Hindsight is 20/20, LSU interim coach Ed Orgeron acknowledges.
There’s plenty of things he and his offensive staff would have done differently when preparing to play top-ranked Alabama, a game the No. 19 Tigers lost 10-0 last Saturday. Ultimately, Orgeron doesn’t want to “second-guess” the decisions of offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger.
There’s one thing, however, Orgeron and Ensminger couldn’t have changed: personnel. Orgeron didn’t mince words when asked about the difference between the two offensive lines Saturday, particularly one Crimson Tide linemen from Monroe — Cam Robinson.
“The one that's the left tackle at Alabama,” Orgeron said, “should be here.”
“We need to get bigger,” he continued. “We need to get stronger, and we need to have guys get drafted in the first round to be able to block first-rounders on the other side.”
LSU’s inability to protect quarterback Danny Etling and establish a running game was, once again, the Tigers’ fatal flaw against the best front seven it had faced all season. Even Orgeron said Alabama’s front seven, which lead the nation in rushing defense and sacks, is “maybe the best front seven that's been in college football for a while.”
Etling was pressured on 14 of his 29 dropbacks, resulting in five sacks. The Tigers (5-3, 3-2 Southeastern Conference) rushed for 33 yards on 27 attempts. Alabama had nine tackles for loss.
Though the LSU defense recorded 12 tackles for loss and forced two turnovers, Alabama rushed for 216 yards as a team, including 114 yards and a touchdown from Jalen Hurts.
After the game, LSU center Ethan Pocic was adamant the LSU offensive line hadn’t regressed.
“I feel like we’re getting better every week,” Pocic said. “No doubt. No doubt, we’re getting better every week. We just lost today. That’s how it is. We didn’t execute good enough. But to say we’re getting worst, I would not say that.”
The ball slipped from Danny Etling’s grasp as it left his hand.
Running back Leonard Fournette accumulated 35 yards on 17 attempts and took on contact behind line or at the line on 10 of those carries. Fournette will likely finish his collegiate career averaging 48.3 yards per game against the Tide. Against all other opponents, the junior tailback averages 131.3 yards per game.
One of the SEC teams Fournette has failed to eclipse 100 yards against in his career is Arkansas, which the Tigers will play at 6 p.m. Saturday in Fayetteville. After giving up 543 rushing yards against Auburn two weeks prior, the Razorbacks (6-3, 2-3) limited Florida to 12 yards on 14 attempts.
As Tigers fullback J.D. Moore explained, LSU didn’t consistently finish blocks against the Crimson Tide, preventing Fournette from reaching the second or third level.
“I think there’s one or two runs where we actually did that well,” Moore said. “And one of them I think was Leonard had that run, spun out and maybe got nine or 10 yards on it. That was a great run. If we had that every time, we’d be telling a different story right now.”
In pass protection, Moore said LSU occasionally recognized pressure, but there were other times where “we were caught off guard or didn’t have a great block.”
“A lot of that responsibilities falls on the backs as much as the offensive line,” he said.
According to CBS Sports’ most recent mock draft, Alabama has three members of its front seven — defensive end Jonathan Allen, outside linebacker Tim Williams and linebacker Reuben Foster — projected to go in the first 16 picks of next year's NFL draft. CBS Sports currently projects Allen to be the first overall pick.
LSU left guard Will Clapp said the Crimson Tide defense didn’t do anything schematically that the Tigers weren’t expecting. Alabama’s front wasn’t necessarily any better than it was last year, either, he said.
“They’re always the same,” Clapp said after the game. “Always have the same type of guys.”
Meanwhile, the LSU offensive line shuffled its tackles around throughout the game, including when left tackle K.J. Malone went down with a shoulder injury. Maea Teuhema started opposite of Malone, but the Tigers finished the game with Malone and Toby Weathersby at the tackles. Prior to Saturday, Weathersby hadn’t played in the last five games due to an ankle injury.
For a unit that has experienced a rash of injuries this season, lack of cohesion appeared to rear its head again. But Pocic, in agreement with Moore, said execution is where LSU faltered.
“Always got to finish blocks,” Pocic said. “As an O-line, that’s what we take pride in. You always got to finish your blocks because they’re so gap sound, it may take a little while for a running back to hit to the gap or getting into the gap or a seem.”
Cornerback Kevin Toliver didn't play against Alabama, and now it's clear why.
Tigers at No. 24 in CFP poll
After a 10-0 loss to top-ranked Alabama, LSU has experienced its most significant drop in the three major polls.
The Tigers fell 11 sports to No. 24 in the newest College Football Playoff released Tuesday. The Tigers are just in front of No. 25 Arkansas, which appears in the CFP poll for the first time ever.
LSU landed at No. 19 in both the Associated Press and the coaches poll released Sunday. The Tigers were ranked No. 14 in last week's coaches poll and No. 15 in the AP poll. The Tigers are the highest ranked three-loss team in the AP poll.
With 10.385 million viewers, LSU-Alabama game was the most watched college football game of the weekend and the second most watched college football game of the season.
Trailing only the Texas-Notre Dame game (10.945 million), which was played on the Sunday before the start of the NFL season, the LSU-Alabama matchup beat out the Louisville-Clemson game (9.286 million) on Oct. 1. That game was battle of top-five teams.
The next most watched game from last weekend was the top-10 battle between Nebraska and Ohio State (4.969 million). The Florida-Arkansas game (4.621 million), ABC’s 3:30 p.m. window (2.595 million) and the Notre Dame-Navy game (2.42 million) round out the top five.
SEC title MVPs to be honored
Four former LSU players will be among the past SEC championship game Most Valuable Players honored at the 2016 SEC title game on Dec. 3 in Atlanta, the league announced Tuesday.
Quarterback Matt Mauck (2001), Justin Vincent (2003), Ryan Perrilloux (2007) and defensive back Tyrann Mathieu (2011) are the Tigers’ four MVPs since the championship game was established in 1992. Other SEC championship game MVPs include Florida’s Danny Wuerffel – the only player to win it twice – Tennessee’s Peyton Manning and Auburn’s Cam Newton.
The conference will also honor a “Legend” from each school at the championship game. LSU’s “Legend” this year is offensive tackle Robert Dugas.