Right tackle Jerald Hawkins breaks the huddle, jogs to the line of scrimmage, looks up and sees way too many people.
Teams are crowding “the box” more than ever against LSU, Hawkins said. The box is an area extending from the line of scrimmage to the location in which linebackers normally align.
No game had more box-crowding than LSU’s 34-29 loss to Mississippi State. The Tigers ran for just 89 yards in the game, the lowest rushing output since a game in 2009 against then-No. 1 Florida.
The offensive line has struggled at times, yes, but a full box isn’t helping matters.
“So far, we’ve seen a lot of teams try to come in and try to stack the box on us,” left tackle La’el Collins said. “But that’s just something we have to be ready for. And that’s something we have to, with our play as an offense, we have to start making people really respect our passing game and start getting people out of the box.”
No. 17 LSU (3-1) hosts New Mexico State (2-2) on Saturday with a chance to experiment with a sluggish passing attack against a team last season that ranked 93rd nationally in passing yards allowed.
The Tigers have completed 52 passes — more than just 10 teams in college football that have played four games. LSU was determined to run the ball against Mississippi State.
In the first half, the Tigers ran the ball 11 times on first down for 24 yards and threw it twice — both incomplete passes.
They ran on the first three plays of the game against a loaded box, gaining 7 yards. On the first two downs, Mississippi State had the same amount of players in the box as LSU, when excluding quarterback Anthony Jennings.
On third down, the Bulldogs had one more player.
“We’re known for our running game and physical style of play, so they’re going to stack the box,” Hawkins said. “But we have enough people to block it, so if we get bodies in front of each other, we’ll be all right.”
Mississippi State junior quarterback Dak Prescott was only the first of the dual-threat class that LSU’s defense will square off against in 2014.
Auburn’s Nick Marshall, Kentucky’s Patrick Towles, Alabama’s Blake Sims and Florida’s Jeff Driskel have all rushed 18 times or more through the first four weeks of the season, combining for six rushing touchdowns.
The Southeastern Conference is dominated by mobile quarterbacks, and Prescott gave the Tigers’ defense its first major challenge of the season at signal-caller.
LSU failed miserably against the Haughton native, allowing 268 yards and two touchdowns through the air while surrendering 105 yards and a touchdown on the ground.
LSU sophomore cornerback Tre’Davious White said the Tigers attempted to keep the Bulldogs’ offense in check with zone coverage. Once Prescott scrambled out of the pocket, though, MSU’s receivers began to cause problems for the secondary.
“When we’re in the zone coverage, and we’re forced to do the scramble drill, it’s quite tough,” White said. “You’ve got to grab whoever is in your zone, and if two people are in your zone, then it’s hard to handle covering two guys.”
Though it appeared safety Ronald Martin was at fault, White took the blame for Prescott’s scrambling, 74-yard touchdown pass to Jameon Lewis in the third quarter.
“I got up (in the position meeting) and told coach (Corey) Raymond it was my fault,” White said. “I’m supposed to take (Lewis) because we were in a zone. He came into my zone.”
Hawkins said the offense didn’t change much when freshman quarterback Brandon Harris came off the bench and helped lead LSU to two late touchdowns against Mississippi State.
“It’s not that much different,” Hawkins said when asked about the difference between Harris and Jennings, who started the first four games. “We know what (Harris) is capable of doing, and he came in and did that. We just needed to give him time to throw, and that’s what happens when you give him time to throw,” he said of Harris, who calmly threw two touchdown passes in the final two minutes to make things close.
“He was ready, he was focused. We didn’t have to tell him anything, we just had to follow his lead.”
LSU is paying New Mexico State $975,000 for Saturday’s game, according to a copy of the game contract. … LSU has less than 500 tickets remaining for Saturday’s game against the Aggies, according to a tweet from Brian Broussard, the school’s associate athletic director for ticket sales.