Injuries are a part of the game.
There is no way to stop the injury bug from biting and when it does, there is no time to sit around and mope.
LSU lost left tackle Chris Faulk the week of the Washington game and things still haven’t returned to normal.
There’s certainly something to be said about losing a Second Team All-Southeastern Conference blind side tackle. Not to mention one who had 73.5 knockdowns a season ago to go along with an SEC Offensive Lineman of the Week award and 13 starts in 14 games.
Faulk’s talent and intangibles can’t and won’t be replaced over night. But the Tigers have now played five games without him, two of them SEC games, without making any visible strides in the consistency department.
And last week’s 14-6 loss to Florida was the culmination of a month’s worth of struggles.
Take into account injuries to two more offensive linemen in the game, guard Josh Williford and center P.J. Lonergan, the line was in shambles.
Injuries or not, the Tigers managed only 200 yards of total offense Saturday, their lowest offensive output in a regular season game since the 2009 Florida game when they tallied just 162 yards.
“After a performance like that, no good coach in the country is going to be happy with that performance,” said offensive lineman Alex Hurst. “But we watched the film and we took something from it and we’re going to put it behind us.”
Hurst, a preseason First Team All-SEC right tackle, has been one of the players thrown directly into the deep end with the injuries. He was forced to move from his natural position of right tackle to the left side of the line to cover quarterback Zach Mettenberger’s blind side.
“The two or three weeks I’ve been working on [playing left tackle], there’s been an increased comfort level as far as being there,” Hurst said. “The biggest thing is to continue to build chemistry. We have to move forward and trust the guy next to you will be there for you. The biggest thing now is to be able to count on somebody and build our chemistry back up.”
Chemistry may be a hot word around the Football Operations building this week, but the long and short of it is, the offensive line just needs to plug the holes and start shoveling water out before the tidal wave from Columbia, S.C., rolls into town this weekend and sinks the ship altogether.
The South Carolina defense has already recorded 25 sacks on the season to go along with 49 tackles for loss, and it’ll be looking to add to that total against an LSU offense that has surrendered 16 sacks.
Led by a pair of game changing defensive ends in Jadeveon Clowney and Devin Taylor, the Gamecocks are yielding just 278 yards per game and a mere 10.5 points per game.
“Their front four guys are all solid,” said LSU offensive guard La’el Collins. “They seem to be physical and that’s what we do. They all seem to be fast and they know how to read different things. So the line of scrimmage is something we’ll have to take control of, as an offensive line.”
Stopping Clowney will be of paramount importance to the Tigers’ chances of moving the ball effectively this weekend.
Slowing him down, though, may require more than one body.
“As a guard if you don’t have a threat in your gap, you can either look inside or outside,” Collins said. “With a guy like [Clowney] you definitely want to look outside and make sure you have your tackle’s inside presence and make him work wide on you. And if you get beat wide you come back side and help him out. With guys like that on the edge you definitely want to look outside.”
Another aspect of the line play that has been called into question is what type of on-field instructions the line is receiving, if any.
Les Miles is pre-occupied running the rest of the team and offensive line coach Greg Studrawa is separated from his line while he is in the booth calling offensive plays.
Though it may appear the offensive line is without an on-field general, Hurst said that’s not the case at all.
“I don’t think that’s a factor,” Hurst said. “Fortunately coach Kragthorpe is down there and coach Ensminger, the tight ends coach, and the tight ends are involved in a lot of our blocking schemes. So I think it’s not really a factor.
Amid the doom and gloom of injuries and ineffective play has been a beacon of hope for the line, the emergence of right tackle Vadal Alexander.
Alexander, a freshman from Buford, Ga., was an early enrollee and was able to participate in spring practice, allowing him to be familiar enough with the offense to be effective at right tackle when his number got called following Faulk’s injury.
“Vadal is just one of those guys who came in during the spring and picked up everything so fast,” Collins said. “He did it faster than any freshman I’ve seen. He’s just so good. And he works hard. He understands already. He’s played a good amount of games and a good amount of snaps, so he knows what it takes already.”
Alexander is even getting pats on the back from his practice competition.
“He’s very coachable. He’s one of the guys who learns fast,” said defensive end Barkevious Mingo. “He came in early and I got to see him grow a lot from the time he got here and he’s still continued to grow.”
Despite all the adversity this offensive line has faced through the first half of the 2012 season, and with arguably the most imposing defensive front it will face all season coming into town, the Tigers are still looking to play their brand of smash-mouth football.
“We have to control the line of scrimmage,” Collins said. “The game is won in the trenches, up front. Our five against their four or five. If you can’t control the line, you can’t run the ball. In my heart I believe we have the best linemen in the country and we just have to translate it into the game.”
The line believes they can be effective, as does the man who they’re entrusted to protect.
“The offensive line is probably the toughest position to play on the field, both mentally and physically. And I think the guys have done a great job, overall,” Mettenberger said. “We just have to keep working and keep improving.”