Arden Key, LSU's star sophomore outside linebacker, recorded four of his five sacks last year in the final seven games of the season.
The one Southeastern Conference game in which he did not record a sack in that stretch: Ole Miss.
There's a reason Key didn’t have more success rushing the passer in a 38-17 loss in Oxford, Mississippi: Former Rebels offensive tackle and 2016 first-round pick Laremy Tunsil was standing in his way.
In fact, Tunsil did something Key hadn’t really seen.
“He was different,” Key said of Tunsil. “He was athletic. His footwork was amazing. I’d do a couple of moves, and he’d still be in front of me. I’m like, ‘You’re not supposed to be there.’”
Key suggested he’ll have to wait to face Tunsil again as a professional. But he is confident Tunsil’s departure presents an opportunity to get closer to his season goal of 20 sacks when No. 25 LSU (4-2, 2-1 SEC) hosts No. 23 Ole Miss (3-3, 1-2) at 8 p.m. Saturday in Tiger Stadium.
“This game, I feel like I’m supposed to have three sacks,” Key said. “I don’t see a Laremy Tunsil anymore. We went back and forth last year, but I feel like they ain’t going to be able to block me.”
J.D. Moore wasn’t always the linebacker-seeking, muscle-bound junior fullback you see today.
The SEC’s sack leader went without a quarterback takedown for the first time this season in a 45-10 win against Southern Miss last Saturday. But Key still wreaked havoc against the Golden Eagles, leaping to break up a Nick Mullens pass in the first series of the game.
The Atlanta native also recorded a pair of quarterback hurries and finished the game with five total tackles.
According to Pro Football Focus, Key leads the country in pass rush productivity, recording 38 quarterback pressures on 156 pass rush snaps. Stats like these are why Key is demanding more and more attention.
Key said he’s receiving a double team, including from the running back, on essentially every play. Teams are also sliding protection to his side and using tight ends to perform ‘chip’ blocks.
“It’s kind of frustrating that I’m not getting (sacks), but they’re game planning off of me,” Key said. “I’m still getting pressures and what not, still affecting the quarterback. But I’m also opening up the gateway for my other teammates, like Lewis (Neal), (Davon) Godchaux and Greg (Gilmore), to get sacks. And that’s what they’ve been doing.”
Key, though, now realizes the extra attention is a sign of respect, as he believes teams aren’t likely to leave their tackles alone against him. Regardless of how Ole Miss plans to block him, Key’s eyes are focused on Rebels quarterback Chad Kelly and keeping him inside the pocket.
“We got to contain him,” said Key, recently added to the Chuck Bednarik Award watch list. “We can’t leave no open windows in the pass rush, or he’s going to take it run for 50 yards almost. … As we preach, Coach O and (defensive line coach) Pete Jenkins, no quarterback is going to beat us with his feet.”