Sometimes when you shake things up, they don’t come out right the first time. Such was the case with LSU on Saturday.
Three changes on the offensive line — usual starting center Ethan Pocic going to right tackle; Maea Teuhema, who had started there the previous two games, going to left guard; and little-used Andy Dodd getting the start at center — didn’t initially produce the kind of yardage and points against 25-point underdog Southern Miss the Tigers had in the previous game against Missouri.
At halftime, LSU had run only 22 plays for 121 yards (5.5 per snap compared with a season average of 6.3) and 10 points, the same as the visiting Golden Eagles.
Of course, the fact that USM was able to keep the ball 8:02 in a 15-play, 75-yard touchdown drive on the game’s opening series and consumed 8:38 in a second-quarter possession that ended in a field goal had a lot to do with it.
A sporadic passing game (nine attempts, four completions) and the continuing absence of Leonard Fournette didn’t help either.
But considering the Tigers were going against a team that gave up 55 points and 532 yards to Texas-San Antonio a week ago, this was not an encouraging way to play against the final nonranked team on the schedule.
Not to worry. Things fell into place in a third quarter that produced four touchdowns and an eventual runaway 45-10 win.
The first half left LSU interim coach Ed Orgeron with some lingering concerns, though.
“It didn’t seem like we were moving the ball like we could early on,” Orgeron said. “We were giving up some pressures too. We’re going to have to look at the film and revaluate.”
There’s not a lot of film to look at. Thanks to the Tigers scoring on plays covering 61, 20, 80, 63 and 23 yards, LSU had only 20 plays and seven first downs in the second half, although the Tigers did wind up with a healthy 459 yards, which was actually 61 above the average in the first five games.
But the team’s 42 total snaps was far below the season norm of 63.6.
“I didn’t even notice that,” Pocic said. “When you’re scoring quick, you don’t.
“You’ve got to love those one-and-done scoring drives. Time of possession (USM led 37:59-22:01) and stuff like that only matters if you lose.”
The second-half explosion had to be a good feeling for Dodd, a fourth-year junior who had seen little action both in the previous two seasons and this year since he was Pocic’s backup. In fact, Dodd’s only previous moment of notoriety came in the closing minutes of the Missouri game when he was ejected after being involved in offsetting personal fouls after just three plays.
Fortunately for Dodd and the Tigers, there was no additional penalty, and when continuing injuries to right guard Will Clapp (shoulder) and left tackle Toby Weathersby forced LSU to readjust the front five, Dodd was available for his first career start.
Dodd was not made available after the game, but Pocic said his backup and close friend was calm and confident even if he’d played in only 12 games in the past three years.
“Andy’s the coolest guy on the team,” Pocic said. “He was pretty mellow about this because he never really lets himself get up or down."
Likewise, Pocic said Teuhama’s ability to move in space served continued to him well at left guard.
“I don’t have to see the film to know how Maea did,” Pocic said. “He always out there helping create the angles for the backs to get by.”
Angles, Pocic added, were the chief adjustment for him to deal with Saturday in his first start at tackle since high school.
“Things do feel a little different out there,” he said. “At center everything is so compact, and you have to have your hands ready right after you snap the ball.
“At tackle, you might have to wait two, three or four ticks before you touch anybody. I got great looks in practice all week from (defensive end) Lewis Neal, so I felt comfortable.”
Where things wind up next week, as Orgeron said, is up in the air.
Clapp and Weathersby could be ready to play, plus, as Orgeron pointed out, Ole Miss has a much stiffer defensive front than USM.
“We got to put the best group we can out there,” Orgeron said. “I just don’t know yet who that’s going to be.”