Blocking out negativity
LSU's patchwork offensive line steps up to overwhelm No. 3 South Carolina
BATON ROUGE, La. -- When Jeremy Hill exploded through a gaping hole for the eventual game-winning, 50-yard touchdown run late in the fourth quarter of LSU's 23-21 win over No. 3 South Carolina on Saturday, he noticed something about the Gamecocks' defense.
"I don't know if those guys were gassed and I can't speak for them," Hill said, "but it kind of looked like it."LSU's makeshift offensive line -- starting two freshmen on the right side and with Josh Dworaczyk filling in at left tackle, all because of an assortment of injuries and absences -- controlled the line of scrimmage against arguably the best defensive line in the SEC, possibly the country.[+] EnlargeDerick E. Hingle/US PresswireThe Bulldogs must slow down LSU tailback Jeremy Hill, who has rushed for 350 yards and six touchdowns this season.
The Tigers, held to 200 yards and eight first downs in a 14-6 loss to Florida the previous week, had 406 yards and 22 first downs and controlled the ball for 36:57 against a defense fresh off a dominating effort in a 35-7 shellacking of Georgia.
The news of South Carolina's dominance against Georgia, added to the reaction to LSU's loss to Florida, plus news that left tackle Alex Hurst would miss the game for personal reasons and right guard Josh Williford was out with a head injury, had LSU fans unusually pessimistic this week, a mindset Tigers players noticed.
"You can't avoid it," Dworaczyk said of the negativity coming from outside the team. "I don't read a lot of press and definitely don't read the message boards, but it gets back to you."
So while a win for a team that was the preseason No. 1 and to extend the nation's longest home-field winning streak might not seem like much of an upset, it's how the Tigers did it that was a shocker.
The Tigers rushed for 258 yards on 53 often-bruising runs. Quarterback Zach Mettenberger was sacked just once -- and that could be classified as a coverage sack. South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, widely assumed to be the top pick in the NFL draft when he comes out after next season, never got to the quarterback and had just an assisted tackle for loss.
And he, like his defensive teammates, seemed tired at the end, to the surprise of most in Tiger Stadium. Certainly many on the message boards Dworaczyk avoids, definitely most in the press box and even the opposing coach.
"They were running much better than I thought they would," South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said.
It came at the end of what was a particularly hard week of practice, Dworaczyk said. After a week full of bad news, Dworaczyk said, a team meeting was called Friday, and linemen who usually go out to a movie instead stayed and watched extra film.
To add to the motivation, Dworaczyk said he heard a South Carolina defensive player -- he wasn't sure which one -- guarantee in pregame warm-ups that Mettenberger would not make it through the game without injury.
LSU's ability to block didn't get any respect all week, even as the game was about to start.
"But the thing is, we know what kind of group of men we have here in the offensive line room and we know what kind of team we had," Dworaczyk said.
Dworaczyk was making his fourth start at left tackle but his first in three games after the knee that caused him to miss last season forced him to miss the previous two games.
When he did play earlier this season, he had good chemistry with left guard La'el Collins because the two had competed for the left guard spot. A season ago, a redshirting Dworaczyk mentored Collins, then a true freshman.
Dworaczyk was the player most often responsible for Clowney, and he held up well -- "He was exactly what we needed," coach Les Miles said -- and Collins played with confidence.
Hill was the beneficiary, gaining 124 yards on 17 carries, including 50 yards on the game-winning touchdown. It was LSU's 75th offensive play, and South Carolina's defense, exhausted by being physically beaten most of the night, was gashed at the line of scrimmage.
"All I had to do was make a safety miss," Hill said, "and that was it."
A week after the Tigers' defense was worn out at Florida because of the offense's inability to move the chains, the Tigers turned the tables with a makeshift offensive line.
"When you put together long drives against a quality defensive front," Miles said, "you can break plays like Jeremy Hill's."
And break the will of even an elite SEC defense.
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