By any measure, it’s been a long time.
Seven hundred twenty-three days. One hundred twenty-eight in-game minutes. One hundred two offensive plays.
It’s been that long since Stevan Ridley took a handoff from Jordan Jefferson and blasted through the offensive left side and into Tiger Stadium’s north endzone for a go-ahead touchdown against Alabama. Since then, LSU has not pierced the goalline against the Crimson Tide.
Of course, nearly all of that drought is courtesy of an Alabama defense that yielded six starters to the NFL Draft in the first five rounds. Undeterred, the Alabama defense descending on Tiger Stadium this weekend ranks atop the country in total defense, scoring defense, rushing defense and passing defense.
It's another good one.
“You can see it when they play,“ said LSU Head Coach Les Miles. “They play with great technique. They’re very disciplined and never out of place. It’s a very, very capable defense.”
And so the challenge awaits for an LSU offense hyped all summer as the difference between coming up short in the BCS National Championship Game and finishing the job. Since then, inconsistencies in the redzone, turnovers and missed opportunities have positioned the Tigers with a loss and around the middle of the conference total offense.
Junior quarterback Zach Mettenberger spent the open week pouring over film of the Alabama defense.
“It’s definitely frustrating,” Mettenberger said. “You look throughout (Alabama Head) Coach (Nick) Saban’s career, and he’s always had a solid defense. Hopefully they can make some mistakes to help us out.”
Through eight games, Alabama hasn’t been the most helpful bunch, allowing just seven touchdowns on the season, eight fewer than the SEC’s next best, a tie between LSU and Mississippi State.
But the Tiger offense has found somewhat of a groove following a dismal effort on the road at Florida.
Since gaining just 200 yards and converting one of 13 third downs in Gainesville, the Tigers have made some changes.
Like any Miles offense, it’s started up front.
Senior Josh Dworaczyk has found a comfort zone at left tackle. Redshirt freshman Trai Turner has settled in at right guard for the concussed Josh Williford. True freshman Vadal Alexander in now entrenched at right tackle.
That group took the field as starters for the first time against No. 3 South Carolina and mauled the Gamecocks at the point of attack all night for 258 yards on the ground. Texas A&M got a similar dosage the following week, allowing 219 to the new-look Tigers.
South Carolina and Texas A&M, two of the elite pass rushing teams in the conference, only combined for three sacks of Mettenberger, quite an improvement from the 2.5 sacks the Tigers allowed per game against lesser fronts like Towson, North Texas and Auburn in the first six games of the year.
“For some of these younger guys, I think I’ve been able to get in their head and force their mentality to be: Bottom line, whatever it takes, we’re going to execute as an offensive line,” Dworaczyk said. “For Zach, I think we’re giving him a lot of confidence.”
Certainly the coaching staff was served a little of that confidence as well, putting the ball in the air 29 times against the Aggies. Another change.
Though only 11 were completions, one came for a 29-yard touchdown to Kadron Boone.
That strike and the extra point that followed gave the Tigers the lead and totally shifted the momentum of the game.
Big plays have that capability.
The other statistic with a direct relationship to momentum is turnovers. Though they plagued Mettenberger early in the season, no such problems existed in College Station. Asked on Monday if the Texas A&M gameplan will continue moving forward. Take a few shots and protect the ball, Mettenberger nodded.
“Yeah, not making mistakes is going to be huge,” he said. “(Alabama) capitalize(s) on mistakes that other teams make against them. That’s something that myself and other guys that touch the ball, we can’t turn it over for sure.”
The early shots on the Aggie secondary softened the line of scrimmage and allowed for some lanes to run, LSU’s lifeblood. And that’s where the final change came.
The familiar stable of running backs welcomed a new thoroughbred into the fold this season in freshman Jeremy Hill. The youngster has stamped both of the last two Tiger wins with long touchdown runs late in the game to rip the heart out of the opponent.
This Alabama defense allows a jaw-dropping 1.9 yards per carry entering the game.
Sledding figures to be tough for the Tiger backs on Saturday night.
Dworaczyk’s crew has the chore of paving the way through what has been a crimson road block.
“They understand,” Dworaczyk said of his new group mates. “Trai was a part last year and understands the matchup, and Vadal came to LSU for one reason, and that’s to play against the best. He’s going to get that chance Saturday.”