Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
Chad Jones has seen the black-and-white footage of Billy Cannon’s legendary punt return plenty of times.
It just so happens that this year is the 50th anniversary of Cannon's 89-yard return for a touchdown on Halloween night, one of the most famous plays in SEC history.
“He definitely broke more tackles than I did, but we were both moving at the same speed because we were both so tired,” quipped Jones, whose 93-yard punt return for a touchdown last week against Mississippi State saved LSU in a 30-26 victory.
It wasn’t the only time Jones saved the Tigers in that game, either. He deflected away a pass in the end zone that would have been a sure touchdown in the final minutes had he not seen the tight end out of the corner of his eye at the last moment.
“I’m just glad he tried to line-drive the pass,” Jones said. “If he lobs that ball, we’re definitely in trouble.”
It’s been that kind of season for the Tigers so far, too close for comfort.
They’re unbeaten, ranked fourth nationally and loaded with talent.
But as Jones says himself, they’ve just sort of been getting by.
“We’re definitely nowhere close to being as good as we’re supposed to be,” Jones said. “We’ve been getting by lately and have been at our best at times. But we haven’t played our best ball. That’s still to come.”
This Saturday would be as good a time as any for the Tigers (4-0) to put it all together. They face a Georgia team in Sanford Stadium that opened the flood gates for LSU’s collapse last season with a 52-38 beatdown of the Tigers in Baton Rouge.
“To get beat like that at home and give up that many points isn’t a good memory for anybody,” Jones said.
But, then, Jones is all about creating new memories. He’s coming off a national championship in baseball where he stepped up in several key relief appearances for the Tigers.
The collateral damage for football was that he gained too much weight and got out of shape coming into the summer. He ballooned up to 242 pounds.
“Just being a lazy pitcher,” Jones cracked.
In Tommy Moffitt’s strength program, it didn’t take Jones long to get back into shape, and he’s now back down to 227 pounds. And more importantly, he’s settled into a position that feels like home -- free safety.
After shuffling around between several different spots last season, Jones has locked in at free safety this season. As a result, he’s moving in the direction of locking in as the player everybody expected him to be when he came to LSU as the No. 1 safety prospect in the country in 2007.
“I enjoy Chad in his progression and how he’s developing at safety,” LSU coach Les Miles said. “There’s always room for improvement, and I think Chad understands that. But he plays with as much passion and want and anticipation of big plays as any safety I’ve been around.”
Jones has two interceptions through four games and is fifth on LSU’s team with 20 tackles. He’s part of a secondary that will get its stiffest challenge yet this weekend against A.J. Green and the Bulldogs.
“We’re a run-stopping team, and I think that’s going to continue,” Jones said. “I think the game’s going to come down to our defensive backs.
“They’ve got some guys who can go get the ball, but we can go get it, too.”
What this LSU team hasn’t done is get off the field consistently on third down. The Tigers are 11th in the SEC in third-down conversion defense, something Jones says has to improve.
“Just too many busts. That’s how Mississippi State scored one of its touchdowns,” Jones said. “We’re playing aggressively and forcing some turnovers, so I like how we’re getting after teams.
“People better keep their eyes open when they come across the middle against us, but we’ve still got to put it all together. And that means getting off the field on third down.”
Jones thinks the Tigers can build off their goal-line stand against Mississippi State. He also thinks there’s something to be said for finding ways to win despite not playing a complete football game.
“We definitely haven’t played our best football yet, but we’re on our way ... slowly but surely,” he said.