<
>

LSU lines searching for consistency

BATON ROUGE, La. -- LSU coach Les Miles and many of his players embraced their roles as good soldiers on Monday, accepting blame for individual failures that allowed Mississippi State to win 34-29 on Saturday at Tiger Stadium.

There was plenty of blame to go around, from coverage breakdowns to missed tackles to dropped passes to quarterback misfires. But perhaps the most distressing problems the No. 17 Tigers (3-1) experienced came on the interiors of both lines, where they were simply not consistent enough. At times they were even manhandled by the Bulldogs’ physical fronts.

“Everybody has their times where they go through stuff,” said senior center Elliott Porter, whose group paved the way for LSU to rush for just 89 yards in 35 carries. “But we’re going through it [and] we’re going to get through it. We’ve just got to get our identity and once we get our identity, it’s going to be a good thing for this team.”

And what should that identity be?

“Just [like] the LSU offensive line that we had in the past, last year and years before: tough, hard-nosed, physical offensive linemen [who] finish blocks. Including myself,” Porter continued. “I believe we all have to improve with that. But I’m definitely putting it more on myself than the other guys. I’m the leader. I have to put it on myself more.”

Porter wasn’t the only blocker in need of improvement, however.

Miles said Ethan Pocic should start again at right guard against New Mexico State (2-2) on Saturday after taking a starting spot away from senior Fehoko Fanaika against Mississippi State. Left guard Vadal Alexander’s starting position might also be in jeopardy.

“We may look at a substitute that will go to the left side or to the right side at that guard spot,” Miles said.

Whatever personnel comprises the eventual starting lineup, it must play with far more consistency if LSU’s run-first philosophy will have any effectiveness against the better SEC defenses this season. LSU’s line struggled to get a consistent push at times even against its nonconference opponents, but talent eventually won out in those games.

The Tigers once again struggled to create running space against Mississippi State, and it was more costly this time -- in part because of poor communication, Porter said.

“The lines that we had in the past, including last year and the year before, we executed because we communicated better,” Porter said. “We have to communicate better. It will come. I have a lot of faith that it’s coming. It was there sometimes on Saturday night, but it wasn’t consistent enough.”

On the opposite side of the line, LSU struggled mightily in containing Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott. That’s a tall order for any defense, but Prescott made the Tigers look awful at times, rolling up the highest yardage total -- 570 yards -- surrendered by an LSU defense since 2001.

Much of that production came on runs straight up the middle, with the Bulldogs generating 302 rushing yards and 9.1 yards per attempt on runs between the tackles according to ESPN Stats and Information. In LSU’s first three games, opponents averaged 54 rushing yards per game and 3.4 yards per carry on runs between the tackles.

Despite what the numbers say, Miles insisted that defensive tackle is not a weakness for his team, and sophomore Christian LaCouture agreed with his coach’s assessment.

“I don’t see us as a weakness at all,” said LaCouture, who has started all four games at tackle. “We’ve got the talent, we’ve got the hard-working guys. We’ve just got to be on the same page as the defense, and we will. Looking at it, I don’t think we have any weaknesses on this football team. We’ve just got to make sure we play as one.”

Continuity along the defensive front won’t come any easier in the short term. Miles said Quentin Thomas, who started three of the first four games is “nicked” and could miss a week or two. Thomas left LSU’s football facility with his arm in a sling after Monday’s practice.

Meanwhile, redshirt freshmen Frank Herron, Maquedius Bain and Greg Gilmore -- all of whom seemed to be in line for bigger roles prior to the season -- have barely played. Asked about that group on Monday, Miles also mentioned converted end Lewis Neal as a player who could see more action.

“I do see some of those guys stepping forward even more in this game,” Miles said. “I can tell you that Lewis Neal came in and played late in that game and probably played six or eight snaps, made four tackles. There’s a guy that's going to play a lot of football, and he's just making his case. Some of those guys got onto the field in that game and made a case for more playing time, and that’s what we needed to have happen.”

That is certainly true, as what the Tigers didn’t accomplish much along either line against Mississippi State. New Mexico State does not represent a major threat, but the Tigers need to establish more consistent lineups with road trips to Auburn and Florida fast approaching.

“Somebody’s got to come up and play more,” LaCouture said. “Somebody’s got to step up, and I know they will. We’ve got some great guys back there, and I know they’ll step up to the challenge.”