‘Flight’s canceled’: LSU defensive backs, Eric Monroe shut down Auburn with pass-heavy Ole Miss ahead
DJ Chark knows about cancelled flights.
Flights — as in pass attempts and potential completions.
Cancelled — as in incompletions and pass-breakups.
Chark has heard LSU’s secondary preach its slogan for years during practice, sometimes when defensive backs got the better of him in drills at the Charles McClendon practice fields.
“We go against them every day,” the LSU receiver said. “Like they say, ‘Flight’s cancelled.’”
LSU defensive backs backed up their motto Saturday like they haven’t done in years. They were critical pieces of the 20-point comeback win over then-No. 10 Auburn, swatting away passes in suffocating press coverage over the crucial final drives.
Auburn and quarterback Jarrett Stidham completed 34 percent of their passes — nearly 40 percent below their pregame average (71) and the lowest in a league game against an LSU team in six years.
The last Southeastern Conference team to complete less than one-third of its passes against the Tigers was Tennessee in 2011.
“All flights cancelled due to DBU,” cornerback Kevin Toliver tweeted Sunday afternoon, referencing this program’s longtime moniker of Defensive Back University.
“DBU=bad weather,” fellow cornerback Donte Jackson chimed in on social media.
Jackson and Toliver led the charge.
Neither player allowed a completion Saturday — 0 for 8 — and they combined for six pass breakups. Jackson swatted away three straight attempts on Auburn’s final drive, and he ended the previous drive with a fourth-down pass breakup.
In all, Auburn target Jackson five times. That’s as many targets he received in the first four games combined — a stat that led the junior to joke last month that he was bored. On Saturday, he was not bored.
“I had fun,” he said afterward.
In all Saturday, Auburn targeted LSU defensive backs 21 times in downfield man coverage, completing four of those.
“Their swagger came out,” Chark said Monday in describing the DB showing. “Donte made some big plays. Kevin made some big plays. Grant was flying across the field. That’s the DBs we go against every day. It doesn’t surprise you when it happens. What really surprises you is when it doesn’t happen.”
And now the page turns to a much more formidable passing attack: Ole Miss and quarterback Shea Patterson.
The Rebels (3-3, 1-2 SEC) and 24th-ranked Tigers (5-2, 2-1) meet at 6:15 p.m. Saturday in Oxford, Mississippi.
Expect plenty of flights, as the LSU defensive backs might say.
Ole Miss attempts 39.5 passes a game, 18th-most nationally, and Patterson is third nationally at 357 yards an outing. The former 5-star prospect slings it with the best of them. Courted by LSU in recruiting, Patterson signed with Ole Miss as the No. 1-ranked pro-style passer in the 2016 recruiting class.
Orgeron called the sophomore Monday “one of the best” in the nation with a “tremendous release,” and he praised the Ole Miss receivers as the “best” group LSU’s seen — from longball threat A.J. Brown (19.4-yard average and 6 TDs) to possession receiver Van Jefferson (28 catches for 9.8 a pop).
Enter those LSU defensive backs.
Even one of the younger members of their group is aware of how much the Rebels pass the ball.
“A lot,” safety Eric Monroe said. “A lot. We love spread teams. That’s why you come to DBU, things like this.”
Monroe’s role Saturday made the secondary’s outing that much more impressive. The DBs did it with two freshmen at safety: true freshman Grant Delpit and Monroe, a redshirt freshman.
Monroe made his first career start, replacing a redshirt junior in John Battle, who was sidelined with injury. LSU lost rotational senior safety Ed Paris for the season last month with a knee injury.
Monroe made his share of mistakes, Orgeron said, but settled in. The numbers don’t lie. In help or man coverage, receivers did not have a catch in three passes against him, and he made two pass breakups.
“It felt great, man,” Monroe said Monday. “I give all the credit to my team and coaches. I had to step up and play a role. I did that.”
There were nerves, yes, Monroe admits. The Houston native shook them off, leaning on knowledge he acquired during his off year last season as a redshirt. He learned from coaches of his redshirt before last year’s season opener against Wisconsin.
He spent the year on the scout team, battling Chark nearly every day in practice. Who got the better of one another?
“I get the best of everybody,” Chark smiled.
Chark joked with Toliver after Saturday’s game that the “flight’s always good in the backyard.”
Said Chark: “My flight is always on track.”