At the end of the day, there was little difference between LSU’s 2008 and 2009 opening three weeks. Both times, the Tigers were 3-0.
Yet, last season brought a pair of 41-point offensive performances behind blowout wins of Appalachian State and North Texas before a 26-21, comeback victory at Auburn.
Charles Scott ran behind a dominant offensive line to the tune of 398 yards through three games. As a unit, the running game totaled 266, 216 and 178 yards in their opening outings, respectively.
Times were good.
This season, well, not so much.
The Tigers have averaged just 164 rushing yards a contest, while Scott has not gone over 75 yards in a game nor scored a touchdown on the ground.
Fellow senior Keiland Williams and returning starters at every spot but two on the offensive line join Scott to make up a relatively experienced starting 11; so the question remains, why have things not come together already?
“I am surprised things aren’t flowing how they should considering talent and expectations,” Williams said. “You have a lot of returning starters, so you think that everything should be better; but hey, it’s not, so we have to work.”
The work begins not just with the running backs, but an offensive line that has struggled to find a rhythm. T-Bob Hebert, LSU’s center and one of two new starters to the line, stressed the little things when he recapped what went wrong through the opening few weeks.
“It comes down to miscommunication or technique problems that we aren’t used to having,” Hebert said. “For the most part, we have been good passing off the blitz and what not, but we must continue to improve.”
To speed things along, head coach Les Miles met with the unit on Monday morning and challenged them to step their game up – before it is too late.
“Coach challenged us to step up and become a dominant run force, and we have really challenged ourselves,” Hebert said. “He said we had the potential to be a top-tied offensive line in the country, so we have to strive and work towards that.”
With the Southeastern Conference’s top teams on the LSU schedule’s horizon, the Tigers know that it is now or never.
“We are about to hit this three-game hump that will be a big time stretch of SEC games, and you got to be firing on all cylinders,” Hebert said. “That is why it has been spurred on at this time. Sometimes when you actually hear someone challenge you, it affects your mind and lets you know it is time to buckle down.
“The bright spot is that we are getting better each game, and I think we are close to making it work.”
To make it work, the offensive line stressed the importance of being on the same page. If not, the big runs that the backs are capable of will never come.
“Communication is the key,” said right tackle Joe Barksdale. “You have to let each other know what is going on, and we need to get a cohesion-type thing going this weekend. After watching film, you realize how much of an impact a small, little factor could have. If four people drop off the ball, and then one man takes a wrong step, then that ruins the play.”
When the Tigers have been able to run the ball, it has been outside the tackles. The players said that would need to change if they want to have success through the thick of conference play.
“Right now, I don’t think it matters how we get the yardage, whether outside or inside, as long as we are being productive and moving chains – that is important,” Williams said. “But, we will have to line it up at some point and get those yards. Some teams will take the edge and force us to run on the inside.
“It is in the back of our minds that we have to come together and grind when we have that physical game.”
With Scott splitting his time between fullback and tailback, Williams has moved into a primary running back in the Tiger attack. The carries are still minimal, but Williams said he has a different approach to finding consistency than in years past.
“I wasn’t sure how many touches I would get last season, so I would go in and try to make things happen too fast,” he said. “I think that is where I went wrong, because I would get frustrated. Now, I am patient when I get the ball in my hand.”
No matter how patient he remains, if there is no room to run then Williams and the Tiger runners won’t be able to make their mark.
Miles challenged the offensive line, and the running backs have echoed the call. This weekend, Williams said the results would show.
“We are going to be better,” he said. “Every game won’t be spectacular and every play won’t be exactly how we drew it up, but we will improve as the season goes on.”