When LSU needed a defensive stop in the third quarter last Saturday, the Tigers positioned freshman Marcel Brooks in front of Florida’s right tackle. The Gators had scored touchdowns on three straight possessions, tying the game, but after a holding penalty stunted their momentum, they faced third-and-19.
LSU brought its “green team” pass rush unit — Brooks, linebacker Michael Divinity, defensive end Justin Thomas and outside linebacker K’Lavon Chaisson — onto the field. As Florida snapped the football, the Tigers used a pair of stunts, looping Brooks and Chaisson through the middle of the offensive line.
Brooks ran forward, changed direction and sprinted untouched toward Florida quarterback Kyle Trask. The sack forced a punt. Brooks danced, popping his hip while he raised his hands and clapped. LSU felt momentum shift. It scored on the next possession and took control of the game.
“We took off from there,” junior safety JaCoby Stevens said.
Brooks energized LSU’s pass rush against Florida. He had played in two games and made one tackle this season, but last week he earned a spot on the green team, a group designed to pressure quarterbacks.
Count it once, twice, and it checked out: everyone who was supposed to be at LSU's session of open practice Wednesday afternoon was there.
This summer, Brooks came to LSU as one of its highest-rated signees, a five-star outside linebacker from Flower Mound, Texas. Coach Ed Orgeron said the coaching staff “spent a lot of time” analyzing him before preseason camp. They tried to find his position. Brooks wanted to start at safety.
“We felt as a staff his best position would be outside linebacker,” Orgeron said, “But I want to give the players a chance to realize, ‘Hey, this is the position I want to play, but this is the position I really need to play.’"
The coaching staff let Brooks begin preseason camp at safety, but they eventually moved him to outside linebacker. At 6-foot-2 and about 200 pounds, he looked small participating in drills beside the rest of LSU’s defensive front. Brooks held his own because of his speed and ferocity.
“I don't want to say it out loud, but he's faster and has more freakish ability than K'Lavon,” senior defensive lineman Breiden Fehoko said. “K'Lavon doesn't want to hear it either, but Marcel is a freak of nature."
Brooks, who earlier this season pummeled Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger, appeared on Florida’s first possession. But he and the rest of LSU’s pass rush was ineffective in the first half.
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LSU thought Florida wanted to run the football and use quick passes. Instead, the Gators called more play-action throws. Trask held onto the football, protected by his offensive line, and led Florida on three 75-yard touchdown drives.
LSU adjusted at halftime. It brought more pressure with blitzes. The Gators scored on their first drive of the second half. Then came Brooks’ sack, and Florida did not score again.
LSU finished with two sacks, five tackles for loss and four quarterback hurries. During a press conference two days later, Orgeron called LSU’s performance rushing the passer its best of the season. However, he also wants LSU to create pressure without blitzes.
As LSU enters the second half of its schedule, Brooks might have given LSU a valuable pass rusher. Stevens said opposing teams will have to decide if they want to double-team Brooks or Chaisson, giving the other player a one-on-one matchup against an offensive tackle. The Tigers also have Divinity, Thomas and a handful of other capable pass rushers.
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“It makes the offensive coordinators for the opposing team earn their paycheck,” Stevens said.
For Brooks, the sack was one moment within one game. It also marked the first significant play of his freshman season. Orgeron wants him to gain weight so he can play outside linebacker every down, but that will happen in the offseason.
Right now, Brooks has proved he's an explosive player who can rush the passer, a freshman who has found his niche and will refine his skills. This season, that might be enough.
Said Orgeron: "He's at home at outside linebacker."