LSU preps for 'Johnny Football'

Tigers hope experience with dual-threat QBs helps contain A&M's Manziel

Updated: October 18, 2012, 10:18 AM ET
By Gary Laney | GeauxTigerNation

BATON ROUGE, La. -- For LSU defensive end Sam Montgomery, talking about how to contain a running quarterback like Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel required space and the ability to demonstrate.

"It's one of those things where your hands have to be on the inside," he explained while circled by reporters Monday, five days before the Tigers' game against Manziel and No. 18 A&M.

[+] EnlargeJohnny Manziel
Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesNew to the SEC, Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel leads the conference in rushing while also passing for 1,680 yards.
He squared up like the questioner was an offensive tackle, using his hands to demonstrate getting "inside" the right shoulder of the questioner as the group of reporters shifted their camcorders and voice recorders to keep up.

They were forced to adjust again, as Montgomery shifted his head to the other side of the questioner, hands still to the inside.

"Your hat," he explained, "has to be on the outside."

In recent weeks, Montgomery has become proficient at this technique, which allows the defensive lineman to react to whichever way a scrambling quarterback goes. It's one of many approaches LSU's defense has had to use as it has faced a run of mobile quarterbacks.

It started when Auburn's Jonathan Wallace gave his team a spark out of a Wildcat package during LSU's 12-10 win Sept. 22. It continued Sept. 29, when Towson's Grant Enders rushed for 86 yards on 12 carries in Baton Rouge. On Sept. 6, the Tigers were troubled by the feet of Florida's Jeff Driskel ("That boy has got some wheels on him," Montgomery said) in a 14-6 loss.

Last week, the Tigers finally seemed to have it figured out. Facing the nifty feet of South Carolina's Connor Shaw -- a week after South Carolina ground out a 35-7 win over Georgia while throwing just 10 passes -- LSU forced the run-first Gamecocks to abandon the ground game as Shaw was held to minus-1 yards rushing in LSU's 23-21 win.

Manziel will be LSU's biggest dual-threat challenge yet. One of the nation's rising stars, the Aggies' redshirt freshman signal-caller comes into the LSU game as the SEC's leading rusher (676 yards on 71 carries), an eye-popping statistic, considering he has been a much better passer (1,680 yards) than either Shaw (910 yards) or Driskel (836 yards).

Manziel leads an offense that's the best in the SEC and sixth in the nation in yards per game (543.7 ypg). The 6-foot-1, 210-pound Manziel has been so good, he's already entering Heisman Trophy conversations as a freshman.

"He's a great football player," LSU defensive tackle Anthony Johnson said. "And [Texas A&M] has been putting him in the right position to make plays."

LSU coach Les Miles suggested that Manziel won't be the only elite talent on the field when the Aggies have the ball.

"The good thing," Miles said, "is our defense will be one of the fastest he will have seen."

And one of the best. LSU gives up 219.7 yards a game, No. 2 in the nation behind Alabama. If Manziel is to put up his fourth straight 100-yard rushing game, it will be against one of the best, most athletic defensive lines in the nation. If he's to break the 300-yard passing mark for the third time, it'll be against the defense that has yet to allow an opponent 200 yards passing.

Running away from Montgomery and fellow end Barkevious Mingo, maybe the fastest defensive lineman in the country, can be treacherous for a quarterback.

Counting on that as a trump card could be dangerous for LSU. Manziel doesn't get his rushing yards by simply running for his life, nor does he put up big passing numbers simply by running around and improvising.

For LSU, it comes down to, as Montgomery suggested, proper technique.

"Get pressure up the field," Johnson said. "Man your gaps and be aware of the run plays they have set for him. And make plays in the backfield."

He rattled off the keys like a tried-and-true formula. And it has been just that in a season during which the Tigers have faced a slew of dual-threat quarterbacks.

Coming into the season, few outside of College Station knew who Manziel was. Now, it almost looks like LSU's schedule was set up to prepare the Tigers for his talents.

"Jeff Driskel was a great quarterback, and the guy we just played, Shaw, was a great quarterback," Johnson said. "They were both good on their feet and they had good offenses.

"I think that's going to help us prepare for Texas A&M."

Gary Laney | email

Reporter, GeauxTigerNation