BATON ROUGE, La. — They shut down Jarrett Stidham. They shut down Shea Patterson. Now LSU cornerbacks Donte Jackson and Kevin Toliver II have to shut each other up.
Ask Jackson. He’s the best cornerback in the country. Ask Toliver. He’s the best cornerback in the country. Neither is OK with being second. They might be best friends, but they’ll step over each other for the mantle of being the best.
“I believe I’m the best corner in the country,” Toliver said. “I think I can do the things that he does. He really can’t do the things that I do. He’s faster than me, but at the same time, I think my technique is way better than his.”
Toliver is all about ability. Jackson is more into Rene Descartes. I think, therefore I am. Defensive backs coach Corey Raymond challenges Jackson to be the best. Jackson challenges himself to the best. After a few months of being told you’re the best, that’s eventually who you become.
“I’m in my bag,” Jackson said. “That’s a quote. I’m in my bag. I’m in my bag, man. I feel like I’m the best in the country. That’s how I’ve got to play. Coach Raymond, he gives me that leeway. He tells me all the time I’m the best. So that’s how I’ve got to play. I’ve got to play like the best.”
Jackson and Toliver have every right to be confident in themselves right now. Led by the pair of junior leaders, LSU’s secondary held Patterson and the Ole Miss offense to 194 passing yards (116 from Patterson) and zero touchdowns with three interceptions as LSU defeated Ole Miss 40-24 Saturday. Jackson was everywhere, recording 5 tackles, 3 of which solo, while Toliver came down with a balletic interception and broke up an additional pass. Safeties Grant Delpit and John Battle combined for 16 tackles and 2 interceptions of their own as well.
This was against an Ole Miss offense that, coming into the game Saturday, led the SEC in nearly every passing statistic. Patterson entered Saturday’s action as the NCAA’s third-leading passer, averaging more than 350 passing yards per game. But just as it did against Stidham and Auburn the week before, the LSU defense shut down a precise, imposing aerial attack.
Which LSU coach Ed Orgeron noted was no small feat.
“I was so proud of those guys,” Orgeron said. “I think Corey did a tremendous job. He challenged them this week. … I thought our corners played excellent tonight. We were in man coverage about 80 percent of the time. Those guys did an excellent job.”
If you need an indicator of how well LSU’s corners played, look no further than the statbook. Ole Miss receivers A.J. Brown and DaMarkus Lodge averaged 9.8 catches, 186 yards and 2 touchdowns per game before they played LSU. But Jackson, Toliver and Greedy Williams held the duo to 57 yards on 6 catches.
There are plenty of reasons for a performance like this. On one side, the DBs have to credit the pass rush. When quarterbacks like Patterson are constantly retreating and throwing off their back foot, it makes things easier on the corners in man-to-man coverage. On the other side, success builds downward.
As Jackson paradoxically put it, everything starts with the defensive backfield. If a corner or safety makes a mistake, everyone notices. And if he makes a big play, people also notice. It’s a position where success and failure are more amplified and scrutinized than any other.
Jackson said he puts the unit’s success on him. He’s the leader. He can’t get beat. What sort of an example does that set for Toliver and Williams and Delpit and Battle and the rest of the unit?
From there, Toliver picks up his end of the bargain. Because, as he joked after the game, everybody’s got to eat.
“I’ve got to eat what’s on your plate,” Toliver said to Jackson late Saturday night. “I’m starving out there, man.”
This isn’t to say Jackson and Toliver don’t respect Patterson or the Ole Miss offense. They obviously do. They just respect themselves a little more.
“Shea’s a pretty good little quarterback,” Jackson said. “But it’s us.”
Added Toliver: “There’s only so much you can do.”