LSU at Ole Miss: Get to the Next Level to find out why the Tigers offensive line needs to solve its problems in a hurry _lowres

Advocate staff photo by BILL FEIG -- LSU offensive lineman William Clapp

The Next Level: LSU’s offensive line has to improve protection for quarterback Brandon Harris

Brandon Harris was just about to unload toward an open receiver. He had dropped back in the pocket, set his feet, rocked his shoulders back and was ready for the big release.

It never happened.

From his left, Arkansas defensive end Deatrich Wise Jr. swatted his right hand at Harris. Wise had pushed Jerald Hawkins so far into the backfield that Hawkins’ 305-pound frame ended up directly in front of Harris. From his right, Vadal Alexander’s backside bumped against Harris’ waist. Arkansas lineman Tevin Beanum had shoved the 330-pound senior into him.

The Razorbacks sacked Harris five times a week after Alabama sacked him five times. Ten sacks in two games are the most allowed by an LSU team in back-to-back games since 2009, and, now, the Tigers meet an Ole Miss squad with an athletic, talented front seven.

LSU’s tackles will have their hands full. They had trouble blocking some unknown Arkansas defensive ends in a four-man rush. On Saturday, they’ll get a guy named Marquis Haynes, who has 8.5 sacks this year and 12 tackles for loss.

Center Ethan Pocic and LSU’s two guards, Will Clapp and Maea Teuhema, get DT Robert Nkemdiche, the No. 1-ranked recruit in the 2013 class who has seven QB hurries this year.

How will they respond? Who knows? But they’ve struggled recently — and without teams even blitzing. The first three sacks on Harris last week came with Arkansas rushing four players. LSU had five blockers on the first two and six on the third.

The Tigers had six blockers to the Hogs’ five rushers on the fourth sack, and LSU had the advantage 7 to 6 on the final sack, late in the third quarter.

What happened? Alexander said one lineman whiffed on each of those plays.

“Four guys blocking great and one guy missing the guy,” he said. “On offense, you can’t do that. I can’t do that. My teammates can’t do that.”

Said Clapp: “Saturday really wasn’t a night where we pass-protected very well. We all gave up some pressure and a few sacks. That’s something we weren’t happy about.”

— Ross Dellenger

Four Downs

1. Shut out the noise

This has been a week of major distractions for LSU, from the simple distress of the Tigers’ two-game losing streak to speculation about Les Miles’ job security. Even fretting about trying to avoid LSU’s first three-game losing streak since 1999 is a stumbling block. It will probably be a relief to get away from home and just play a game.

2. Win turnovers

Despite struggles in numerous areas, the Tigers are plus-7 in turnovers (17th nationally). Conversely, the Rebels are 12th in the SEC at minus-4 thanks largely to a dozen Chad Kelly interceptions. It’s hard to imagine LSU winning if it sets up Ole Miss with the short field like it did Arkansas. In fact, LSU needs the opposite to be true. 3. Don’t get burned

Three plays totaling 201 yards accounted for three Arkansas TDs Saturday. The Tigers need to find out what has been a plague of busted coverages and missed assignments. Unfortunately, they are going up against the SEC’s premier pitch-and-catch combo: Kelly to WR Laquon Treadwell. Stopping them is priority one.

4. Free up Fournette

Suddenly the one from whom so much was expected isn’t expected to do much at all. Leonard Fournette still leads the nation with 163.8 ypg rushing, but he has averaged just 61 ypg the past two games. LSU needs to do a lot of things better, but it starts with getting No. 7 some room to run. That means a revival for his O-line.

— Scott Rabalais