When the LSU coaching staff met Saturday morning at 6:30 a.m. before the Tigers matchup with Mississippi State, there was a different fire to cornerbacks coach Corey Raymond.
The secondary, which took the brunt of the heat last year in the 623 passing yards that the Bulldogs hung on the LSU defense, was ready to get the taste out of its mouth and Raymond was front and center in the intensity ahead of kickoff.
"Corey Raymond was steaming, I've never seen him like that," coach Ed Orgeron said. "He was very motivational today, taught his guys well. We have some good athletes in there in the secondary, we've improved in our tackling but still some things to improve."
It won't show up in the numbers as Mississippi State did throw for 371 yards through the air, but the Tigers secondary was in control of this game from the start, especially considering the fact the group was on the field 88 plays, 62 of which were passes. The gameplan heading in was to allow the Bulldogs to have the check downs, the four and five-yard passes underneath, as long as everybody stayed in front of the ball.
In order to execute that kind of gameplan the tackling must be pristine and it was from not only the linebackers but the cornerbacks and safeties as well. Usually if the defensive backs are among the team leaders in tackles, it's a long day for a defense.
But the play of Cordale Flott, Elias Ricks, Dwight McGlothern, Jay Ward, Major Burns and Cam Lewis was a strength for the defense on Saturday. Flott set the tone of the game early by forcing a fumble on the first drive of the game and then two drives later, coming up with a momentum swinging interception to stall a positive Mississippi State possession.
"I want to shoutout Flott," linebacker Damone Clark said. "I'm proud of Flott. Everyday he keeps me motivated. He was all over the field and I'm just proud of him."
Those two takeaways set the tone for what LSU wanted to do defensively and the Tigers were able to get timely stops and force Mississippi State into field goal attempts for the first three quarters of the game. A lot of that had to do with the secondary's ability to keep everything in front of them and not whiff on the tackles when they were there.
Ricks, Burns and Ward all put some good licks on Bulldogs weapons, combining for 39 tackles among the secondary group alone. What was all the more impressive was that the team was welcoming McGlothern and Ward back to the rotation and found out 24 hours ahead of time that star cornerback Derek Stingley would not be suiting up because of an injury.
"I loved being back out there, I didn't like being out," Ward said. "We tackle so well because we work tackling drills everyday. We gotta be perfect in tackling."
This was a momentum building performance for this secondary that faces Auburn and Kentucky over the next few weeks, two offenses more predicated on the run than the pass. It'll be important for this group to continue to develop without Stingley but at least for the time being, the defensive backs appear to be on the rise.