AUBURN, Ala.-- Sam Montgomery will talk to anyone.
He’s got no problem holding court in front of local television cameras. He’ll fill up a recorder with words of wisdom or news and notes about popular cartoons at the very least. He made the rounds during the first interview session of the season and gave the local media hugs.
It’s no surprise he stepped up at halftime as his Tigers trailed Auburn by a point in Jordan-Hare Stadium on Saturday night.
“(Montgomery) told them at halftime, ‘This is what we do. We play in tight quarters. Just play like me,’” said LSU Head Coach Les Miles. “He really showed a great point of leadership.”
Of course, playing like Montgomery is a stretch for most who don shoulder pads. The Greenwood, S.C., native proved that early in the ballgame.
The safety turned an egregious mistake by the offense into a positive situation for the No. 2 ranked Tigers.
LSU fumbled the football at the Auburn two yard line, and the homestanding Tigers pounced on it to thwart a scoring chance.
As soon as the official pointed Auburn’s direction, Montgomery buckled his chin strap with one thing on his mind.
“Destroy. Destroy,” Montgomery said. “(Strength Coach Tommy) Moffitt had the last word. He said to destroy.”
Montgomery abused freshman offensive tackle Greg Robinson and lassoed sophomore running back Tre Mason in the end zone to stun a raucous crowd clad in orange and blue.
It was the difference in the game-- 2 points.
Montgomery finished the evening with a modest four tackles, but 3.5 of those came behind the line of scrimmage, and he added a sack of Auburn quarterback Kiehl Frazier.
It seemed like No. 99 found his way into the backfield at every critical juncture in the contest.
After failing to record a statistic in the season opener against North Texas, rumors swirled about the extra weight Montgomery had added in the offseason.
Had he lost a step? Was his endurance in question? Had Lavar Edwards passed him up?
Those questions were locked up and thrown away Saturday night on the Plains of Auburn.
Montgomery dominated the game.
“You can always tell when Sam is ready to go,” said junior safety Eric Reid. “You always compare him to Sonic (the Hedgehog). His eyes start getting glazed over, and you know he’s ready to go.
“You just lock on to your man, and you know he’s going to get to the quarterback.”
And he did. On a defense depending on freshmen throughout the secondary and inexperience at some of the linebacking spots, Montgomery and the veteran defensive line have taken ownership.
He’s done it on the field and in the locker room. Montgomery said following the game that what happened Saturday night had little to do with a week of preparation marred by a bomb threat or three weeks of playing.
“This was a time that tested our preparation during the summer,” Montgomery said. “Teams work hard in the summer. I’m glad this happened. This gives us a lot of film to evaluate and go make corrections.”
While the game was far from perfect, it was a strong defensive effort by most accounts.
Auburn rushed for just 86 yards, averaging less than three yards per carry. Only two of the 12 times Auburn lined up on third down did they convert, and Frazier went down four times for sacks.
As the Tiger offense sputtered, Montgomery and company stood tall in a hostile environment.
“It was a shock to our system,” Montgomery said. “We had a couple of young guys on the road for the first time not knowing what to expect. A couple of veteran guys hadn’t been in that situation in a long time. We adjusted, stepped up and kept them from getting to our line.”