In today’s edition of “Six Graphs,” the TSD staff shares its takes on the LSU offensive and defensive lines, and which one could be on the mend sooner than the other.
QUESTION: Which problems are more fixable – those of the offensive or defensive line?
Hunter Paniagua: The problems on the offensive line are more fixable for several reasons but none more important than experience. Entering the season, this was a unit with veterans across the board, players with multiple years of starting experience. Though the line is playing more like a bunch of ragtag underclassmen, you'd have to think eventually the linemen will return to the form we all expected. They've played so well in the past, it's hard to imagine this total drop-off in production could last the entirety of the season.
But if these issues persist, the LSU coaches still have more options to address them on offense than they do on defense. We've already seen them experiment. Ethan Pocic started last weekend at right guard, and Les Miles said Monday he'll get another opportunity against New Mexico State. He also mentioned the possibility of trying Fehoko Fanaika at left guard for an underperforming Vadal Alexander. He's also spoken highly of K.J. Malone as a possible left tackle, possibly freeing La'el Collins to move to guard and shore up the run game. So at the very least, LSU seems willing to try new combinations, and you'd imagine that one will eventually click.
But that's where the pressure will fall on new offensive line coach Jeff Grimes. He was heralded as a vast improvement over Greg Studrawa in terms of teaching and scheming. That hasn't shown on the field yet, so he still has something to prove. Some have suggested the players, particularly the guards and centers, have struggled to grasp his system. If that's the case, then LSU will need to find the players that can, and the Tigers at least have the options and the experience to eventually sort it out.
Ben Love: I too think it’s the offensive line, for many of the reasons Hunter provided, but let’s play devil’s advocate here for a minute. Because while it’s true that Grimes has options along his offensive front, it is in a sense more alarming that his most experienced options haven’t delivered. I’m still not convinced it will be a good sign if LSU moves on from two or three of last year’s starters on the O-Line.
At least with the defensive tackles we expected it. We knew there were not only two new starters coming to the forefront in Christian Lacouture and Quentin Thomas but also that depth would be an issue. So this group, in comparison to their offensive counterparts, stands a chance to grow and develop a heck of a lot more on the field. That’s what happens to first-time starters and regular platoon players – they get on-the-job training. It’s often not pretty in the SEC, but that’s the reality. So of the two lines, I’d naturally expect a higher percentage growth in competency and execution from the D-Line.
But, personnel-wise, Brick Haley has tried just about everyone he’s got, so it will be on the shoulders of the same four players we’ve seen so far at defensive tackle. Thomas is likely to sit out the New Mexico State game, meaning there will be more time for Davon Godchaux to play and get his feet wet in a relatively low-pressure situation. Ditto for Lewis Neal, who although undersized seems to have a motor that none of the redshirt freshmen (Bain, Gilmore, Herron) do. Should one of that trio, or possibly Trey Lealaimatafao, step up and give some semblance of a presence before season’s end, the defensive line situation could be improved. Lot of emphasis on that word “could.”