This was going to be the best offensive line in LSU history. All-American LG Will Blackwell was the only missing piece from the dominant 2011 group, and La’El Collins was going to slide right in and maintain that level of play. We all know it didn’t work out the way we thought it would, but there were a ton of positives looking back on it. LSU’s offense has been and will be as strong as the offensive line. Last year’s quarterback play wasn’t excellent, but the offensive line was so good that the Tigers piled up points. The line did not play well in the last game. Zero points. I think you saw that again this year.
MORE THAN I EXPECTED:
I’ve said many times that depth is important on the offensive line. Last season all five starters missed time, but T-Bob Hebert and Greg Shaw were able to step in and give the Tigers great reps in key spots. Entering this year, only Josh Dworaczyk was an experienced back-up, and he was a lifetime guard (meaning he’s been an LSU guard for the lifetime of some second graders). Les Miles said entering the season that Dworaczyk would be the swing man, but certainly the hope was he wouldn’t be needed on the outside. And then it began. Chris Faulk, pop. Gone. P.J. Lonergan’s back plagued him. Josh Williford sustained a serious concussion, and Alex Hurst left the team. I’ve never seen of anything like it. Only the Maryland quarterback situation was worse this year in college football, but you don’t ever hear about LSU’s offensive line attrition. I guess LSU is just supposed to keep churning them out.
No one penciled Trai Turner and Vadal Alexander in as starters for the second half of the season. Those two were great. Turner added a dimension of athleticism and quickness that LSU hasn’t had there in a few years, and Alexander was the first true freshman to start the bulk of the season on the offensive front since Ben Wilkerson in 2001. “Bull” and “Dozer”, as their teammates called them, certainly had their struggles at times, but you really couldn’t have asked for much more. Alexander proved he’ll be the next great tackle at LSU as he grasped the offensive at an unbelievable clip. He’s a fantastic run blocker who had issues with some speed rushers but generally did a nice job. Turner was a road grader himself. It would appear to me that Josh Williford got “Wally Pipped” this season which is a shame, but Turner’s play was just too good. I didn’t see that coming.
LESS THAN I EXPECTED:
Dominant Run Blocking
We touched on this in the Running Backs portion of the series, but it’s worth revisiting. LSU struggled to pave the way on the ground late in the season. Gaining 89 yards on the ground at Arkansas is really puzzling. The Hogs’ front four is better than it gets credit for, but 89 yards? C’mon. Other than Dworaczyk, this line is built for the running game, and the holes just weren’t there after the Alabama game. Not sure if teams figured out the freshmen. Not sure if LSU lost its drive. Not sure if the Alabama, South Carolina and Texas A&M games were an aberration. Any way you slice it, the ground game was underwhelming in the last three games.
When Idaho’s Benson Mayowa roared around the edge and flattened Zach Mettenberger on two consecutive plays, you could feel the air come out of Tiger Stadium. The projected first rounder was out at left tackle, and Josh Dworaczyk couldn’t block Idaho. With Demontre Moore, Jadeveon Clowney and Alabama on the schedule, dropping back in I-10 traffic seemed like a safer venture than behind Josh Dworaczyk. But the sixth year senior pulled it together. He adapted to his new positon, and he played excellent football after Alex Hurst left the team. You knew Dworaczyk was going to know where to be, but at 300 lbs., you didn’t know if he could get the job done from the correct spot. He absolutely did, and I didn’t think there was any way he would. The AP tabbed him with Honorable Mention All-SEC honors, and he should take great pride in that.
JUST WHAT I EXPECTED:
As the only man who played through the entire season with relatively no injury problems, it makes since that Collins had the best year on the line. But he did much more than stay healthy. Collins dominated the line of scrimmage all season long, and showed a very rare ability to get to the second level and take on linebackers and safeties. Go back and watch Jeremy Hill’s first touchdown against Ole Miss, Collins is over 10 yards down the field flattening people. Admittedly, Collins struggled with terminology when hew got to campus. He’s a truly special talent, and now you understand why the staff didn’t kick him out to tackle when the turnstiles were rotating over there. He’s a guard now, and he’s a great one. He’ll be in the mix for All-America honors next year, but for this year he broke out just like I expected.