In the aftermath of a massive overtime victory at Alabama in early November, there was plenty of cause for euphoria when the LSU players got back to work that following Monday.
The Tigers offensive linemen saw things a little differently, though.
No. 1-ranked LSU (13-0) and No. 2 Alabama (11-1) tangle in an unprecedented regular-season rematch on Jan. 9 in the BCS Championship Game.
And as scintillating as the Tigers’ 9-6 victory on Nov. 5 was, the LSU o-linemen – along with their position coach and offensive coordinator Greg Studrawa – were left with plenty of motivation for round two.
“I don’t think we played well: It’s that simple,” Studrawa said. “Give credit to Alabama’s defense. They’re a good defense, no doubt, but we’ve played good defenses before. We didn’t execute as well as we wanted to.”
“The great thing is, these guys know they can do better, and so do I. I’ll call a better game and get them in position to make better plays. We’re going to play better. I’m confident that we can.”
In particular, the LSU offensive line – so good all season – scuffled against the Crimson Tide’s tenacious defense.
Running the ball inside was a near impossibility. It wasn’t until Jordan Jefferson entered the game at quarterback for good and Studrawa dialed up a handful of speed option plays that the Tigers found some offensive success.
Those plays that attacked the edges of the Alabama defense and forced the Tide linebackers to move more laterally, combined with a handful of short, quick passes, added up to some success. But the bottom line was a season-low 239 total yards (only 148 on the ground) and no touchdowns.
“We won the game but we lost up front and we want that to be different this time,” left tackle Chris Faulk said.
“We didn’t do a good job coming off the ball. It was so loud and it was like nobody wanted to make a mistake so we were jumpy.”
That was impossible to hide when the raspy-voiced Studrawa gathered his o-linemen for a film session.
While the Tigers’ defense and special teams – particularly kicker Drew Alleman, who provided all the points – undoubtedly soaked up the accolades as the game was broken down, the offensive line had to relive a tough night at the office.
“When we were watching that, the five of us from up front kept looking at each other and saying ‘We’ve got to play better than that,’ ” right tackle Alex Hurst said.
That wasn’t lost on Studrawa.
Since he moved to the offensive coordinator spot in a pinch in August when Steve Kragthorpe was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, Studrawa has called games from the press box, leaving his linemen on the field without their immediate position coach.
Part of his confidence in doing so was a veteran group of players that Studrawa knew would police themselves.
“The good thing about is when the kids watched that game, they saw it,” Studrawa said. “They didn’t sit in here and rejoice in what we did in that game. They knew we did enough things to win that game, but they also knew we missed on a lot of opportunities that we had. That’s the most important thing.”
Apparently the linemen took the less than stellar performance to heart.
Following the Alabama game, the LSU offense generated 284.3 rushing yards a game and 6.3 yards a rush. The only hiccup was a first-half malaise against Georgia in the SEC Championship Game when the Tigers couldn’t generate a first down and scratched only only 21 yards on five possessions.
There was a common thread to the Alabama and Georgia defenses as both operate from a 3-4 scheme. Solving the Bulldogs over the final 30 minutes is something Studrawa hopes can serve as a blueprint.
High on the list of lessons learned: Don’t panic.
“In the beginning of the game against Georgia we were pressing,” Studrawa said. “They were trying to make plays. Second play of the game, we missed a wide-open deep shot that was open for a touchdown and then the kids started to press. Georgia did some different things that we didn’t adjust to right away. We made our halftime adjustments and we were fine.
“That’s a beautiful thing about this team. They don’t panic. They told me ‘Coach we got it.’ ”
They did that day in Atlanta, and Studrawa is counting on the same kind of turnaround against Alabama with a national championship on the line.