Revamped offensive front shows signs of improvement
The LSU offensive line has been a work in progress this season.
None of the starters from last year’s season opener this season in the same position. Only left tackle La’el Collins, who was the starting left guard last season, was a starter at the beginning of 2012.
Right guard Trai Turner, who started the final six games last season, was the only returning starter at the same position he played last season. Left guard Vadal Alexander started the last nine games last season at right tackle.
Center Elliott Porter and right tackle Jerald Hawkins are first-year starters.
“We felt as a whole, we had to prove ourselves, because everybody was asking is he good enough at this position and that position,” Hawkins said.
The five starters have played every snap in each of the past three games after some juggling took place in the first four. The line paved the way for 175 rushing yards against the top-rated defense in the Southeastern Conference in a 17-6 victory against Florida last Saturday.
“We needed to prove that we’re the real deal, that we’re really serious,” Hawkins said. “We wanted to show that we’re still dominant up front.”
The line set the tone for the game as Jeremy Hill ran for 16 yards on the first snap. The Tigers put the game away by running exclusively as they burned the final 3:51.
“It was definitely fun,” Turner said. “We wanted to impose our will and dominate from start to finish. We started a little slow, if you ask me my opinion. Toward the end, we started mashing them, and that was good.
“It takes time, but I think we’re coming together at the right time.”
The line tied a season-high with 27 knockdowns against the Gators.
“As an offensive line, we’ve been working and working and working to get better,” Collins said. “Every week, we focus on getting better, and it feels like we’re jelling even more, so all the hard work is paying off.”
Coach Les Miles said he’s pleased with the line’s development, saying that if it continues, the Tigers could have “a very, very dominant group” by the end of the season.
Hunter named top lineman
Danielle Hunter was on his way to the LSU Football Operations Building on Monday when he got a text from a friend.
“I saw this headline that said, ‘Hunter gets defensive linemman of the week,’ ” Hunter said. “I thought, ‘Wow, I didn’t realize that.’ ”
Hunter, a sophomore end, was named the top lineman in the SEC after he batted down two passes against Florida. He said Miles and line coach Brick Haley had prepared him for what to expect in the game.
“They went over it with me during the week and told me there were going to be a couple of opportunities, so when you go out there, you have to look for the screen,” Hunter said. “I did exactly that, and the opportunities came and I batted down two passes like that.”
Hunter, who also had seven tackles, including one for loss, has started the past four games. He rotates with Jordan Allen and Jermauria Rasco.
“Three games ago, I was probably thinking too much,” Hunter said. “Right now, the game is slowing down for me. It’s about playing loose. People have said I’ve been playing tight all season. I’ve just got to loosen up and I’ll be all right.”
Lamin Barrow had a career-high 13 tackles against Florida, which is pretty significant given that he’s a senior who was second on the team with 104 tackles last season.
After lining up next to leading tackler Kevin Minter last season, Barrow has been the only linebacker with significant experience since fellow senior Tahj Jones has been sidelined by a hamstring injury.
Sophomore Kwon Alexander has replaced Jones, and junior D.J. Welter has seen his first significant playing time as a starter this season. Sophomores Lamar Louis and Deion Jones also saw significant snaps last week.
“As the season has gone on, I’ve learned to trust the linebackers around me,” Barrow said. “I’ve learned to trust D.J. more and trust Kwon more and know that they know what they’re doing on the field and they’re hell-of-a-players.
“Now I’m in a position where I’m comfortable with whoever’s on the field, and I feel like we can play with anybody.”
Finding room for Beckwith
One linebacker whose playing time has been sporadic is freshman Kendell Beckwith, who has played a lot on special teams.
“We’d like to get Kendell Beckwith on the field,” Miles said. “We just feel like there’s a number of places that he can play a lot of football, and we’re getting some good linebacker play, and we think he’d be a great linebacker.
“We’re getting some good defensive end play, and we think that he can be a very, very talented defensive end. We’d just like to get him to the field at the spot that would benefit us all.”
Tired, aggravated defenses
LSU cornerback Jalen Mills can empathize with defenses playing the Tigers offense, which leads the SEC in third-down conversions (58.0 percent).
“If you’re on defense and you have a team that’s continuously getting third-down conversions, it’s tiring and it’s aggravating,” Mills said. “You just want to make a play to get the team off the field and give your offense the ball.”
The LSU defense is fourth in the SEC as opponents are converting 36.4 percent of their third downs.