By Trey Mongrue
If there was ever any doubt after the events of last Saturday, LSU coach Les Miles confirmed on the following Monday that his football team has a lot of room for improvement going forward with the 2014 season still relatively young.
Led by a dominant showing from Mississippi State quarterback and Louisiana native Dak Prescott, the Tigers’ suffered a 34-29 home defeat at the hands of the Bulldogs. It marks the first time since 2006 that LSU has started 0-1 in Southeastern Conference play.
“I think that certainly we got Mississippi State’s best shot,” Miles said at his weekly media luncheon. “Simply, we need to improve. We’re all accountable, every coach and player.”
Prescott’s career-day aside, a main reason why LSU was overwhelmed on its home field was due to the inability to win the battle at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. With the defensive line getting amounting little pressure, Mississippi State running back Josh Robinson was almost as dynamic as Prescott, rushing for 197 yards – the most rushing yards by a player against LSU this season – and a touchdown on just carries.
“It’s something that, for us, we’re not really happy about,” said starting defensive tackle Christian LaCouture. “We had some miscues that they gashed us on, so we have to improve on that.”
Once thought the be a strength coming into the season, the LSU offensive line did not fare much better as it failed to open any holes for the running backs going up against the Bulldogs’ stout front seven. This was most noticeable when the Tigers failed to punch in an early touchdown despite having four tries inside the MSU three-yard line.
However, Miles – a former offensive lineman himself – is not ready to lay the blame there just yet.
“A guy gives up a sack and then plays for the most part the rest of the day extremely well,” explained Miles. “That happens a couple times.”
Miles’ faith in his offensive line likely has something to do with the amount of veterans on it. With seniors La’el Collins and Elliot Porter, junior Vadal Alexander and sophomore Jerald Hawkins anchoring the line, those four will enter this weekend’s game against New Mexico State with a combined 87 starts.
The same cannot be said for the defensive line. While defensive ends Jermauria Rasco and Danielle Hunter both started in every game of 2013, LaCouture and fellow defensive tackle Quentin Thomas entered this season with limited experience.
After those two, freshman Davon Godchaux has been the only other defensive tackle to regularly rotate into games. Redshirt freshmen Frank Herron, Greg Gilmore and Maquedius Bain have yet to break in to the depth chart.
“It’s just little things that they need to improve on,” said LaCouture. “They are hardworking guys and I know they are busting their tails to get on the field.”
Instead, 255-pound sophomore Lewis Neal has been converted from a defensive end and, with Thomas nursing an arm injury, is expected to see a lot of time on the interior going forward.
“He’s trying to do whatever he can to get on the field,” LaCouture said of Neal who registered two tackles against Mississippi State. “He’s not the average 6-foot-5 at defensive tackle, but what’s great about that is he comes off the ball low and with great leverage.”
For as good as Neal may turn out to be, it may not be a good sign that he has surpassed Herron, Gilmore and Bain, who have been working at defensive tackle since arriving to campus last season. Nor is it encouraging that the offensive line has noticeably regressed as a whole.
Following this Saturday’s final non-conference game, the Tigers will be staring down the barrel of a brutal SEC schedule. They will need to see vast improvements on both sides of the line to come out alive.
“Now, we have to be up to the challenge,” Miles said. “I think we will be. I think that will happen quickly.”