‘They didn’t blink:’ LSU offensive line had to go to backups, but the Tigers did the job in win over Gators
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — LSU’s thin offensive line became even thinner during Saturday’s key Southeastern Conference clash with Florida.
But it turned out to not be that big of a deal for the banged-up Tigers.
Despite the return of right tackle Toby Weathersby, who was sidelined for last week’s game with Troy, offensive line coach Jeff Grimes had to make a series of chess-like moves in the final 3½ quarters of the hard-fought game in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
It all worked out in the end for LSU, however, which came away with a 17-16 victory over No. 21 Florida in a game the Tigers had to have after their disappointing setback to Troy.
The battered and bruised offensive line certainly did its part to help erase the bitter aftertaste of last week’s loss when coach Ed Orgeron said his team was beaten physically on both sides of the line of scrimmage.
“We couldn’t blink,” said left guard Garrett Brumfield, one of only two linemen along with right guard Ed Ingram to play each of the team’s 64 snaps on a hot, muggy afternoon. “Coach ‘O’ always says that it doesn’t matter who we put in there.
“We just need the right group of guys, and they went in there and did a tremendous job. The young guys did the job today.”
LSU played the last half of the second quarter and most of the third period without Weathersby, who was injured again, and left tackle KJ Malone, who hurt his left knee on the Tigers’ third offensive play. Center Will Clapp also missed one snap in the second quarter.
With those three veterans on the sideline, the Tigers had three true freshmen —Ingram, Saahdiq Charles and Austin Deculus — in the game along with redshirt freshman Lloyd Cushenberry, who had to come in for Clapp.
Ingram was the only one of the four who started the game.
Charles wound up playing both left and right tackle, coming in for Weathersby when he departed, then going to the left side when Malone was lost for the rest of the second quarter and third.
“Coach Grimes did a great job preparing those guys,” said Clapp, who was briefly shaken up and quickly came back in. “Basically, he’s working two groups of guys. So we trust in those freshmen and just rolled with it.”
Malone came back at the start of the critical fourth quarter and played only six snaps before taking a seat for the remainder of the contest.
“Those guys did a tremendous job … I couldn’t be more proud of them,” Malone, a senior, said of the Tigers’ replacements. “Every day we tell them that they have to be ready and they have to perform like veteran players. They did their job today.”
LSU rushed for 133 yards in the first half when the Tigers took a 10-3 lead to the locker room and finished the game with 216 yards on 48 attempts, averaging 4.5 yards per carry.
Four players rushed for 30 yards or more: Wide receiver Russell Gage netted 52 yards on six jet sweeps, with a 30-yard TD for LSU’s first score late in the first period; Derrius Guice added 50 yards and Darrel Williams had 35. Wide receiver Derrick Dillon also had a 30-yard jet sweep.
“I’m so proud of them, our team … no one blinked,” a euphoric Orgeron said. “We lost three offensive linemen in the first half and we had freshman going in. There wasn’t a lot of experience and we didn’t blink.”
“I looked those guys in the eye in the huddle and on the sideline and told them they were here for a reason,” Brumfield said of his young line mates. “I waned to make sure they were confident and I was there for them. I told them that everyone was going to be OK.”
In the end, it was.