Claws And Effect LSU's resourceful, big-play defense mauled Georgia and put the Tigers squarely in the national-title hunt

September 28, 2003

With the clock approaching the four-minute mark in the fourth
quarter last Saturday, LSU had started to lose its upper hand
over Georgia in their fierce SEC showdown. A fumble by Tigers
quarterback Matt Mauck had been recovered by the Bulldogs. Then
two plays later, Georgia tailback Tyson Browning stretched a
screen pass into a 93-yard touchdown, tying the game at 10. LSU
defensive tackle Chad Lavalais knew it was time to put the
pressure on. The usually laconic senior gathered his fellow
linemen and laid into them. "I said a bunch of stuff, but it came
down to one thing," says Lavalais. "Suck it up."

The defense heeded the call--cornerback Corey Webster literally
so, as he hoovered a David Greene pass out of midair late in the
game to finish off the Bulldogs--and deserves the Tigers' share
of credit for a 17-10 win that vaulted LSU to No. 7 in the
nation. It's the Tigers' offense that's designed to keep
opponents on their heels with its speed and big-play ability, but
it was the defense that did the job against Georgia. Aside from a
picture-perfect 34-yard pass from Mauck to Skyler Green that gave
LSU the lead just before Georgia's last-gasp drive, the offense
was plagued by costly bobbles and drops. The defense, however,
broke up 10 passes, had four sacks and twice intercepted Greene,
who had thrown 176 straight passes without a pick.

The 6'3", 289-pound Lavalais played his part, with five tackles,
two pass breakups and a sack. Recruited by LSU in 1998 as an
all-state tight end at Marksville (La.) High, Lavalais came up
one point short of qualifying on his ACT. Rather than go to
junior college, he worked for a year in Atlanta as a department
store clerk, then returned to Marksville and took a job as a
guard at Avoyelles Parish Prison, where his only workouts were
breaking up inmate scuffles. LSU coaches, however, kept in touch
with him and helped persuade him to give the ACT another shot.
After succeeding on his fifth try, Lavalais enrolled at LSU in
the summer of 2000. After switching to the defense, he had 141
tackles and four sacks in his first three seasons. "He doesn't
say much, but he has such a competitive spirit," says Mauck, who,
like Lavalais, is 24. "And I know, from practice, that he'll read
a screen pass every time."

Lavalais sounded every bit the wise elder as he recounted LSU's
response to Georgia's fast start and late threat. "There were so
many times we could've given up but didn't," said Lavalais. "Good
teams overcome adversity."

COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER Led by Lavalais (93), a former prison guard, the LSU defenseshackled the Dawgs. COLOR PHOTO: BOB ROSATO [See caption above]