It really hit Arden Key while watching himself on video.
There he was, lined up at the end of LSU’s defensive line, his hand on the ground in a traditional three-point stance, his eyes staring into the backfield. He’d be there shortly.
“I said, ‘Lord, I miss it,’” Key admitted. “I miss coming off like that.”
What a difference one hand makes.
Key, the Tigers’ stand-up outside linebacker/defensive end, finished Saturday’s game against Jacksonville State with, at least, four quarterback pressures. Three of those came with his hand on the ground in his old defensive end stance.
It’s not a coincidence.
“I’m more explosive out of my stance with my hand in the dirt,” he said. “When the time comes and it’s available for me to put my hand in the dirt, I do.”
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No. 20 LSU (1-1) enters the game against Mississippi State (1-1) with the Southeastern Conference’s leader in sacks. It’s only through two games, but the 6-foot-6, 240-pound Key is tied, with three others, at the top of that category with three sacks.
Offensive tackles are losing the fight against the speedy, athletic Key, especially when he’s in that three-point stance. New defensive coordinator Dave Aranda moved Key to a stand-up position over the off-season, shifting him from end to a hybrid role as an outside linebacker.
But Key has the discretion — on play calls for him to pass rush — to drop into his old stance. He dropped at least three times on Saturday, leading to his one sack and two more quarterback pressures.
“Certain plays I’ve got the freedom to do that,” he said. “Most of the times you’ll see me with my hand not in the dirt."
Key drops back into coverage, too, slipping out with a tight end, running back or slot receiver. He did that plenty of times against a Jacksonville State team that employs a spread scheme.
From Game 1 to Game 2, he improved in that area, he said. Wisconsin tight end Troy Fumagalli “got me on the drag route” in the season opener, Key admits. Fumagalli broke free for a 27-yard gain on that play, his longest of seven receptions in the 16-14 win over the Tigers.
Key’s coverage improved so much last week that he hoped JSU quarterback Eli Jenkins would target his man.
“I wanted them, a couple of times, to throw it because I was right in the position to catch the pick,” he said, “but he didn’t.”