He reiterated that the left ankle ailment is something that has bothered him since high school, but said he’s “always been able to play through it.”
“It’s noticeable, but nothing that bothers me too much,” he said.
Could the ankle prevent him from playing this weekend at West Virginia? Or in any game for that matter.
“No,” he said quickly and emphatically. “Never.”
So, yes, Baker will be on the field at Milan Puskar Stadium when the No. 2-ranked Tigers (3-0) and 16th-ranked Mountaineers (3-0) tangle.
How involved he and his fellow linebackers are against WVU’s pass-happy offense remains to be seen.
Baker said he plans on being much more involved in pass coverage underneath the secondary – sort of a mid-level safety, especially if all five LSU defensive backs draw one-on-one coverage responsibilities.
The Mountaineers will actually run the ball (they average 30 rushing attempts a game), but not very successfully. WVU carves out 2.6 yards a carry and have failed to surpass 102 yards in a game this season.
Throwing the ball is the preferred method with 356 yards a game through the air.
“With the offense that they have, it’s really versatile so you have to be able to match up with them well,” Baker said about the linebackers’ roles.
“The defensive line is eating well right now, and the secondary is making plays. The linebackers aren’t getting to make any plays, but, hey, we’re winning so I’m not going to complain.”
The LSU linebackers won’t exactly take the night off.
“They do a nice job with their screen game,” Baker said. “We have to make sure we’re where we need to be and are ready to make plays.”
So we meet again
Sam Montgomery doesn’t remember a lot about defending West Virginia’s offense a year ago when the Tigers grinded out a 20-14 triumph.
He doesn’t need any prodding to recall who he spent most of his night against, though.
“I remember me and No. 64 going head-to-head and both of us being very tired after the game,” Montgomery said. “He was one of the best pass blockers I’ve ever gone up against.”
That No. 64: Senior left tackle Don Barclay, who is back in the same spot this season.
“I’m ready to meet him again,” Montgomery said.
By necessity and by coach’s decision, the offensive line did some shifting and moving Thursday at Mississippi State.
Starting left tackle Chris Faulk suffered an ankle injury on the first series of the night and never returned. And right guard Will Blackwell went through a stretch when he was flagged for a chop block, then a false start and his man blasted through to sack Jarrett Lee for a 7-yard loss.
Those three plays all came in a series when the Tigers moved backwards 13 yards and the result was a punt that gave the Bulldogs possession at midfield, which led to their only points of the second half.
Hard to argue with the results those two delivered.
Studrawa was able to attack State’s defense the same way he had Oregon and Northwestern State, mixing in runs to both sides and keeping Lee protected – especially important since the QB was operating with a tender ankle and was even less mobile than usual.
“It’s been a while,” Williford said. “I haven’t really contributed in a while because of my ankle. It felt good to be out there.”
Added Shaw, who has played sparingly throughout his career, “It felt good. It felt like I’ve been waiting for this for a long time. When the chance came, it felt like it was my time and I was ready.”
Now Shaw needs to be ready for his second career start and his first at the important left tackle spot.
Shaw said he had been working with the first team in practice this week while Faulk rested and tried to rehab.
“I’m prepared to be the guy if that’s what this team needs me to do,” he said.
“We had a guy go down and when that happens you have to be ready to step up and fill in for your teammate. You can’t have any breaks in the chain.”
Williford’s wait hasn’t been nearly as long as Shaw’s, but the playing time against State was welcome.
A third-year sophomore, Williford stepped into the starting lineup for four games last season when Blackwell was lost for the season in the first game.
But a nagging ankle problem limited Williford’s availability late last season and hampered him enough in fall camp to enable Blackwell to claim the starting job.
“Getting a chance to play makes a difference,” Williford said. “It makes everything seem like it’s worthwhile, all the practice and hard work.”
Blackwell is back with the first unit this week, but like Shaw, Williford is poised to step in whenever he’s called on.
And when the 6-foot-7, 324-pound Williford is in the game next to the 6-6, 340-pound Hurst, there aren’t many tandems as big in college football.
Williford and Hurst used to be roommates, so they know each other well.
“We’ve got that bond you need for double teams when we take on 3-techniques and have to work well together,” Williford said. “When we’re together, it is a big side of the line.”
That roommate thing ended a while back, though.
“I got tired of buying groceries and they’d go missing,” Williford said with a smile.
Take me home, country road
Predictably, not every LSU player has heard of late country singer John Denver or one of his first big hits, “Country road.”
But the Tigers will get plenty familiar with his nostalgic anthem dedicated to West Virginia this weekend. It’s a favorite of the WVU band, which plays a jazzed-up version of Denver’s song during its pregame performance and several times after that.
“It’s a very good song,” said Williford, who grew up listening to “Rocky top” as the son of a Tennessee graduate. “It’s one of my top two opponent songs, right there with Rocky Top.”
Lee said he’s a fan of “Take me home” as well.
“I love that song,” he said. “It won’t bother me to hear it a lot. Rocky Top wears on me a whole lot more than John Denver.”
Another part of the WVU tradition is that a student dressed as a Mountaineer fires a musket to conclude the pre-game ritual, as well as every time the team scores.
“That won’t bother me; I’m not gun-shy,” said Lee, an avid hunter. “I don’t think they’ll be scoring much, so I don’t think we’ll have to worry about hearing the gun too much.”
Moving the chains
Punter Brad Wing was in a protective leg sleeve and walked with a noticeable limp Tuesday as he left the LSU practice facility. … The official Nike fan T-shirt for the 2011 Gold Game is available in the LSU SportShop at www.LSUshop.net and the LSU Bookstore. Fans are encouraged to wear gold to the Oct. 8 game vs. Florida. The shirt's front graphic features the University’s Love Purple/Live Gold trademark above the popular Eye of the Tiger logo. … LSU Director of Athletic Training Jack Marucci and Senior Associate Athletic Director Shawn Eddy are both West Virginia natives and graduates of WVU.