Michael Divinity had finally gotten to the quarterback — or so he thought.
LSU’s starting field linebacker had Florida’s 6-foot-6, 240-pound passer, Feleipe Franks, wrapped up around the waist early in the fourth quarter, but he couldn’t bring him down. Franks leaned back on his heels and hurled the ball out of bounds.
That was as close as the LSU defense came to sacking Franks in a 27-19 loss in Gainesville, Florida — the most recent game in a stretch of struggles to create an effective pass rush since the loss of starting pass rusher K’Lavon Chaisson, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in the season opener against Miami.
This season, LSU recorded nine sacks in its first two games; the Tigers have since recorded four sacks in four games. LSU’s loss at Florida was the first time the Tigers did not record a sack in a game in nearly four seasons, since a 31-28 loss to Notre Dame in the 2014 Music City Bowl.
Welcome to Highlights, where we'll break down significant plays from LSU's last football game.
The recent struggles are alarming for LSU, which Saturday hosts No. 2 Georgia — a team that has allowed only eight sacks in six games.
“This is the best offensive line that we have seen so far,” LSU coach Ed Orgeron said Monday.
Georgia’s offensive line had a scare on Saturday against Vanderbilt, when starting offensive guard Solomon Kindley went down with an injury, but Georgia coach Kirby Smart said Monday that Kindley suffered a mild MCL sprain and they were hopeful to have him back at practice.
If Kindley doesn’t play, Trey Hill, a highly touted freshman who played Saturday, would likely start in his place.
In order to crack through Georgia’s offensive line, Divinity said, the defense will have to build off some of the success it did see against Florida. Sure, the Tigers didn’t sack Franks, which Divinity called “a heartbreaker,” but the defense was able to hurry the quarterback nine times — LSU's highest total this season.
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“I feel like the pass rush is there,” said Divinity, a 6-foot-2, 238-pound junior who is tied for the team lead with three sacks. “A couple of times we did get close to the quarterback. We had quarterback pressure and made him throw incomplete passes; but we have to get sacks because it’s going to help us on defense, and we’re going to work on that this week.”
LSU had to create pressure against Florida out of unfavorable formations. The Gators spread the LSU defense out using four-wide receiver sets, which limited the Tigers to using just one outside linebacker.
Oftentimes, that led to a clean pocket for Franks, such as when he threw a 49-yard pass to the LSU 26 on the first play of the second half.
Other times, Florida was able to use LSU’s defensive formation against itself. In the middle of the second quarter, the Gators called an option run toward the near side of the field, and Franks pitched the ball to an open running back, Lamical Perine, who had gotten outside of LSU’s only outside linebacker for a 23-yard gain.
“That’s just something we have to correct on the fly,” defensive end Rashard Lawrence said. “I think we’ll be very prepared for it next weekend. It’s a copycat league, and Georgia’s going to watch the film and see things like that, and we have to clean those things up.”
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LSU’s front, Lawrence said, still needs to provide pressure on the quarterback, even if a sack doesn’t come. He pointed out nose tackle Breiden Fehoko’s hit on Franks in the backfield, which came immediately after the 49-yard pass.
The hit forced an errant pass that went directly toward safety Grant Delpit for an interception in LSU’s end zone.
Those are the types of pressures, Lawrence said, that the defensive line can create even when it doesn’t record a sack. Sometimes, Lawrence and the defensive ends are called to bull rush an offensive lineman toward the quarterback, collapsing the pocket and confining the quarterback into a lane where he might be hit by a blitzing defensive back or linebacker.
“We have to trust in the defense that the blitz is going to get there,” Lawrence said. “So when that situation comes, we have to be ready to contain the quarterback and make sure he doesn’t get out, because if he does, (the play) can go for 40-50 yards.”
Such a play occurred during the first quarter, when Franks got bottled inside the pocket long enough to get hit by a delayed blitz from inside linebacker Devin White, forcing an incompletion.
“I definitely think we affected the quarterback better than we ever have this past week,” Lawrence said. “We got a lot of good hits on him that made him throw the ball real quick. The sacks are going to come.”