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Who in the Heck is Ronald Martin?

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Just ask Ole Miss fans...

Can Ronald Martin and the Tigers pull of their second upset in as many games?
Can Ronald Martin and the Tigers pull of their second upset in as many games?
Crystal LoGiudice-USA TODAY Sports

Who in the heck is Ronald Martin? Just ask an Ole Miss fan.

For those who missed LSU's stunning upset of formerly third-ranked Ole Miss two weeks ago, Martin (#26) was the Tiger defensive back who drove the final nail into the Rebel coffin in Death Valley, intercepting Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace's ill-advised final pass of the game to salt away the LSU victory. Wallace threw deep to the right pylon and Martin instinctually undercut the receiver from his free safety position and ended the Rebel threat once and for all.

Now, Martin and his fellow defenders hope to ruin arch-rival Alabama's playoff aspirations as the Tide visits Baton Rouge this Saturday in the annual slugfest between the two old-school, physical football teams.

Who in the heck is Ronald Martin?

The final defensive play against Ole Miss was a microcosm of what has been a career of adversity for the senior free safety. A three-star recruit coming out of White Castle (LA) High School, the four-sport athlete was not highly touted anywhere other than the state of Louisiana. For his first two years on the LSU roster, he played sparingly, filling in usually when future NFL'ers Eric Reid and Craig Loston were injured. After finally winning a starting position on the Tigers' 2013 squad, Martin played the early part of the season with a heavy heart after the passing of his father. To make matters worse, he was unable to finish the season following a stress fracture in his foot. If there's anything Martin understands, it's what it takes to play through adversity.

However, the 6'2", 220 pound hitter returned to the field in the spring of 2014 on a mission, securing the starting free safety role and earning LSU's Most Improved Player award after an impressive spring. That momentum has carried over into the 2014 season, as the Jim Thorpe Award semi-finalist (a list of 15 that also includes Alabama's strong safety Landon Collins) is the third-leading tackler on the Tiger defense and leads the LSU secondary statistically.

Thus far in 2014, Martin has amassed 48 tackles (19 solo, 29 assists), eclipsing his tackle total from 2013 by 10 with four games left to play. He has had two interceptions (including the game-winner versus Ole Miss), seven passes broken up, nine passes defended and two forced fumbles. Through the growing pains of a still young LSU secondary, Martin has proven himself a reliable leader who has drawn the attention of NFL teams in need of a head-hunting, physical safety. Martin is currently listed as the fourth-ranked safety prospect in the 2015 NFL Draft, and his stock could surge to even greater heights with a strong finish to the season.

Teammates sing the praises of the emerging defensive back, as wide receiver John Diarse needed only one word to sum up Martin's essence.

"Fighter...I say that because it's his relentless effort on every play. He may get beat on a route one play and I swear he comes back the next play and acts like it never happened. That's the type of mindset we all have to have, it's always next play."

Fellow defensive back Jalen Mills said that through all of the previous season's adversity and into the spring, he could see a sense of urgency building in Martin.

"Being that this was his last season, I know he had it in his mind that he had to do well, and he had to go out with a bang and make everyone remember that he was a great player. You could see it in the spring. He was flying all over in the spring and he continued it all through the summer and it kept continuing in the fall."

Head coach Les Miles and defensive coordinator John Chavis not only count on Martin for his on-the-field skill set, but also for the veteran leadership he provides for a defensive backfield that is still rather green (though improving weekly). Again, fellow defenders were quick to express Martin's full impact on the defense. Corner Tre'Davious White said that Martin has evolved into the quarterback of the secondary.

"He's a great leader for us. He's a guy who knows everything about the defense, what everybody's supposed to do. And he's sort of the quarterback for us back there. He's a guy you can talk to. He watches a lot of film, so he already knows a lot of guys' tendencies before they even do what they do."

Fellow safety Jalen Collins echoed the sentiment.

"[His best quality as a leader is] just trying to instill the same work ethic that he has in the rest of us and the younger guys. Making sure we're on top of everything we need to be on, getting the film when we need to be, making sure we know the checks, know the plays and we're all on the same page."

While Martin does not have elite speed, he is a physical safety who relishes run defense, much like former Alabama safety Mark Barron. While his instincts in coverage may not equal those of Barron, he has a nose for the ball, as evidenced by his two forced fumbles and two INT's on the season. Martin plays downhill against the run, levelling his 220 pound frame on opposing backs and wide receivers with explosive results. Martin is the prototypical LSU safety, in short.

Martin himself expressed his desire to not just lock down in coverage, but to also play the physical, run-stuffing role flexed by Chavis in his defenses at LSU.

"I like playing strong, I'm down in the box more tackling and helping with run support. I thought I played well there in my sophomore year even though I was alternating with Craig (Loston). At strong, I feel more involved."

What to expect from Ronald Martin against Alabama

Martin and his fellow defensive backs will have their hands full on Saturday against Alabama, as they'll not only be called upon to contain the explosive Amari Cooper, but the safeties in particular will be called upon to play an active role in stemming Alabama's rushing attack. While Bama has at times struggled with the run this year, one has to imagine that Alabama's overall play-calling balance will require a heavy dose of the run mixed in with plenty of bubble screens and short pass plays to chip away at the Tiger D and keep the chains moving.

Against the run, Martin excels. He is a solid tackler who can match size with all but the biggest Bama backs and wide receivers. He may be called upon to cover O.J. Howard and Bama's backs in the passing game if offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin elects to distribute the ball against a talented but sometimes undisciplined LSU defensive unit. The Alabama offense and Kiffin have proven their ability to take advantages of mismatches, and Howard can create mismatch problems for almost every LSU defender, including Martin.

While Martin can't match speed with many of Bama's skill position players, his aggressiveness will make up that gap, as he has a physical style of play for the position and isn't afraid to engage.

While Chavis is known for his fearlessness in bringing safeties up in run support and leaving his corners in man coverage, Martin will not be able to crowd the box against an Alabama team with playmakers across its wide receiver corps and running back rotation. Teams that have attempted to cover Cooper in man have failed miserably for the most part, so expect the senior safety to get his fair share of time doubling the All-American pass-catcher, most likely rotating over to assist LSU's corner rotation in keeping Cooper hemmed up.

While Martin cannot single-handedly stop Alabama, he is a cog in the wheel of a brutal, physical LSU defense that has surged as it has seasoned in 2014. From a leadership perspective, he is the key defender in the secondary and arguably the defense at-large. Count on Martin's name to be called often Saturday as he plays in his final game against the Crimson Tide in front of the home audience in Death Valley.

(Click here to listen to Martin talk about his final match-up against the Crimson Tide.)