ATLANTA, Ga. – It's rare when inserting two freshmen into the starting offensive line midseason is a good thing for a college football team.
That's been the case, however, for the 2012 LSU Tigers.
The shake-up began during the team's loss to Florida when starting right guard Josh Williford sustained a concussion. Williford, a junior in the middle of his second season as a starter, gave way to redshirt freshman Trai Turner.
Following the game with the Gators, another spot along the line opened up when senior Alex Hurst went M.I.A., vacating a post at right tackle he'd manned for years. True freshman Vadal Alexander was quickly tabbed as the best option to fill in for Hurst.
Six games later, and going on seven with this Monday night's bowl game, both Alexander and Turner are still starting and growing a partnership on the right side of LSU's offensive line.
Offensive coordinator Greg Studrawa said Saturday that the duo is no longer just surviving the chore but actually taking ownership of their respective roles and playing with assurance.
"There's no doubt about it," said Studrawa. "You can see it in their eyes when they were thrown in there. It's not just them. It's any young guy. You're thrown in the mix and all of a sudden you're out there and you're being counted on in front of everybody and you're accountable for it. The question you have is ‘Do I belong?'
"That has to come from within. They have to get in there and fit in the mix and go out there and have success and dominate some people. And through the course of those last games, they did. I mean that side's been coming. You can ask P.J. [Lonergan] from playing next to them how their confidence level has come along. They feel like they belong now. They walk with a different purpose and carry themselves with a different mentality. They walk with their chest out a little more and just have that confidence that ‘I belong. I can play here and I can do this.'"
Lonergan, also available at Saturday's press conference, reminded everyone that he can relate to where Turner and Alexander are.
"I remember when I was a redshirt freshman and got thrown in the game," Lonergan said. "There's a certain feeling you have that's unexplainable, but once you relax and settle down and develop within the scheme, you allow yourself to play better because you have more confidence in yourself."
The end result, continued Lonergan (and echoing Studrawa), is a feeling of belonging with the best of the best.
"You become part of the offense. You're not just stuck in there," explained LSU's senior center. "I think that's what happened to those guys. They had to develop that confidence that you need."
On another offensive line note, Studrawa spoke about what it's meant to get back Williford, now cleared after missing the last six games, and redshirt freshman Evan Washington, lost for the regular season due to an academic issue.
Both players, according to Coach Stud, have been practicing with the team since bowl preparations began. It's where they've been taking reps that is the most interesting part.
"They're both available," said Studrawa. "Josh is back in there rotating in the mix. That gives us some flexibility to play him at both tackle and guard. And getting Evan back in the two-deep gives me the opportunity to move Williford around at the tackle spot if the need arises.
"Josh is a guy who was really playing great football in that Florida game. I mean that kid was playing the best football he had ever played until he got knocked out. So, what that does, is it gives us a little more depth up front. It gives us guys with experience who are ready to play. Williford can play two or three different spots and that way, again, we can do some things that we didn't have before. So it's been really nice to get those kids back."
Studrawa: Freshmen starters now belong
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