As it prepared at the beginning of the week for its biggest challenge so far this season, a wounded LSU offensive line took stock of itself.
With ninth-ranked LSU getting ready to face No. 3 South Carolina and one of the nation’s top defensive lines, the Tigers focused on what they could do with a fifth different offensive line combination in seven games.
“It was huge,” said guard-turned-tackle Josh Dworaczyk, a sixth-year senior. “When things get tough, we get closer. That was especially true this week.
“We’ve got a lot of injuries, and that was an emotional thing for us throughout the week. We just put pressure on ourselves, and we fed off it. We just hadn’t been the offensive line we think we are.”
They showed it against South Carolina as LSU, which had one first down rushing and 42 yards on the ground in last week’s 14-6 loss at Florida, overpowered the Gamecocks in a 23-21 win in Tiger Stadium.
The Tigers rushed for 258 yards and a 4.9 average on 53 attempts and recorded 15 first downs with a patched-up line that included two freshmen.
Already playing without tackle Chris Faulk, who’s out for the season with a knee injury, the Tigers opened Saturday’s game without left tackle Alex Hurst and right guard Josh Williford.
So redshirt freshman Trai Turner settled in at Williford’s spot at guard next to true freshman Vadal Alexander at tackle.
They joined Dworaczyk, who got the start for Hurst at left tackle, left guard La’El Collins and center P.J. Lonergan to help pave the way for freshman running back Jeremy Hill to rush for 124 yards and a 50-yard touchdown up the middle that gave the Tigers a 23-14 lead with 5:03 to play in the game.
Much was said and written this week about the Tigers offensive line woes after the Florida loss, especially with South Carolina and heralded sophomore defensive end Jadeveon Clowney looming.
Clowney had six tackles, but the Gamecocks recorded just one sack of Zach Mettenberger.
“Without a doubt, they did a great job,” Mettenberger said. “We had two freshmen starting and one (Turner) was starting his first game. And, the old man (Dworaczyk) had a great game.”
Dworaczyk said the Tigers were determined early in the week to not worry about what they were facing — especially in Clowney, end Devin Taylor and tackle Byron Jerideau.
“Times were tough, but we didn’t read any of the things that were written,” Dworaczyk said. “It was kind of do-or-die because that was probably the best defensive line we were going to face this season.”
After trailing 7-3 at halftime, LSU set the tone for a second-half comeback, when it took the kickoff and drove 69 yards to a touchdown with Kenny Hilliard getting 25 yards and Hill getting the final 16 yards with a 9-yard scoring run.
LSU coach Les Miles said offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Greg Studrawa challenged his group this week.
“Stud did a great job of getting the young guys ready,” Miles said. “And then, Josh Dworaczyk was exactly what we needed at left tackle.
“He did a great job, and we rushed the ball and controlled the clock, and we kept our defense off the field.”
South Carolina’s defense appeared to be worn down when Hill blasted into the secondary and out-ran several defenders on his long touchdown.
“That’s what you’re supposed to do,” Miles said. “If you can control the the line of scrimmage, you continue to wear the defense down. That keeps your defense off the field.
“If you have long drives against a quality defensive front, you can break plays like Jeremy did.”
When asked about Hurst, the subject of much speculation this week, Miles said, “All I can tell you is he wasn’t here. ... We wish him the very best.”
But the fill-ins obviously weren’t bad.
“From the first day of practice this week, we were focused because we knew our backs were to the wall,” Dworaczyk said.
“We had to make sure that we played to our ability as an offensive line. We had to take over games and be the game-changer.”
That they were.