Without Garrett Brumfield, maybe Adrian Magee isn’t here.
Here — as in the seventh man on a banged-up LSU offensive line, a guy who got the first start of his college career last week in the comeback win over Auburn.
Surpassed on the depth chart once already this season, Magee did not let it happen again. His transition was a quick one.
He went from third-string reserve to starting tackle against the No. 10 team in the nation. He went from afterthought who found trouble this spring with an arrest to a dependable body for a team hurting at that spot. He went from a guy who just a few weeks ago was missing from LSUs depth chart to a man who helped lead the Tigers to the biggest comeback against a Southeastern Conference team in Tiger Stadium history.
How? It’s all because of Bruiser, the nickname teammates bestowed years ago on Brumfield, a redshirt junior who, after three long years, is finally a starting lineman himself.
“‘It happened to me. I got passed up,’” Magee said Brumfield told him during a motivational speech during this offseason, as five linemen transferred. “‘You don’t want it to happen to you. I was like, ‘Alright.’”
Magee’s turnabout and subsequent start last week is an uplifting tale of overcoming off-the-field struggles, maturity issues and, even, injury woes (he missed most of his freshman season with a broken pinky toe). It’s also an example of the hazardous circumstance that this unit finds itself in.
Two freshmen have started on the line this year, a third played significantly in an SEC road game and, now, a guy with no real experience who’s bounced from guard to tackle and from fourth-to-second string is starting.
LSU’s starting group in the 27-23 win over Auburn was the fourth different one in seven games, and the Tigers have played in key snaps this year at least eight linemen — three freshmen and two more first-year starters.
This is the world in which offensive line coach Jeff Grimes lives. It's why he sometimes grows "volcanic," Brumfield said, half-joking Tuesday.
Center Will Clapp sees the glass half full.
“Keeps it interesting,” Clapp smiled during interviews Monday. “Keeps Grimes alive, barely, but I’ve been enjoying it. Keeps his blood pressure going. Got to keep the old guy excited.”
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Pass protection troubled the group through the season’s first month, overshadowing a more concerning problem that’s cropped up recently: the inside run game.
Orgeron and players admit it is an issue.
The game against Auburn shined a light on those between-the-tackle woes. LSU’s 22 inside runs gained 59 yards, a 2.6-yard average. Half of those (11) went for 2 yards or less, statistics that result in those lengthy third downs.
LSU faced eight third downs of 8 yards or more.
“Obviously we want to get our running game better inside the tackles, and we have some young guys there and sometimes they're going to miss assignments,” Orgeron said, “but those are one of the things we want to improve on the offense.”
The cure might be coming in the fashion of this week’s opponent. Ole Miss (3-3, 1-2 SEC) allows 238.5 yards rushing a game, more than all but 12 teams nationally. Teams are averaging 5.5 yards a carry against the Rebels and have scored 16 rushing scores.
Is this the week that between-the-tackle carries get some burst? Maybe.
Identifying the problem is something Clapp won’t say publicly, but he admits the problem exists.
“I can’t put any one thing on it,” he said. “It’s something we’ve got to get better on.”
The youth of the O-line coupled with running back health are the leading factors. Derrius Guice continues to battle what appears to be a lingering knee injury, and Darrel Williams suffered a sprained ankle against Troy.
LSU and first-year coordinator Matt Canada have turned to the outside run to move the football, those patented jet sweeps and end-arounds with wideouts. Receivers are averaging more than 8 yards a carry this season on those playcalls.
Running backs? They’re averaging 4.5, most of those between the tackles.
“Jets have been working really well for us,” Clapp said. “We can’t rely on that all season to win us games. Got to be more balanced with our run.”
Stability is something the line has missed this year, and this week’s starting lineup remains somewhat of a mystery.
Starting left tackle KJ Malone is expected to miss a second straight game while nursing a left knee injury, and his replacement is true freshman Saahdiq Charles. Right tackle Toby Weathersby, who missed last week for an undisclosed issue, returned to practice Monday and Tuesday.
Weathersby’s return would likely bump Magee out of the starting rotation. He’ll be right there, though, the next man up for any position (aside from center). That’s a far cry from his standing just a week ago. Freshman Austin Deculus, not Magee, replaced Weathersby during the game at Florida.
Five days later last Thursday, Grimes delivered the news to Magee: Because of his strong practices last week, he’d get his first start. Knowing Magee’s social media infatuation, Grimes made Magee promise he wouldn’t post the news on Twitter.
“He knows I’m a Twitter freak,” Magee laughed.
He told his mother and a best friend about the starting nod — a long time in the making.
The 6-5, 325-pound Franklinton native got off to a rough start in Baton Rouge. He broke his pinky toe during his freshman camp, sidelining him for about six weeks and resulting in his redshirt.
In April of this year, authorities arrested Magee on a charge of simple burglary of an inhabited dwelling. He admitted to the burglary and returned at least some of the items. The victims requested the charge be dismissed, East Baton Rouge District Attorney Hillar Moore announced in July.
“I knew I had messed up, and I knew that … I knew I messed up but I knew they had forgave me and I knew this thing was going to pass over,” Magee said of the incident.
His teammates have seen the growth.
"Everybody makes some mistakes, but he didn’t let it ruin him," Clapp said.
Said Brumfield: "He’s come a long way."
And he’s not getting passed up — at least not if Brumfield has something to say about it. LSU’s starting left guard continues to push Magee in every way possible.
“He stays on me about every little thing I do — from playing in the hallways or maybe taking a bad step,” Magee said. “He’s like, ‘Adrian, you’ve got to get better! You’re going to get passed up. I don’t want you to get passed up!’”
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INSIDE RUNS (vs. Auburn)
- Carries: 22
- Yards: 59
- Average: 2.6
- Runs of 5+yards: 5
- Runs of 2 or fewer yards: 11
JET SWEEPS/END AROUNDS (season)
- Carries: 39
- Yards: 321
- Average: 8.2
*receivers/F-backs only; jet sweeps by running backs not included
RUNNING BACKS (season)
- Carries: 203
- Yards: 917
- Average: 4.5