Ask any LSU defender, and they’ll say every Southeastern Conference offensive line is populated by large, physical players. But those boys over at Arkansas? That’s an entirely different story. “The guys from Arkansas,” junior linebacker Kendell Beckwith said while shaking his head, “they’re bigger.”
After Alabama and running back Derrick Henry ran wild last weekend, life won’t be any easier for the Tigers’ defensive front when it takes on the Razorbacks at 6:15 p.m. Saturday in Tiger Stadium.
Arkansas’ mammoth offensive line features no player shorter than 6-foot-3 or lighter than 312 pounds, and junior right tackle Dan Skipper stands at a staggering 6-foot-10. The Tide rolled up 250 rushing yards on 55 carries, imposing their will en route to a 30-16 victory.
LSU (7-1, 4-1 SEC) had surrendered more than 100 yards on the ground only three times prior, and sophomore defensive tackle Davon Godchaux wants to prove that game was a fluke.
“Coming out and making a statement about why we were (one of the best) rushing defenses in the nation,” Godchaux said of what he’s looking forward to Saturday. “We made mistakes, but we’re going to live up to that this weekend.”
Those mistakes, players said, were mostly mental and technical. Poor communication, hand placement and gap discipline were a few of the culprits behind the Tigers’ struggles. LSU coach Les Miles suggested after the game and again at his weekly press luncheon Monday that skewed time of possession caused the defense to break down in the second half.
Alabama ran 79 plays in nearly 40 minutes of possession, but the Tigers insisted they simply lost focus instead of tiring out.
“You come out of halftime ready to play, 0-0,” junior defensive end Tashawn Bower said. “It’s a whole new half, a whole new game, so you don’t notice it much. You’re still playing with full and maximum effort.”
LSU’s defense could be on the field for quite a while yet again. Arkansas (5-4, 3-2 SEC) is ranked second nationally in time of possession at more than 34 minutes per game. The Razorbacks’ ball-control offense may test the Tigers’ depth — coaches rotate only seven defensive linemen and rarely replace Beckwith and senior linebacker Deion Jones.
Beckwith said LSU may resort to its base 4-3 defense instead of the Nickel package against Arkansas’ two-tight end, downhill-rushing attack. But even with an extra linebacker – likely senior Lamar Louis – the Tigers will still have their hands full up front.
On average, the Razorbacks’ offensive linemen are 6-foot-5 ?, 327.8 pounds. Four of the five are returning starters, and each has started at the same position in every game this season.
“They’re big, physical guys, road-graders that try to get you off the ball and knock you off,” junior defensive tackle Christian LaCouture, a 307-pounder, said.
LSU’s seven-man rotation on the defensive line, on average, weighs about 51 pounds less than Arkansas’ big guys. The heaviest lineman, backup Greg Gilmore, is only 313 pounds. The Razorbacks’ pair of junior tight ends are no slouches, either.
Jeremy Sprinkle measures 6-foot-6, 255 pounds while Hunter Henry is only one inch shorter and two pounds lighter.
For comparison, the Tigers’ top three linebackers average just less than 6-foot-1 and 237 pounds. With such a physically dominant front, Arkansas is second in the SEC in total yards with 472.6 per game and has scored more than 50 points in each of its last three contests.
“It always starts up front with the line,” Arkansas offensive coordinator Dan Enos said this week.
Behind the offensive line, junior Alex Collins has become the third-leading rusher in the conference (1,068 yards) and senior Brandon Allen has posted the highest passer rating of any SEC quarterback (164.67). Despite Allen’s emergence and Arkansas’ sudden affinity for high-scoring affairs, coach Bret Bielema still practices “ground-and-pound, smashmouth football,” as LaCouture phrased it.
Beckwith doesn’t mind that one bit.
“It reminds me of the old-timey football, like real football,” Beckwith said. “Not the spread us out and make us 250-pound linebackers go and fly around covering these small slot receivers. I like them bunched in and running power and whams and lead draws.”
The Razorbacks will surely pull out all the classic running plays behind their gigantic linemen. To counter their size and aggression, players said they’ll have to maintain proper technique and know the opponent’s tendencies
“At the end of the day, that’s what it is: technique,” Bower said. “The team who has the best technique and executes the best will more than likely win.”
LSU learned that lesson the hard way against Alabama. Now, a week after getting worn down by its rivals, the Tigers’ defensive front can redeem itself against its tallest task — literally and figuratively — to date.
“Arkansas is probably the best running team we’ll play all year,” Godchaux said. “So we have to come out and make a statement and let people know we’ve still got a lot to play for this year.”
TEAM/POSITION (NUMBER OF PLAYERS)
LSU defensive linemen (7)
LSU linebackers (3)
Arkansas offensive linemen (5)
Arkansas tight ends (2)
TEAM/POSITION (NUMBER OF PLAYERS)
LSU defensive front seven (10)
Arkansas offensive front seven (7)