BATON ROUGE, La. -- It's telling that it took until the last question of LSU coach Les' Miles Monday news conference before somebody finally asked about the starting right side of the offensive line that was absent in last week's 23-21 win over South Carolina.
Williford missed the South Carolina game with a head injury while Hurst left the team last week for personal reasons, leaving the Tigers all an all-freshman right side of the line line with Vadal Alexander at tackle for a third straight game (Hurst had actually been playing left tackle because of an injury to Josh Dworaczyk) and Trai Turner, who made his starting debut at right guard.
If one wants to know why it took so long for questions about the veterans to come up, all you had to do is listen to Miles' opening statement.
"I have to give special mention to those two young guys," he said. "Trai Turner, in his first start, and Vadal Alexander, in his first appreciable playing time in his early career, both played very well."
Indeed they did. Playing against arguably the best defense it has played this season, LSU played its best offensive game, piling up 258 rushing yards and 406 yards total against South Carolina and its vaunted defensive line. Turner made his debut at right guard and Dworaczyk got his first start in three games at left tackle after a knee injury kept him sidelined for the better part of the Tigers' previous two games.
It's not clear that Alexander and Turner will remain the starters on the right side for LSU as the 6-1 Tigers, ranked No. 6 in the BCS, head to No. 18 Texas A&M Saturday morning. But it didn't seem like a pressing issue for the media gathered on Monday.
Instead, the questions focused on LSU's new-look offense against the Gamecocks, which seemed to find itself with two freshman offensive line starters and a true freshman running back, Jeremy Hill, who came off the bench to rush for 124 yards on 17 carries. On Hill's game-winning 50-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter, he ran behind the two freshman and was sprung by pulling left guard La'el Collins, a true sophomore.
The Tigers' youngsters weren't perfect -- Miles pointed out a false start on Alexander that killed a drive in the red zone and forced LSU to have to settle for a field goal -- but he said the offense is coming around.
"We're maturing, we're getting better," he said.
A third new starter in the South Carolina game was strongside linebacker Lamar Louis, a true freshman who became LSU's third starter at the position and its fourth first-team player at the position since the start of August camp. Getting the nod after another true freshman, Kwon Alexander, was lost for the season to a foot injury, Louis had two tackles and was credited with two quarterback hurries in the South Carolina game.
He joined Alexander, Tahj Jones and Luke Muncie on the list of players who have held down the starting slot on the strong side since the beginning of August. Jones entered camp as the starter, but was ruled academically ineligible. Muncie began the season as the starter, but gave way to Alexander after suffering an illness that caused him to lose weight.
LSU's young players will face more big tests this week against Texas A&M.
The young line will again face a vicious pass rush. Like South Carolina, the Aggies bring pressure with the SEC's sack leader in defensive end Damontre Moore, who is third in the nation in sacks (8.5). LSU gave up one sack to the Gamecocks, who were also led by a talented end in Jadeveon Clowney.
"We're going to be challenged like we've been in the past," Miles said. "We're going to have to use our hands, get our sets and be prepared."
Similarly, Louis and the defense will again face a mobile quarterback. After chasing around running threats Jeff Driskel (Florida) and Connor Shaw (South Carolina) in back-to-back games, the Tigers will see Johnny Manziel, the Aggies' redshirt freshman quarterback who leads the SEC in rushing (91 carries, 673 yards) and is third in passing (1,680 yards).