The LSU offensive line was one of the key ingredients as the Tigers rolled to 13 consecutive victories heading into the BCS Championship game at the end of last season.
The line opened holes for a bruising, relentless running game, kept Jarrett Lee safe and secure in the pocket and created seams for Jordan Jefferson to run the option.
It overcame the loss of a starting guard (Josh Dworaczyk) for the season, and two starters (tackle Chris Faulk and center P.J. Lonergan) for periods during the season.
Then came the title game and a rematch with Alabama, which LSU had beaten 9-6 in overtime after a bruising battle in November.
This time, the line had more than it could handle against the Tide. The Tigers gained just 92 yards and didn’t run for a first down.
It wasn’t all the line’s fault, but the breakdowns started up front, and they never stopped.
“From what I saw, their game plan was very option-oriented, because we had a lot of success with the option in the first game,” said T-Bob Hebert, who watched a healthy line from the sideline in the title game after starting eight games at three different positions during the season. “The second game, Alabama was more prepared for the option.
“They put an extra guy in the box and had the defensive end play the quarterback, and they did a great job.”
Jefferson relieved Lee during the first game against Bama and remained the starter the rest of the season. After he became the starter, the option returned as a staple of the offense, but the line’s problems were not limited to the Tide’s readiness for the option.
LSU had a three-and-out on its first possession, and its second possession began with right tackle Alex Hurst committing the first of his two false starts. Faulk also had one.
“There were definitely mistakes made that were not made in the first game,” said Hebert, who’s now working as an analyst at 104.5 ESPN Radio. “It was very uncharacteristic of us. We had penalties, fumbled snaps. It was one of those games where nothing seemed to go right.”
The Tigers allowed four sacks, totaled five first downs and possessed the ball for just 24 minutes, 34 seconds after having it for 29:54 in the first game.
“We could never get into a real good rhythm,” Lonergan said. “I thought we were barely on the field that game. I think that was the big thing.”
Bama took a 3-0 lead 10 minutes in the game and built it to 9-0 at halftime. After the Tide drove to the fourth of Jeremy Shelley’s five field goals on the first possession of the second half, LSU found itself in a 12-0 hole that seemed a lot deeper given the way the offense was being smothered.
“I think the way the game started to play out, when we kind of had our backs against the wall, we started to get a sense of a rush to us that something needed to happen,” said Dworaczyk, who was a de facto assistant line coach while injured. “They kind of turned it up and wanted us to get into passing downs and try and force Jordan to run the ball, and they had somebody watching him.
“They had a good game plan going into that game.”
A team that had averaged 38.5 points in its previous 13 games got no closer to scoring than reaching the Bama 32-yard line.
“You can play that game 100 more times,” Hebert said, “and it won’t turn out that way again.”