Forgive Kevin Minter.
Following Saturday’s loss in Gainesville, Fla., the junior linebacker didn’t remember how many IVs the LSU medical staff gave him in the third quarter. He didn’t know how many tackles he made. He didn’t know when the last time LSU had to play the week following a loss.
He was tired, rightly so.
Minter tied an LSU record with 20 tackles in the game Saturday afternoon, 17 of which were solo, three of which came behind the line of scrimmage. He also had a pair of sacks.
“I think Kevin Minter played his butt off,” said LSU Head Coach Les Miles after the game. “He has given us great leadership, and he is the captain of our team. He is exactly what you want in a college football player."
Arguing with Miles after a record-setting afternoon like that would be an uphill battle. Minter spearheaded a defense that held Florida to 47 first half yards, just a meager 16 on the ground.
“I knew I was doing decent,” Minter said. “The way the score was going, it never really felt that way.”
Even when the LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger turned the ball over and gave the Gators a scoring chance at the Tiger 38 yard line, Minter wouldn’t have it.
Minter stopped Gator running back Mike Gillislee on first down after a five yard pickup, probably enough for Florida to try a game-tying field goal. Then he exploded into the Florida backfield on consecutive plays swallowing Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel to drive the home team right out of field goal range.
He did it by himself. And he wasn’t done.
The next time Florida got the ball, the Gators drove down to the LSU 22 before Minter drilled Frankie Hammond who put the ball on the turf where Kwon Alexander picked it up.
Perhaps his greatest impact on the game was the time he spent in the locker room. As the training staff pumped IV fluid into the exhausted Tiger enforcer, Florida marched the ball 85 yards right through a Tiger defense without its leader to punch in the game’s first touchdown.
Minter heard the roar from his seat on the training table.
When he returned, Florida had the ball again and went right back to the ground for a 77-yard, 11 play excursion. Minter made three stops on the drive, but it wasn’t enough.
Minter’s return couldn’t compensate for what has become a crippled linebacking corps.
Projected starter Tahj Jones was ruled academically ineligible before the season started. Jones’ replacement, junior Luke Muncie, has been severely limited over the last three weeks because of a virus, and Muncie’s fill in, freshman Kwon Alexander, broke his ankle Saturday an is out for the remainder of the season.
“Kwon was a great talent, I ain’t gonna lie,” Minter said. “He’s one of the best freshman linebackers I’ve been around. He caught onto the defense so fast. It’s going to be a big loss.”
Though the turnstiles continue to rotate on one side, Minter and his sidekick junior Lamin Barrow continue to hold down the proverbial fort.
Barrow made nine tackles, eight solo, against the Gators and figured into two plays made behind the line of scrimmage.
“I had my best game as far as stats go, too,” Barrow said. “But to see (Minter) play with that tenacity, it was amazing.”
After two SEC games, it would appear that the Tiger defense will have to carry the team until the offense finds some traction. Minter figures to be the heartbeat of that defense, a defense that hasn’t been led by a linebacker since another Georgia native, Kelvin Sheppard, led the unit in 2010.
“Kevin had the opportunity to watch Kelvin,” said junior safety Eric Reid. “What he did Saturday is the type of effort we’re looking for.”
Minter is a soft spoken interview. He’s that way on Monday in the indoor practice facility and Saturday in the media room.
Reid says he’s not that way all the time.
“I don’t know if he wants me to tell you, but Kevin’s a different guy on the field,” Reid said. “He does get fired up especially when he makes a big hit, and that’s exciting to see. That’s what you want from your middle linebacker.”
The 20 tackles and the added leadership are, too.
As things go in the SEC, another physical test is on the way this week as South Carolina and monster running back Marcus Lattimore make the trek to Baton Rouge fresh off of a 35-7 shellacking of No. 3 Georgia.
When asked about the challenge, Minter didn’t sound like a guy who needed IVs two days earlier.
“I can’t wait to go against this guy,” Minter said. “He’s one of the best backs in the SEC, in the country. It’ll be great competition. South Carolina, they’re such an incredible team. If we win this game, it gives us a little momentum going into the rest of the season.”