The 2011 defense was a study in chaos. Players didn't seem to have assignments so much as zones of destruction. The mantra was attack, attack, attack, and worry about the consequences later. Every fan likes to talk about how the defense should blitz on every down, as if there is no downside of being far more vulnerable to the big play.
However, despite its attacking nature and predilection for blitzing as often as possible, the 2011 LSU defense did not have to suffer the usual negatives to this defensive strategy. The reason for this is because in the midst of all of this chaos and destruction, there was one guy staying in his lane and being the virtual safety valve for every other player on the field. Brandon Taylor was 2011's one Responsible Adult. Without him, the whole defensive scheme falls apart.
Brandon Taylor didn't make highlight reel plays. He didn't specialize in knockout blows or spectacular interceptions. No, he had the unappreciated job of always being in the right place at the right time to stop the big play from ever happening. He was there to make sure highlights didn't happen, so that his teammates could freelance, abandon their position, and go for the ball.
Taylor didn't make the big plays, but he never seemed to make a bad play either. You can picture in your head even Peterson and Mathieu getting burned occasionally, as is the nature of their aggressive style of play. Taylor never starred in someone else's highlight film. His was a quiet greatness of consistent excellence. In this YouTube age, nothing is less appreciated.
I'm not going to lie, Brandon Taylor is one of my all-time favorite players. You can have your brilliant comets, who flash brightly and then burn out quickly. I want consistent excellence. I want that guy you rely on so completely that you don't even realize how much you take him for granted until he's gone. LSU's defense is still missing his leadership and his ability to slide in to cover the space that's been abandoned by the guy who will be featured on YouTube next week.
Taylor wasn't exactly a nothing prospect. He came in as one of the most highly rated cornerback recruits in the nation, but he was overshadowed by this Zod guy. He moved to safety and by his sophomore year, he had taken over as the starter and was top ten on the team in tackles.
It is hard to sum up Brandon Taylor in statistics. He was a team captain on one of the greatest defenses that college football has ever seen. He wore the #18 jersey, as voted by his teammates, as the player who must represented what it means to be a Tiger. In a room full of superstars, it was the quiet Taylor who commanded the room. He was the guy they looked up to, mainly because we all knew he was the guy quietly making it all possible.
I guess the best way to sum him up is his pass break up numbers by year as a starter: 4 - 5 - 5. Taylor was just that consistent. To contrast him with another superstar on that 2011 defense, Eric Reid also had 10 pass breakups in his final two years as a starter, but he had 3 one year and 7 the next. Taylor was a rock with an almost eerie consistency.
The defense is yet to find a guy to fill his role as the Responsible Adult. Athletes come and go, and stars flash and burn out. It takes a rare player, especially in college, to provide top quality effort and execution on seemingly every play. I can only think of two LSU players who just seemed to be in the right place at the right time on every single play...
Brandon Taylor is the defensive version of Jacob Hester. Players like that tend to only come once in generation. We were lucky enough to have a pair in the same decade, and on each side of the ball. Brandon Taylor will be #18 forever.