BATON ROUGE, La. -- LSU’s coaches admit the situation is not ideal. But without an oversized man to anchor the Tigers' reconstructed defensive line, they are going with 298-pound Davon Godchaux at nose tackle.
The trick, said defensive coordinator Dave Aranda and line coach Ed Orgeron, will be to do what fits their personnel best in Aranda’s new 3-4 scheme.
"You go with what you’ve got, and so I think having a player like Godchaux allows you to slant and angle," said Aranda, who in three seasons at Wisconsin built the Badgers into one of the nation’s most effective defenses. "It allows you when you do play base, and if an O-lineman is on his heels because he’s concerned about the movement, Godchaux can get knockback on him.
"Wisconsin the very first year, we had 300-pounders across the board and the nose was 335 pounds, so you didn’t slant and angle as much with him. It was more of just knockback. With a fella like Godchaux with the ability to get knockback, but also slant and angle, you’re able to play that mix. So either way can work. You just have to play to your strengths."
Finding a workable solution at nose was Orgeron’s dilemma when spring practice started and the Tigers shifted from their traditional 4-3 base defense to Aranda’s scheme with three down linemen.
Senior Christian LaCouture and junior Greg Gilmore started the spring at the position, but the coaches didn’t like what they were getting from the line. With only a few practices left in the spring, they flip-flopped LaCouture and Godchaux between nose and end and started to see flashes of what they want the line to be.
Their hope is that Godchaux’s speed and explosiveness can offset his lack of girth, while LaCouture can be a run-stopper who controls the edge.
"We went six, seven days a little bit and just didn’t feel good about some of the things we were doing at the nose, some of the things we were doing at the 4i [defensive end]. We said 'let’s switch them,'" Orgeron said. "Davon gives us a different picture there. Christian has played a "G" technique on the guard that’s the same thing as at tackle, and he’s more at home there. So that helped our defense."
Nonetheless, Orgeron admitted the Tigers' lack of an experienced jumbo lineman could be an issue at times. Perhaps assistance is on the way since LSU signed a batch of promising defensive linemen in February, but it’s a risky proposition to rely too heavily on young prospects.
"It can be a concern, especially if they start double-teaming," Orgeron said. "But if you get a lot of single blocks, you can use [Godchaux’s] quickness. Then we would like to get 320 [pounds] there. We have some freshmen coming in like Rashard Lawrence and those guys, so hopefully they’ll fit the bill better."
Godchaux already learned in his small dose of springtime work at nose that the position is frequently no fun.
When the Tigers line up in their base defense with three down linemen, he knows multiple blockers will regularly come his way. Fighting off double teams is challenging for anyone, and that’s especially so when the lineman is somewhat small for his position.
"It’s rough," Godchaux said. "You’ve got to be a man. You’ve got to do all the dirty work. That’s the kind of position Coach [Orgeron] put me in, so I’m up to the challenge each and every day. I’ve got to come in the fieldhouse and the office and get my mindset ready. It’s going to be a tough day, grind it out."
Listed at 6-foot-3 and 310 pounds, Lawrence might eventually provide some relief -- and the Tigers will have other hefty interior linemen join the roster between spring and preseason camp -- but Godchaux and Gilmore will remain the Tigers’ top two options inside when August arrives.
Maybe his size is not ideal, but Godchaux did enough late in the spring that Aranda seems pleased with what he saw in the last few practices after the LaCotuure-Godchaux flip-flop occurred.
"I think it just really fits both of those guys," Aranda said. "We’ve really excelled once we made that switch."