LSU football: Latest offensive line sets tone in victory over Florida
LSU coach Brian Kelly said sarcastically at the start of Florida week that he was looking forward to shuffling his offensive line yet again.
The Tigers have started a different combination in virtually every game this season, sometimes because of injuries, sometimes because of ineffective play.
The culprit this week was the knee injury suffered by left guard Garrett Dellinger.
But the unit that started against Florida (and 2 weeks earlier at Auburn) did just fine. In fact, it put together probably the best performance by the line this season.
And as a result of the effective combination on the line, LSU put together its most complete offensive game of the season in the 45-35 victory against the Gators in The Swamp.
The line protected Jayden Daniels. It gave him time to find a bunch of wide receivers. It opened holes for Daniels and Josh Williams.
The result was not only a balanced offense, but a dynamic offense.
The Tigers had 528 total yards. They had a 100-yard rusher in Williams. They got 3 rushing touchdowns from Daniels.
Daniels was sacked just once, was rarely pressured and completed 72 percent of his passes. He distributed 23 completions among 9 teammates. He passed for 349 yards.
Kayshon Boutte had a 100-yard receiving day. Brian Thomas Jr., Jaray Jenkins and John Emery Jr. each caught a touchdown pass.
LSU entered the red zone 5 times and came away with 4 touchdowns and 1 field goal. It didn’t punt until the 4th quarter.
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The offense’s breakout game enabled the Tigers to overcome breakdowns on special teams (as usual) and defense.
The special teams gave up a 47-yard return on the opening kickoff. Just seconds later, the defense gave up a 51-yard touchdown pass.
And just like that, LSU was in the early hole that has become customary in SEC play. But this deficit didn’t last as long as the others, and that was because of the offense.
The Tigers answered with a touchdown on their 1st possession.
And after the defense gave up a 2nd touchdown on its 2nd series, the offense answered with a 2nd touchdown on its 2nd series.
The defense managed to force a punt on its 3rd series, but the special teams had yet another blunder as Jack Bech muffed the punt, leading to a 3rd Florida touchdown.
The offense answered again. Then it scored another touchdown for a lead it would never lose.
Two more touchdowns in the 3rd quarter added up to 6 touchdowns in 6 offensive possessions. The Tigers were rolling with a 42-21 lead entering the 4th quarter.
Then came a series of missed tackles on Anthony Richardson’s 81-yard scramble for a touchdown. After the Tigers’ only punt of the night, the defense yielded another touchdown.
One-score game. Half of the 4th quarter remaining.
There was no reason for Kelly or the Tigers to be confident that the next Gators possession would end in anything other than a tying touchdown.
Unless the offense came through again.
And it did.
LSU ran 11 offensive plays and held the ball for nearly 6 minutes. Along the way, Kelly passed on a 45-yard field-goal attempt that could have made it a 2-score game.
It was 4th and 1. He trusted his offensive line. He gave the ball to Williams, and Williams gained 2 yards.
Eventually, the drive stalled, and the offense got sloppy with back-to-back false start penalties that turned a 37-yard field goal attempt into a 47-yarder.
Freshman Damian Ramos drilled it for a 45-35 lead with less than 2 minutes remaining — and LSU was home free.
The Tigers’ fate in this game rested with the offense.
LSU welcomed back left tackle Will Campbell, who missed the game against Tennessee because of dehydration. He rejoined Emery Jones Jr. to form a true freshman tackle tandem that is more than holding its own in the SEC.
Miles Frazier moved from right guard to left guard to replace Dellinger. Anthony Bradford took Frazier’s spot at right guard, and Charles Turner III remained at center.
The group did its job exceptionally well.
That gave Daniels, Williams and the receivers a chance to do their jobs. And virtually everyone responded.
The tone for the offense — and the victory — was set by the offensive line.