Kicking it with LSU's Morris Claiborne

Junior cornerback Morris Claiborne is a key part of an LSU defense that’s one of four defenses nationally ranked in the top 10 in rushing, pass efficiency, scoring and total defense.

The other three are Alabama, Michigan State and UCF.

Claiborne is tied for the team lead with two interceptions and also broke open the West Virginia game this season with a 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.

We caught up with Claiborne this week for our Friday Q&A:

Is your defense playing faster and more instinctively than at any point since you’ve been at LSU?

Morris Claiborne: I feel like we’re moving around and getting to the ball faster than we ever have. This is one of the better defenses I’ve been on. Not taking anything away from the defense we had last year, because we had a lot of studs on that defense, but there’s just something about this defense. We have a lot of young guys who want to work hard and want to do everything right and want to win. This is a hungry defense, and we’re just going out and getting it.

How big a factor is it that a lot of the guys have been in John Chavis’ system now for three years?

MC: It’s a big factor. You don’t have to do too much thinking. You know where you’re supposed to be, and you’re able to play free and fly around.

What sticks out to you about Chavis, and what kind of defensive coordinator has he been?

MC: He doesn’t take any mess from anybody, players or anybody. It’s his way or no way, but he has enough faith in us to let us go out and play our game. We have a lot of athletes on this defense who can do certain things, and he’s good about getting us in position to make plays.

What’s it been like following in the footsteps of a great player like Patrick Peterson?

MC: It means a lot. Pat taught me a lot when he was here. He still sends me text messages when he watches the games and tells me what he feels like I need to get better at or do more of. It was amazing playing with him. I learned so much from him, and then to step into his role this year has made it even more special. He set quite a standard, but I feel like I’ve been doing a pretty good job on the corner.

Given that you’ve already played four Top 25 teams, including three on the road, how tested is this LSU team right now?

MC: We love playing against good competition, and we love it even more when we go to somebody else’s place and get it done. Something about good competition just raises our game, but we compete against each other every day in practice. We push each other, and that’s made us better. We want to be the best and want to put in the work that it takes to be the best.

Everybody’s talking about the Alabama-LSU matchup even though it’s still three weeks away. How hard is it for you guys not to look ahead?

MC: In this league, you have to focus on the opponent coming up for that week. You can’t take any looks ahead if you want to keep winning. You really do have to take it one practice and one week at a time. That’s the only thing we can do if we really want that (Alabama) game to mean something.

Have you had a chance to watch Alabama play this season, and what were your thoughts?

MC: A lot of us watched them when they played Florida. They’re very physical, and you can tell that they’re going to get their playmakers the ball. They do a good job, and I can see why they’re ranked so high.

Everywhere you look on defense, you guys have tremendous speed. Is speed what makes this defense go?

MC: Speed and toughness. You gotta have them both to play defense. I feel like we have it. We’re loaded with it. I feel like we can take a person out and put another person in, and we won’t lose a beat. That’s just this defense. We take pride in having speed and being tough.

What was your reaction to Florida’s Trey Burton saying he thought Alabama’s defense was “hands down” better than yours and a lot more physical with tougher guys?

MS: What people don’t understand is that we love that kind of thing and feed off that kind of stuff, when people say we’re not this or not that. The whole team does.

How was it that you guys were able to navigate your way through the whole situation with Jordan Jefferson and his legal matters and seemingly not let it affect you at all on the field?

MS: We didn’t pay a whole lot of attention to what was going on. Coach Miles and the coaches weren’t going to let us break down, and we weren’t going to allow ourselves to do that. We knew what we had to do, which was go out and win ballgames. There was nothing we could do about it. The only thing we could do was play football and hopefully pray to God that we were going to get Jordan back. Now that he’s back, it’s all behind us.

You gave up more than 500 yards in total offense to West Virginia in your 47-21 win over the Mountaineers. How much of an eye-opener was that for the defense?

MC: We came together as a defense after that and just said that we had to buckle down and be sure that we were working hard each and every day. They gave us some fits, but we managed to hold on. We might have needed that game, really, because it shows what can happen if you’re not at the top of your game every time you go out there.

Is this team mature enough to handle the No. 1 ranking and the target that comes with it?

MC: Without a doubt, I think we are. We know where we’re at right now, and we knew a couple of months ago where we wanted to be. We wanted to be in this position and worked so hard to be in this position, and we know what we have to do to keep this position.