BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — LSU coach Les Miles knows his offensive line has hit a "flat spot" during the Tigers' two-game skid, which has seen running back Leonard Fournette's production nosedive while the number of sacks of quarterback Brandon Harris have spiked.
As No. 17 LSU heads to 25th-ranked Mississippi this Saturday, pressure is on Tigers' linemen to regain their early season form.
For right tackle Vadal Alexander, the problem up front hasn't been so much physical as mental. For him, all five linemen regaining focus and staying together is imperative coming off a home loss to Arkansas in which Fournette was held below 100 yards for a second straight game and Harris was sacked five times by a Razorbacks defense that came in with eight sacks in its previous nine games.
"I wouldn't say what happened last week was shocking," right tackle Vadal Alexander said. "Disappointing is the word. On every play, it was somebody making a mistake. Every time we would get something going, something happened with one guy.
"Offense is different from defense," Alexander added. "If one guy doesn't do his job, the play won't work. A guy who is supposed to make a block doesn't and his guy makes the tackle."
Until the calendar flipped to November, LSU looked unstoppable, and the offensive line looked like one of the main reasons why.
The Tigers began 7-0 and got as high as No. 2 in the College Football Playoff standings.
At that time, LSU was averaging 285 yards rushing and 7.3 yards per rush. Fournette had established himself as the top Heisman Trophy contender, averaging a nation's best 193 rushing yards per game.
Then came a 30-16 drubbing at Alabama, followed by a 31-14 home loss to Arkansas which marked only the third time in Les Miles' 11 seasons as LSU that the Tigers have lost two straight.
LSU tailbacks picked up just 139 yards on 42 carries in the past two games combined, during which Fournette gained a total of 122 yards on 3.2 yards per carry.
Harris, who had been sacked eight times in the first seven games, has been sacked seven times the last two weeks.
It all raises the question: Is LSU's offensive line in a slump?
"I hope they're not in a slump," Miles said. "I have not seen offensive lines as good as this one go into slumps. We have hit a flat spot. We are going to do everything we can to get more production from not only our offensive line, but the whole offense."
The LSU offensive line is a mix of veterans and rookies. Alexander is a senior, while left tackle Jerald Hawkins and center Ethan Pocic are juniors. The two guards are redshirt freshman Will Clapp and true freshman Maea Teuhema.
"We weren't right with our pass protection," Clapp said. "We all were getting pushed back in the pocket on a few plays. There were no wrinkles from Arkansas' defensive line. We just needed to execute."
LSU suffered its first injury along the offensive line Saturday when Hawkins left the game with an ankle injury. Redshirt sophomore KJ Malone replaced Hawkins in his first significant playing time in a SEC game. Hawkins may not be available when the Tigers play at Ole Miss.
The LSU run-blocking scheme apparently has missed the contributions of tight end Dillon Gordon and fullback John David Moore, who both are out for the year with injuries.
"It is no easy task replacing those two guys," Clapp said.
Colin Jeter has moved up to starting tight end, backed up by true freshman Foster Moreau. Jeter said LSU's run-blocking hasn't been as crisp the lately.
"Football is a game of winning individual battles," Jeter said. "There are going to be games where certain things don't work. If one guy doesn't do the job, the play won't work. It takes a lot of things for a play to work - blocking, reading the defenses, and blocking in space.
"The last two teams schemed us up and took away what we do best," Jeter added. "One player is not going to turn this around. It is going to take the whole team."
Alexander said the answer starts with hard work.
"We are not going to get better by sulking," he said. "We put ourselves in this situation, but we can handle it. We have talented guys on the team who can fix the problem."
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Posted on Thu, November 19, 2015
by BRYAN LAZARE, Associated Press