Steltz leads LSU defense in rout
By RANDY ROSETTA
Published: Aug 31, 2007
STARKVILLE, Miss. — The LSU defense had nearly as much to do with the 45 points the Tigers scored against Mississippi State on Thursday as the offense did in a season-opening romp at Davis Wade Stadium.
And senior safety Craig Steltz was a major reason why LSU’s opportunistic defense forced seven turnovers that led to 38 points.
At some point, though, Steltz would sure like to join the scoring parade himself.
He got three chances Thursday and never got there, but the bottom-line result eased his personal letdown.
“I’m fightin’ for it,” Steltz said with an ear-to-ear grin on a night when he intercepted three passes himself and had 100 return yards — but still couldn’t get into the end zone.
Even Tigers coach Les Miles threw a good-natured barb at Steltz, who picked off four passes last season and didn’t score — despite a 76-yard return on one theft.
“He had a lot of return yardage without getting in the end zone,” Miles said with a grin. “Steltz is playing unbelievably strong football for us.”
For the Tigers defense, Steltz’s continued scoring drought was about the only blemish on a night when second-ranked LSU (1-0, 1-0 Southeastern Conference) prolonged its recent domination of the Bulldogs (0-1, 0-1).
State managed a scant 146 total yards Thursday and was shut out for the first time since opening last season with back-to-back blankings against South Carolina (15-0) and Auburn (34-0). In the their last four games against the Tigers, the Bulldogs have managed only 731 yards and 24 points, 17 from the offense.
The Tigers intercepted State quarterback Michael Henig six times Thursday, their most since they snagged the same number in a 42-6 rout of Tulane in 1975 in the Superdome’s maiden season. Steltz became the seventh player in school history to pick off three passes in a game, the first since Corey Webster pestered Florida’s Rex Grossman with three swipes in 2002.
LSU’s AL Woods also pounced on a fourth-quarter fumble that led to a touchdown. The only Tigers score not precipitated by a State giveaway was a 73-yard scoring drive to open the second half.
Bolstered by Steltz’s lengthy returns of 49 and 51 yards, LSU piled up 122 yards in interception returns alone — challenging Mississippi State’s passing yardage total (136).
“Any time you can give the ball back to the offense and give them a chance to score in short field position, our chances to win are pretty good,” Steltz said.
It didn’t hurt LSU’s chances that the Tigers front seven pounded on State’s offensive line and eventually wore the Bulldogs down.
With the secondary harassing State quarterback Michael Henig into four interceptions in the first half and the opening drive of the second half nudging the lead to 24-0, LSU defensive coordinator Bo Pelini started sending eight or nine rushers at Henig.
Bulldogs coach Sylvester Croom said that increased pressure in the second half caught his team off guard off guard and it showed.
After just missing on a handful of opportunities to bury Henig in the first two quarters, LSU recorded four sacks in the second half. State wound up with only 10 rushing yards total on 26 attempts.
“When you guys have Glenn Dorsey and Tyson Jackson putting pressure on the quarterback, the last thing he’s worried about is who’s back there on his receivers,” Steltz said. “That just makes our job that much easier.”
Although pressure up front and a harangued QB are a large part of the equation, it takes a few other ingredients.
“It was a lot of luck,” Steltz said. “You have to be in the right place at the right time. There’s a lot of experience in our secondary and coach Pelini puts us in the right spots to make plays. We’re in the third year of his system, and we’ve got all the kinks worked out.”
Henig helped make sure there weren’t many kinks to wrestle with by lobbing up one up-for-grabs pass after another.
“Any time you see the ball in the air, you go and just try to make a play,” Steltz said.
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