LSU’s offensive line has been a work in progress all season.
The early part of the season required personnel changes as left tackle Chris Faulk suffered a season-ending knee injury, right tackle Alex Hurst left the team for personal reasons and right guard Josh Williford sustained a concussion against Florida on Oct. 6.
The Tigers used five different starting combinations before settling on the current one against South Carolina three weeks ago. Josh Dworaczyk stepped in at left tackle, Trai Turner moved in at right guard and Vadal Alexander took over at right tackle while La’El Collins remained at left guard and P.J. Lonergan at center.
The line played well in victories in victories against South Carolina and Texas A&M, but LSU often helped it with backs and tight ends as blockers, limiting the number of receivers running pass routes.
The Tigers utilized just the five linemen as blockers more often against Alabama and wound up with better balance between the pass and the run against Alabama’s No. 1-ranked defense in a 21-17 loss last week.
“We’ll continue to protect like we have, and we’ll choose our times where we’ll have five guys to protect, six guys to protect or even seven guys to protect,” coach Les Miles said. “In certain times, we’ll have eight guys to protect. That will always be a part of our game plan.
“I like my young offensive line. We’re playing a lot of young men that really stepped up, played hard and played with the style of play that we expect from LSU’s offensive lines.”
Dworaczyk and Lonergan are seniors, but Collins is a sophomore, Turner is a redshirt freshman and Alexander is a true freshman.
“I think that we’re starting to peak at the right time and mesh together as a group,” Turner said. “We were jelling, now I think we have jelled. We know the tendency of everybody you’re playing next to on the line, and it’s more comfortable.”
Miles said he was satisfied with the defensive approach on the decisive drive of the game against Alabama. Tide quarterback AJ McCarron, operating with no timeouts, completed 4 of 5 passes and took Bama 72 yards in less than a minute. His 28-yard screen to T.J. Yeldon provided the winning touchdown with 51 seconds left.
“We went back and looked at every call from the last drive of the game,” Miles said. “I don’t think I would have changed one. I don’t think (defensive coordinator John Chavis) would have changed one.
“It gave us every opportunity to compete, and we liked what we did. We need to execute it again.”
Middle linebacker Kevin Minter also cited poor execution as LSU’s downfall.
“We know how to defend the two-minute offense,” Minter said. “We just didn’t execute.”
Miles stands by Alleman
Miles said he still has confidence in place-kicker Drew Alleman, who has been less accurate this season than he was last season.
Alleman has made 13-of-20 field goals after missing just two last season, but three of his misses have come from 50-plus.
“I like Drew Alleman,” Miles said. “I think that he will be fine. We gave him a bunch of long kicks. He is my kicker. I’ll take him. We will win a lot of games with him, and have won a lot of games with him.”
Miles defended his decision to let Alleman try a 54-yard field goal, which fell short even with wind at his back.
“We actually test the field goal before the game,” Miles said. “We see how deep their kicking it one side or the other. We felt like we could kick that field goal. It was a difficult opportunity to score, but there was a percentage chance that he makes that.”
Hill still improving
Freshman Jeremy Hill made his first start against Alabama and had his third consective 100-yard rushing game, all against Top 10 teams. Though Hill has merged from a pack of running backs, Miles said the Tigers will continue to use multiple backs.
“I think that Jeremy Hill is a very capable back,” Miles said. “We’re asking him to be the guy that learns quickly, has a great football IQ and has really strong talent. He still needs to develop. He had some opportunities to play better in that game, so we’re still teaching. We’re still improving.
“I don’t know if he’s ready to take the first snap in games all the time or not. I don’t know that he doesn’t need a spell. He’s certainly proving that he has a gift for running the football.”