The offensive line of the 2000 LSU football team was hit hard by injuries early in the season. Starter Trey Langley was lost for the year with a knee injury in September, and right tackle Brandon Winey was hampered throughout the season a wrist injury. But when the Tigers had to turn to their back-ups, the reserves delivered and the line started to put together some of its best performances.
A similar scenario is unfolding for the 2001 Tigers. While no one has been lost to a serious injuries, various bumps and sprains have forced some new faces into the mix. So far, the results have been positive.
An ankle sprain senior guard Dwayne Pierce suffered against Florida forced him out of that game and the following week's contest against Kentucky. Center Rob Sale moved over and filled the void at guard, a position he moved into last year after Langley's injury. True freshman Ben Wilkerson took over against Florida at center and has rotated with Sale at the guard position, too.
While the line, along with nearly every other position on the field, had its troubles against Florida, the unit was able to gather momentum against Kentucky and were at their best on the final drive of the Tigers‘ 29-25 win. They went on to dominate Mississippi State, allowing the Tigers to post 418 yards of total offense in their 42-0 trouncing of Mississippi State
"Right before halftime, (Mississippi State) started giving up," recalled starting right tackle Jason Baggett. "At the beginning of the game, they were talking and talking and talking. We kept pounding and pounding them, and they started talking less. I knew we were starting to get to them.
"At the beginning of the second half, when we got stopped the first time, they may have gotten their confidence back. But when they fumbled, we picked the ball up and drove it down there. Then when we got the next ball, we drove it down there. They started giving up. They weren't talking as much, and maybe I started talking a little more."
Although Pierce returned to action against Mississippi State, Sale and Wilkerson were put back on the line together after starting guard Stephen Peterman suffered a high ankle sprain in the third quarter. Peterman left the field on crutches and was still using them on Monday. But at Tuesday's practice, he was only sporting a light brace on his injured leg and took part in individual run-through drills. He was not dressed out in pads and therefore didn't take part in contact work, but he moved real well when running down the field and during calisthenics.
"It's a little frustrating," Peterman said on Monday regarding his injury and time on the sidelines. "But I know if I can't play, whoever coach puts in there is going to do just as good a job as I would."
Victory over the Bulldogs was especially sweet for Peterman, a native of Waveland, Miss., who was recruited heavily by Mississippi State and worked out in a gym owned by the former strength coach in Starkville. Getting back on the field soon is a priority for Peterman, who wants to complete the sweep against the Mississippi teams of the Southeastern Conference.
"I always want to play good against Mississippi schools because that's where I'm from," he said. "I just know a lot of people where I'm from are Mississippi State fans and Ole Miss fans, and I don't feel like hearing anything from them."
Baggett feels the chemistry of the offensive line is developing nicely and at a crucial time for the Tigers since each game remaining on their schedule is a difference-maker in terms of the battle for the SEC West. Although the skill position stars like Rohan Davey, Josh Reed and LaBrandon Toefield get much of the recognition, Baggett says he and his teammates on the line gladly accept all of the burden for keeping the LSU offense on the move.
"All of us are putting the load on our shoulders." said Baggett. "We've moved around, put Ben in the middle and have just clicked. I have confidence in everybody who‘s going to be in there. I‘m not really worried who‘s beside me - whether it's Rob or Dwayne Pierce. "
INJURY SITUATION: In addition to Peterman, wide receiver Jack Hunt (abdominal) and fullback Solomon Lee (knee) did not practice. Both are expected to be available against Ole Miss. Those players wearing no-contact jerseys were defensive lineman Jarvis Green, running back LaBrandon Toefield, safety Lionel Thomas, special teams coverage man Chad White and linebacker Bradie James.