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BATON ROUGE, La. – Linebacker Lamin Barrow never doubted that the Tigers had the talent to bottle up two-time Heisman hopeful Johnny Manziel.
The challenge was getting a unit full of first-year starters to develop the discipline and trust in one another required to execute the schemes drawn up by the man they call "Chief," defensive coordinator John Chavis.
"Every week, Chief goes out and draws a great game plan for every team that we play. But I think us as players sometimes don't trust into the scheme and we try to do our own things," Barrow said. "So we just said, 'Chief is our leader and we're going to ride for him tonight.' We were going to do everything he needs us to do and I think everybody took it upon themselves to play their positions and do their part.
"We see what happens when we follow the rules like that," he added.
When the new Top 25 was released on Sunday, LSU's convincing 34-10 triumph over Texas A&M had lifted the Tigers (8-3, 4-3 Southeastern Conference) from 18th to 15th, while the Aggies (8-3, 4-3) plummeted from ninth to 19th.
Entering the clash of ranked, SEC Western Division foes in Death Valley, there were plenty of reasons to doubt an LSU defense which lost seven starters to the NFL and had only three full-time starters returning. The Tigers had been gashed for 494 yards and 44 points in a loss at Georgia, 525 yards in an upset loss at Mississippi, and wore down in a 38-17 loss at Alabama in their previous game two weeks earlier.
Somehow, though, they were able to stop Manziel and an A&M offense that came in averaging a whopping 578 yards and 49.2 points per game.
The Aggies wanted to help Manziel boost his credentials for a second-straight Heisman Trophy in what was likely the dynamic quarterback's only visit to Tiger Stadium (he can turn pro next year). Both schools are still aiming for double-digit wins and hoping to maximize their bowl possibilities.
But LSU looked like the far superior team, and the Aggies never threatened to take the lead after being shut out in the first quarter for the first time since September 2012.
Manziel wasn't helped by chilly, breezy, wet conditions, but his statistical line fell far short of what one would have expected from a Heisman candidate. He was 16 of 41 for 224 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. It marked the first time in his career that he fell short of a 50 percent completion rate. His passing yards were his lowest of any game this season, excluding the season opener against Rice, when he sat out the first half for disciplinary reasons.
"They are a very talented defense, regardless of how their season has gone in some games here and there," Manziel said of LSU. "They came out and played a heck of a game defensively, scheme-wise and just throughout.
"They were coming from a lot of different places," Manziel continued. "They were bringing some blitzes and really getting a free rusher at will. We have got to get back to the basics and back to the fundamentals of pitch and catch and throwing the football around. If we don't establish that and don't get that going, we don't stand a chance."
LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger had seen the potential of the Tigers defense in practice, and figured with Manziel coming to town, this just might be the week they put it together for a national TV audience.
"Obviously we have tremendous talent on our defense," Mettenberger said. "Coach Chavis got those guys so prepared for this game and obviously they've been criticized all year, and they've been hearing it, and really kind of came out and quieted the critics."
LSU now has a chance to reach 10 wins by beating Arkansas in Tiger Stadium on Friday and winning a bowl game. Manziel and the Aggies, meanwhile, will likely have two significant stages on which to try to redeem themselves, starting at Eastern Division-leading Missouri next weekend, followed by their bowl.
"We just have to go out and play Missouri and win the game just like we would do any other week," Manziel said. "We are in the SEC. It's a tough league and we have to continue to get better."