Friday, October 12, 2012
Battered Tigers face biggest challenge
By Gary Laney
BATON ROUGE, La. -- It's almost the perfect storm of problems for LSU's offense this week.
Already, the Tigers are lacking offensive confidence after getting held to 200 yards by Florida in last week's 14-6 loss. Now, the Tigers' struggling offensive line may head into its next game without right guard Josh Williford, who suffered a head injury against the Gators was had not been cleared to play as of Wednesday. If he can't go, Trai Turner would start and give LSU an all-freshman right side of the line.
Left tackle Alex Hurst has joined the wounded along the LSU offensive line, as Les Miles said he was "nicked" against Florida.
As if that's not enough, Tigers coach Les Miles added Wednesday that left tackle Alex Hurst is dealing with an injury and has also missed practice time for personal reasons. If he can't go, Josh Dworaczyk would start at left tackle.
If either miss the Tigers' next game, No. 9 LSU (5-1, 1-1 in the SEC) will start its fifth offensive line combination in seven games. The Tigers' offensive front is, at best, makeshift.
And who does this patchwork bunch get to try to block this week?
No. 3 South Carolina and perhaps the best defensive line -- save, arguably, LSU's -- in the country. The 6-0 Gamecocks lead the SEC in sacks with 25 and are coming off a breakout performance in a 35-7 win over Georgia.
"We're going to have to work our best as a unit," said LSU left guard La'el Collins, the one offensive lineman who has started every game at one position. "Our goal is going to be to protect ... and protect."
Three things to watch
1. Mismatch? While LSU's defensive line is arguably as good as South Carolina's, the Gamecocks' defensive front appears to have a bigger mismatch against LSU's M.A.S.H. unit of an offensive line. Defensive end Jadeveon Clowney is perhaps the best pass rusher in the country. Does LSU have anybody who can block him and his teammates?
2. Home field mystique: LSU has won a school-record 21 straight games at Tiger Stadium, the longest current home winning streak in the country, and the Tigers are historically at their best at night. South Carolina has struggled on the road this year, barely getting by Vanderbilt, 17-13 and trailing by 10 points at halftime before subduing Kentucky, 38-17 in Lexington. Can the Death Valley mystique be a factor?
3. Move the chains: When LSU's offense slumps, it tends to slump big. LSU can't afford to have eight series without a first down like it had during the Florida loss, otherwise even its talented defense will wear down.
Three Gamecocks to Watch
Clowney: The top-rated prospect in the country in the class of 2011, Clowney has developed into exactly what the scouts thought he would be: a disruptive force on the quarterback's blind side. He'll likely influence LSU's game plan, as tight ends and running backs will be asked to stay in to help block.
QB Connor Shaw: It's not his passing that should worry LSU, it's his ability to keep on the cut-read option that presents a challenge. Towson's Grant Enders and Florida's Jeff Driskel combined for 157 yards on rushing plays in the Tigers' last two games (yards that were offset in their rushing totals by sacks on pass plays), so the Tigers must respect the running threat of Shaw.
DT Kelcy Quarles: LSU may try to offset the pass rush by running right at the Gamecocks, so the ability of South Carolina tackles Quarles and Byron Jerideau to clog the middle will be a key for the Gamecocks.
Tigers to Watch
LT Hurst/Dworaczyk: Challenged to block Clowney, whoever gets the start at left tackle for LSU might have to play his best game of the season.
DE Sam Montgomery: Playing against his home-state school, Montgomery is going to have to make plays while also having the discipline to make the right reads agianst the Gamecocks cut-read option.
RB Spencer Ware: Miles singled out Ware as a player the Tigers need to feature more and mentioned the possibility of using him in the wildcat during his radio show on Thursday. Expect the Tigers to give South Carolina a heavy dose of Ware in a power-run game.
Key Matchup: South Carolina RB Marcus Lattimore vs. LSU LB Kevin Minter: Nobody in the SEC has more carries than Lattimore's 116, and many of his runs and his 549 yards have come between the tackles, right where Minter roams and where he got most of his 20 tackles, including a school-record 17 solo stops, against Florida. Look for some big collisions from the two.
By the numbers
1: The number of touchdowns LSU has scored in its last three games against SEC opponents.
6: The number of players in the Tigers' original starting lineup who will miss this game if both Williford and Hurst are out. They would join CB Tyrann Mathieu (dismissed from the team), LB Tahj Jones (academics), running back Alfred Blue (injury) and left tackle Chris Faulk (injury). Linebacker Kwon Alexander, who started two games, is also out because of injury.