Quarterback Joe Burrow made the plays and Cole Tracy made the game-winning kick, but the unsung heroes of LSU’s 22-21 win at Auburn on Saturday were the big guys up front who gave Burrow enough time to engineer the comeback.
After a leaky performance against Southeastern, LSU’s offensive line played a nearly perfect game in terms of pass protection against one of the nation’s most ferocious pass rushes.
Burrow was only sacked once by a defense that came into second tied for second nationally with nine sacks through two games.
“I thought our offensive line played outstanding,” LSU coach Ed Orgeron said at his press conference Monday. “Those guys were really on target. I thought we had a great scheme. We spread it around and we switched our protections around.”
LSU started its third different offensive line combination in as many games in the Southeastern Conference opener, getting left tackle Saahdiq Charles back from a one-game suspension and moving Austin Deculus over to right tackle.
Apparently the third time was the charm.
“No. 1 I credit moving Austin Deculus to right tackle,” Orgeron said of the group’s improvement. “Although we think Badara Traore is going to be a good player, we put a lot of pressure on him and he just wasn’t ready yet.”
After two early penalties, Deculus played “fine” by Orgeron’s estimation in his first career start at right tackle. LSU even managed to keep the line intact when Garrett Brumfield went out of the game with swelling in his shoulder thanks to solid work in relief by true freshman Chasen Hines.
At one point Brumfield took his pads off on the sideline, which is usually a sign that a player is done for the day, but he was able to re-enter and played down the stretch one the training staff determined there was nothing structurally wrong with that shoulder.
“I don’t remember exactly when (my first play) was,” Brumfield said. “I came out of the locker room, I went up to (LSU offensive line) coach (James) Cregg, talked to him for a little bit and he asked how I was feeling. I told him I was feeling good, and he put me back in the game.”
Finding the right mix personnel wise was the top reason for the improved protection, according to Orgeron, but it wasn’t the only adjustment.
LSU also made a concerted effort to get the ball out of Burrow’s hands quicker. Plays were called with the idea to get the ball out of Burrow’s hands in less than 2.6 seconds, according to Orgeron, a credit to offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger.
Burrow agreed wholeheartedly with Orgeron’s assessment that the improvement was produced by a mixture of adjustments to both personnel and scheme.
“I think it was a combination of both,” Burrow said. “I think our O-line played really well throughout the game. They kept me clean. Those guys worked their tails off all week to get better, and I think the gameplan going in really helped them and really helped me.”
When it comes to protecting the quarterback, the less an offensive line is talked about, the better. But LSU wouldn’t have upended Auburn were it not for the markedly improved play by the five big guys up front.