- Mike DiRocco, ESPN Staff Writer
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- To get the most in-depth information on No. 4 LSU, which plays at No. 10 Florida on Saturday at 3:30 p.m., GatorNation turned to GeauxTigerNation's Gary Laney. We asked him five questions about the Tigers:
Q: Wasn't Zach Mettenberger supposed to be a significant upgrade from Jarrett Lee/Jordan Jefferson? Why has he not been better?
Laney: There's plenty of blame to go around and Mettenberger gets his share.
He's lost three fumbles in LSU's last two games and has five turnovers, all either killing drives or setting up the opponent for points. He's taken more sacks than he should by holding the ball too long or scrambling when he shouldn't.
He hasn't gotten help from an injury-riddled offensive line (11 sacks, the same number LSU's vaunted pass rush has produced) and the receivers have been prone to drops, bad patterns or blown assignments. It's added up to mediocre numbers, at best.
Q: Why has the offensive line struggled so much in pass protection?
Laney: The loss of Chris Faulk at left tackle has been huge. I'm not convinced that switching starting right tackle Alex Hurst to left tackle is the right answer for a position that requires the lateral movement Hurst does not seem to possess. LSU is hesitant to try sophomore left guard La'el Collins, formerly rated as one of the nation's top two prep tackles coming out high school, there because he has his hands full already trying to learn left guard. And Josh Dworaczyk, the former starter at left guard before he missed 2011 with a knee injury, might simply not be the dominant guy you need to block the other team's best pass rusher.
That said, several sacks have come from things like running backs missing blocking assignments on blitzes and Mettenberger holding the ball too long or trying to extend the play with an ill-advised attempt to scramble. The offensive line has had issues, but the statistics make the line look worse than it is.
Q: How much has the loss of Tyrann Matthieu, Faulk and Tahj Jones affected the Tigers? Which one hurts the most?
I'd say Faulk's injury hurts the most because there wasn't an obvious replacement ready to go. A former starting left guard (Dworaczyk) was bumped over in a move that seems a little forced. Truth be told, any fix LSU comes up with at left tackle feels like it involves some duct tape, spit and WD-40.
At other spots (aside from fullback, where there's little depth behind Copeland) LSU simply brought up another talented player. Where those losses will be felt is with further attrition. For example, when Jones' replacement, Luke Muncie, sat out the Towson games, there were several blown assignments by the linebackers, as true freshmen were forced into extended playing time, including the first career start for Kwon Alexander. Before Jones was lost, Muncie provided veteran depth. Now there are only freshmen behind the three starting linebackers.
Q: How does LSU's defensive line compare to some of the Tigers' great defensive lines of the past?
Laney: It could be LSU's best. On paper, Barkevious Mingo's season doesn't look great with one sack, but in reality, he's been a bit of a snake-bitten menace. He leads the team in quarterback hurries despite nursing a sprained ankle suffered in the season opener. Sam Montgomery is relentless, and Anthony Johnson could end up being their best defensive tackle since Glenn Dorsey. And, by the way, tackle Bennie Logan is also considered first-round pick material.
The defensive line has been dominant. Some worry that they recorded no sacks against North Texas and Idaho, but I thought the threat of what the defensive line could do influenced what those teams tried to do -- or, more importantly, didn't try -- which was send out enough receivers for passes to pose a threat. Opponents seem more intent to avoid disasters than to attack LSU because of a lack of confidence in being able to block the front four.
Q: After a fake field goal and a fake punt the last two seasons, what kind of trickery do you think coach Les Miles have up his sleeve for the Gators this year?
Laney: Miles hasn't been the trickster much in the last couple of years and much of that has to do with confidence in the defense. Miles is much more prone to minimize risk and punt it away these days. That said, there will always be an over-the-shoulder flip somewhere in his playbook and the part of Miles' brain that also compels him to chew grass is just waiting for the chance to bring it out. As for the fake punt -- that's a crazy Aussie thing. Brad Wing had been coached to have the option to run if a return team completely turns its back to him to set up a return. Wing saw Florida do that and took off on his own. The fake wasn't really a called fake.
These days Miles has gotten so conservative, just allowing senior wide receiver Russell Shepard -- a former five-star dual-threat quarterback in high school -- on the field might appease the LSU fans' lust for something risky.