After five weeks of play, LSU sits atop the Southeastern Conference in rush defense, allowing just 79 yards per game, and sacks, with 16. A big part of the early success has been the play of a pair of newcomers at defensive ends: Ken Adams and Sam Montgomery.
Headed into the biggest test of the season, the formidable front has lost some luster. Adams was injured in the West Virginia game and missed last weekend’s bout with the Volunteers. Montgomery played against Tennessee, but a chop block left him with a torn ligament in his knee.
Les Miles quickly announced after Saturday’s game that Montgomery wouldn’t play the following weekend against Florida. Monday’s MRI revealed that he won’t play for the rest of the season.
Miles said that the injury required “significant surgery.”
“Everybody misses Sam,” he said. “I think we understand crisis. We understand injury. I think our team understands that we have to step by some of those distractions to play well.”
Who replaces one of the fastest rising stars in the LSU lineup? For now, the Tigers turn back to Lavar Edwards – the name that Montgomery jumped in the offseason to earn the start.
“Lavar Edwards is a pretty good pass rusher, in my opinion,” Miles said. “There’s that package where we put in some fast guys. They can come off the edge, too. It’s kind of a mixed bag there.”
Miles was optimistic about Adams’ chance for a return, calling the junior college transfer “very probable” for the showdown in The Swamp.
In any event, three underclassmen will be called to the forefront in Gainesville: Edwards, redshirt freshman Barkevious Mingo and sophomore Chancey Aghayere.
Fortunately they aren’t as baby-faced as their age surmises. Edwards and Aghayere rotated into the two-deep last season, and Aghayere squeezed in three starts in place of the injured Pep Levingston. As for progress in 2010, all three contributed to the win against Tennessee on Saturday.
“Last year was my first year playing so it was more of me trying to get the feel of things, trying to trust the waters,” Aghayere said. “This year I have a year under my belt, and I feel more confident and know the ropes a little more.”
Aghayere amassed five tackles, one for a loss. Edwards came around the end and engulfed Vol quarterback Matt Simms for a sack. Mingo recorded a 1.5 sacks and five tackles.
While Edwards has played sparingly this year, the sophomore feels that each rep brings more promise – especially when the result is an opposing passer put on his back.
“That sack felt real good,” Edwards said. “It was my first of the year, and I’m glad to get it out of the way. Every rep that you get on the field helps a lot. I’m trying to get better, so hopefully there won’t be any letdown while Ken and Sam are out.”
Possibly the biggest adjustment on the defensive front will come with Mingo’s new role.
The slender, speedy West Monroe native has primarily played on third downs and obvious passing situations, but with Montgomery out and Adams possibly limited, defensive coordinator John Chavis will need Mingo to play in run situations.
“I think KeKe will be rotated through pretty regularly,” Miles said. “He’s playing pretty well.”
Though his role may change, Mingo feels it shouldn’t be anything he can’t handle.
“It’s the same principles, just gotta slow it down a little bit, I guess,” he said. “It’s not as much up the field as it is playing your assignments.”
Another possibility Miles mentioned is playing true freshman Justin Maclin, who practiced through the summer and fall months at outside linebacker. The Memphis native has not played this season.
“We moved Justin Maclin to defensive end just to give us some depth there,” Miles said.
When asked if the youngster could lose his redshirt as early as the weekend, Miles wasn’t ready to commit.
“I’m not really sure to be honest with you,” he said. “We’ll have to look over that with the defensive staff.”
Whoever lines up on the defensive front for the Tigers is set to face a Gator rushing attack that ranks ninth in the league at 151 yards per game. The stable of backs includes Jeff Demps, Emmanuel Moody, Mike Gillislee and Mack Brown, and Demps leads active FBS running backs in career yards per touch.