Tigers fortunate to have good depth at both positions
LSU’s last preconference game afforded the Tigers an opportunity to rest some players who weren’t badly injured but benefited from some added healing time before Southeastern Conference play begins at Auburn next Saturday.
A couple more players are headed to the training room after LSU (3-0) ran away from the Idaho Vandals in a 63-14 thrashing Saturday night in Tiger Stadium.
LSU tends to be tight-lipped about injuries, so it’s hard to know who, if anyone — other than players already out for the season — is in danger of missing this week’s game. But continuity could be an issue, as the Tigers mixed and matched combinations on both sides of the ball Saturday.
Apparently, nine players sat out because of minor injuries, sat out as a precaution, or sustained injuries during the game.
The in-game injuries were to running back Alfred Blue and left tackle Josh Dworaczyk, both of whom seemed to have hurt a knee. Fortunately for the second-ranked Tigers, running back and offensive line are two of the deepest areas on the team.
Blue has been the Tigers’ leading ball carrier, but Kenny Hilliard is the leading rusher, with two touchdowns in each game and 100 rushing yards in two of the three — including a game-high 116 on Saturday.
Though Spencer Ware was held out Saturday — apparently as a precaution, as he has been nursing an undisclosed injury since preseason camp — LSU also has Michael Ford and freshman Jeremy Hill, who made his debut Saturday with had 61 yards and two touchdowns on 10 rushes.
“I think we’ll get Ware back,” coach Les Miles said. “With Ford and Kenny Hilliard and Jeremy Hill, we should have plenty at tailback.”
Miles said Dworaczyk, who made his second start since Chris Faulk was lost for the season to a knee injury, has a contusion.
If Dworaczyk were unavailable, the Tigers could move Alex Hurst from right tackle to left tackle and start freshman Vadal Alexander at right tackle.
Center P.J. Lonergan was replaced by Elliott Porter in the starting lineup Saturday, but played in the second half. LSU has not disclosed an injury to Lonergan.
Wide receiver James Wright did not play; he was replaced in the starting lineup by Russell Shepard, who caught three passes for 68 yards and rushed three times for 24 yards.
Miles said he expected to get Wright back this week. LSU has not disclosed Wright’s injury.
Defensive tackle Josh Downs did not play because of an undisclosed injury, and sophomore Anthony Johnson started in his place. Defensive end Barkevious Mingo, who sprained his right ankle against Washington a week earlier, did not start but played briefly.
Safety Craig Loston did not play as he rested a turf toe that has bothered him since preseason camp. Sophomore Ronald Martin made the most of his opportunity to start in Loston’s place, making two interceptions and returning one 45 yards for a touchdown.
Martin said the presence of junior Eric Reid at free safety made things easier on him.
“It helps me a lot because he knows the defense,” Martin said. “I don’t know everything, but the things I don’t know he’ll keep me on point with.”
Loston’s absence appears to have been precautionary, and he’ll likely be back against Auburn.
“I’ve just got to be patient and wait for when (Miles) comes up to me next,” Martin said.
Both of Martin’s interceptions came after redshirt freshman cornerback Jalen Collins broke up a pass and deflected the ball Martin’s way. Collins moved up to the No. 3 cornerback spot and true freshman Jalen Mills became a starter when Tyrann Mathieu was kicked off the team Aug. 10. Mills has interceptions in each of the last two games.
Reid is the only returning starter, and junior cornerback Tharold Simon and Loston are the only other DBs with much experience.
“We’ve got a lot of young guys, but we’ve been working hard and stepping up,” Collins said. “I think we’re coming together well.”
Mills and Collins get their first taste of SEC play and a hostile crowd this week.
“Both of them played well,” Reid said. “I practice with them every day, so I know they have the ability to play big, and they do. They’ve got to get settled, got to get their confidence up, and they’ve been doing that.”
The Tigers went into Saturday’s game already having lost 11 players since the summer because of injuries, academic deficiencies and a violation of team and university policy.
Against Idaho, three Tigers — Johnson, Martin and Porter — made their first career starts. Six other players — Hill, linebackers Lamar Louis, Jarrett Hardnett and Edwin Johnson, safety Vincent LeDuff and defensive tackle Mickey Johnson — made their first appearances.
So plenty of Tigers have gotten experience during these tuneup games, but now it’s time for the depth chart to stabilize and the rotations to solidify.
Miles admitted the Tigers have been inconsistent, though each phase of the team has been dominant at different times. The key now, he said, is to get all three areas playing consistently well.
“It’s all about the next opponent,” he said.