Tigers used eight linemen in seven different combinations on Saturday
By JAMES MORAN
Tiger Rag Associate Editor
Positioned on the left side of the offensive line, tight end Foster Moreau turned to his right and saw something he wasn’t quite prepared for.
Namely, Ethan Pocic standing right next to him.
“I was going up to the line and I saw Pocic at left tackle and I was like ‘whoa, no way,’” the always-animated sophomore laughed. “I haven’t practiced this. I don’t know what we’re doing.”
It’s a good thing Pocic and the rest of LSU’s offensive linemen had.
Four of five starters along the line at least briefly left the game due to various injuries throughout LSU’s 23-20 win over Mississippi State on Saturday night. As a result, LSU had to piece together seven different combinations using eight linemen to make it through.
Maea Teuhema, LSU’s sixth linemen, spelled both Josh Boutte at right guard and Toby Weathersby at right tackle. Garrett Brumfield played at both guard spots when Boutte or Will Clapp were on the sidelines. Andy Dodd came in at center when Pocic kicked out to left tackle in place of K.J. Malone.
“The other night, that could have been bad,” said Pocic, the only starting lineman to make it through unscathed. “Those guys came in, it didn’t matter where they were lined up, and they did their jobs.
A case can be made the makeshift offensive line didn’t just survive, but thrived. LSU racked up 392 yards of total offense, a total that would’ve been higher if not for two Leonard Fournette lost fumbles. Danny Etling wasn’t sacked once by a defensive front featuring one of the nation’s leaders in tackles for loss.
Defensive coordinator Dave Aranda arrived in Baton Rouge this offseason with the nickname “The Professor.” Perhaps it’s time to start referring to offensive line coach Jeff Grimes as “The Mad Scientist.”
“It was mixing and matching,” Pocic said, “but I liked the way we fought and handled it.”
The question now becomes how much shuffling Grimes and Miles will have to do up front ahead of this week’s trips to the Plains to take on Carl Lawson, Montravious Adams and the dangerous, experienced Auburn defensive front they lead.
Miles declined to give specific updates on any of the injuries at his lunchtime press conference Monday, saying only that some of them may not practice Monday.
“We will return everybody to play, most everybody to play for next Saturday,” the coach said.
Clapp, Malone and Boutte all returned to Saturday’s game. Miles mentioned at least one whom was dealing with cramps. Weathersby missed the entire second half with what ESPN’s broadcast reported as an ankle sprain. He was spotted in a walking boot Monday.
“I’m not allowed to talk about injuries,” Miles said when asked specifically about Weathersby’s status. “You know that, right? Homeland Security has told me it’s not a thing I can do.”
Regardless of what five are out there, LSU’s head coach and players expressed confidence they’ll be able to get the job done Saturday and beyond. Even if it means sliding some guys around and playing multiple combinations over the course of one game.
Because that’s just how they practice it.
Conventional wisdom says decide on one offensive line as quickly as possible and stick with it in the name of continuity. But Miles and Grimes have made a point of using fall camp to find their “best five” while cross training players at as many different positions as possible.
“Thank goodness (Grimes) has worked that through what would be our practice weeks so our guys can kind of anticipate where they were going,” Miles said. “So to this point all those combinations had been seen by Coach Grimes and moved guys in positions to play to help us.”
That approach requires both patience and confidence on the part of the coaches as well as unselfishness on the part of the players. Miles praised his linemen for being willing to learn different positions instead of being “too rigid” about where they play.
And on nights like last Saturday, when 300-pounders are seemingly dropping like flies all over the field, that versatility sure comes in handy.
“It’s a testament to how we practice in fall camp,” Clapp said. “Everybody is playing a different position each day. It just makes us better for these types of games.”