It's a play that could have radically changed the landscape of college football in 2009. In the fourth quarter of LSU's game at Alabama last November, Tigers cornerback Patrick Peterson intercepted a pass and appeared to tap not one but two feet in-bounds at the LSU 32-yard line. Officials ruled, however, that Peterson was out-of-bounds—a call that was upheld by the replay booth despite video evidence to the contrary. Five plays later Alabama kicked a field goal to go up 24--15, which was the final score.
What if Peterson, who as a sophomore last season emerged as one of the nation's top cover corners, had been awarded the interception and LSU upset the Tide? It's a scenario that he contemplated nearly every day this winter and spring in Baton Rouge. "If things go differently in that game," he says, "there wouldn't be as much pressure on coach [Les] Miles and we'd be thought of as one of the better teams in the nation."
If the Tigers don't rebound from a disappointing 9--4 season that ended with a 19--17 loss to Penn State in the Capital One Bowl, Miles could be looking for a new job. In the last two years LSU has gone a combined 0--6 against Alabama, Florida and Ole Miss. "I don't listen to what other people are saying about our program," Miles says. "If our quarterback [junior Jordan Jefferson] comes out of the gate fast and our defense grows up quickly, we should have a successful season."
Miles's inexperienced D (seven starters are juniors or younger) will rely heavily on Peterson. In his last two seasons at Blanche Ely High in Pompano Beach, Fla., he intercepted 12 passes and in 2007 was named the USA Today national defensive player of the year. His teammates nicknamed him, among other things, Baby Deion, and last season he indeed flashed the coverage skills of Deion Sanders, finishing fourth in the SEC with 15 passes defended though teams purposely avoided throwing in his direction.
With Peterson shadowing the opposition's top wide receiver and not requiring help in coverage, LSU will blitz its safeties more than most teams this year. "Speed kills, and we've got as much of it as any defense in the nation," says Peterson. "We like being overlooked. But we won't be for long."
COACH Les Miles (6th year)
2009 RECORD 9--4 (5--3 in SEC)
FINAL AP RANK 17
RETURNING STARTERS 9
Offense 5, Defense 4
4 North Carolina (in Atlanta)
11 at Vanderbilt
18 Mississippi State
25 West Virginia
9 at Florida
16 McNeese State
23 at Auburn
20 Ole Miss
27 at Arkansas
The SEC's youngest starting QB in 2009 (age 19), Jefferson needs to improve his decision-making (17-to-7 TD-to-interception ratio).
A converted QB who was a consensus five-star recruit, Shepard will line up at QB, RB and WR.
Sheppard is an NFL talent who ranked fourth in the SEC in tackles (110) in '09.
Miles says a successful year hinges, in part, on whether Jefferson (9), just 20 years old, gets off to a good start.
Photograph by STACY REVERE/SOUTHCREEK GLOBAL/ZUMAPRESS.COM
With Peterson able to lock down his receiver in man coverage, the Tigers will be able to blitz more than other defenses.