two picks by junior cornerback Morris Claiborne last week. The longest play from scrimmage they have allowed is a 23-yard pass against Mississippi
State, one of only two plays to go for more than 20 yards against
The Tigers have a combined 30 tackles for losses, with 18 different players sharing in the credit. And there is hope that the unit will improve even more because it is relatively young.
Four starters are sophomores, while seven more sophomores and one freshman are seeing regular playing time on defense.
"Those guys are young and they're hungry," Claiborne said. "They know what they can do and they want to do it and they put the work into it. ... I just take my hat off to them."