LSU's young DBs learning quickly

COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- It was late in the third quarter Saturday when Barkevious Mingo finally got a hold of the ever-elusive Johnny Manziel.

Mingo threw him down for a 6-yard loss on a first down, one of three LSU sacks in the Tigers’ 24-19 win over Texas A&M, a figure one might have thought would have been higher.

Manziel, the SEC’s leading rusher leading into the night, bobbed, pivoted, ducked, skipped and sprinted out of trouble all night.

“It wasn’t fun chasing Manziel all day,” Mingo admitted. “We did a good job of it, but it wasn’t fun.”

As usual, it was really LSU’s defense that had all the fun. Even playing against perhaps the hottest young player in college football in Manziel, the Tigers defense took the first punch while falling behind 12-0, but after the adjustments were made, LSU controlled the Aggies most of the rest of the day.

“We felt like it was only a matter of time before we got on track,” LSU coach Les Miles said.

That is, after all, LSU’s track record.

Even in its only loss, the 14-6 loss at Florida, the Tigers defense was mostly solid, but wore down on a hot day where the LSU offense could not stay on the field. LSU, which was second in the nation in defense coming into the game, continued its solid play although it did give up a season-high 410 yards.

What was most significant for LSU’s defense was that against the best passing team it will likely play this season, LSU’s perceived defensive weakness, a young secondary, more than held its own.

After Tyrann Mathieu was kicked off the team in the preseason, LSU was left with just one returning secondary starter in free safety Eric Reid. It hasn’t mattered.

As they’ve been all season, the Tigers defensive backs were solid. Manziel threw for 276 yards, but was intercepted three times while completing 29 of 56 passes.

The relatively low percentage is remarkable considering how often Manziel would be able to extend a play. Tigers defenders were forced to often have to stay with receivers for six seconds or longer.

“We give [Manziel] him credit,” Reid said. “He knows how to work the pocket and he works it well.”

But as the game wore on, LSU’s secondary got better. Getting thrown at often for the first time all season, LSU cornerback Tharold Simon was burned some early, but bounced back late and had one of the three interceptions.

Jalen Mills and Jalen Collins, the Tigers’ two freshman corners forced into extended playing time this season by the absence of Mathieu, held up well with Collins getting his first career interception.

The key for LSU’s turnaround, in fact, was getting more of the young defensive backs in the game.

The Aggies scored on their first two possessions before defensive coordinator John Chavis made an adjustment: Go to LSU’s “mustang” package, which not only adds Collins as a fifth defensive back, but also redshirt freshman Micah Eugene as a sixth defensive back, giving the Tigers a six-man secondary with three freshmen.

“We wanted to pressure him more and it was easier to pressure him out of our Mustang package,” Chavis said. “We had more speed on the field and that was a big benefit for us.”

Already, opponents had reason not to try to attack LSU’s talented front four who are vicious against the run and pass.

As for attacking the linebackers?

Kevin Minter, the Tigers’ leading tackler and fastest-rising star, had 12 tackles, a sack and an interception for LSU Saturday, continuing his rapid ascent among the elite linebackers in the SEC.

Saturday confirms that targeting the defensive backs, despite their youth, is a dicey proposition as well.