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January 1, 2014
Don't ignore LSU defense
Offense is the glamour part of football.
Jeremy Hill drew much of the attention following LSU's 21-14 Outback Bowl victory against Iowa on Wednesday afternoon at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa.
Hill deserved praise for his performance as he rushed for 216 yards and two touchdowns in what might have been his last college game. Only two Tigers backs - Kevin Faulk and Rondell Mealey - had ever run for more yards in a bowl game.
But, the story of LSU's tenth victory of the 2013 season was really its much-maligned defense. The Tigers would have posted a shutout were it not for two blunders - an interception by Anthony Jennings and a breakdown on a Jordan Cotton kickoff return.
Iowa had to drive a grand total of five yards for its two touchdowns. Still, it took the Hawkeyes a total of five plays to pick up those five yards. Those two series typified how tough the LSU defense was on the first day of 2014.
"From start to finish, the defense was dominant," LSU coach Les Miles said. "We put them on the field, on the field, on the field. The defense played spectacular."
The Tigers defense established that dominance from the outset. Iowa had seven first-half series with five ending with a punt after three plays. On the Hawkeyes' other two possessions, they had moderate success. One still ended in a punt with the other concluding in a Tre'Davious White interception.
"We watched a lot of film," said the true freshman White, who made his second interception of the season. "We watched the receivers' technique. We were able to figure out the things they do well and the things they do not do well."
The LSU secondary certainly shut down leading receiver Kevonte Marley-Martin, who caught just one pass - a four-yarder for a touchdown after the Gordon kickoff return. The only receivers who had success were tight ends CJ Fiedorowicz and Jake Duzey, who combined for seven catches.
The Tigers defense was more challenged in the second half by Iowa. On their first series, the Hawkeyes picked up three first downs - all third-down conversions. But, the Tigers stiffened with Anthony Johnson make a tackle for a loss and Rickey Jefferson stopping Fiedorowicz short of a first down.
Mike Meyer missed a 35-yard field goal attempt enabling LSU to keep its shutout. Minutes later, John Lowdermilk returned a Jennings interception 72 yards for an apparent touchdown. Replay showed that Lowdermilk dropped the ball at the Tigers' 1.
It took Iowa three plays to score the touchdown. Jalen Mills and Danielle Hunter combined to drop Mark Weisman for a loss on first down. After an incompletion, Weisman scored the touchdown. That play was the only meaningful one of the afternoon for Weisman, who rushed for 37 yards on 18 carries.
With the LSU offense struggling mightily, the defense had to preserve the seven-point advantage. The Tigers defense was tested twice in the fourth quarter. With a third-and-two from LSU's 45, Lamin Barrow dropped Weisman for a one-yard loss.
Now, let's flash back to the Tigers' game against Alabama. A successful fake punt by the Crimson Tide ignited a 21-0 run which sent LSU to a defeat. Iowa attempted a fake punt on fourth-and-three. Jermauria Rasco tackled Weisman one yard short of the first down.
On Iowa's next possession, a 35-yard completion from backup quarterback C.J. Bethard to Duzey put the ball at LSU's 25. On third-and-one, Barrow tackled Bethard for no gain on a sneak. The Hawkeyes opted for a fourth-down pass. Bethard was hurried by Deion Jones and had his pass picked off by Craig Loston.
"I told the young guys on defense this should be a tremendous boost for next season, said Barrow, who wrapped up his LSU career Wednesday. "This performance should carry them over to next year."
Due to the way the Tigers defense was performing, Miles was able to build the offensive plan around Hill. He responded in outstanding fashion. For the seventh time this season, he rushed for more than 100 yards. Of course, he doubled that total with his 216 yards.
"With the weather today like the Auburn and Texas A&M games (rainy), we had to get our running game going," Hill said. "It was also Anthony Jennings' first start. When the offensive line blocked them successfully, we gashed them."
LSU reached double figures in victories for the fourth season in a row and for the seventh time in Miles' nine years as coach.
"This win was huge," Hill said. "We had our ups and downs this season. We didn't reach our expectations. You come to LSU to play for national championships. You can be down when you don't reach them. We wanted to go out with a bang today."