W. Kentucky-LSU Preview
(AP) - If anyone can appreciate how hard it has been to slow down Lewis Neal and the rest of LSU's defensive line this year, it is Tigers offensive tackle Vadal Alexander, who has had his hands full with them in practice since last spring.
''I saw it in the offseason, just the way they were always working on get-offs and pass-rush moves, playing blocks and just working hard - working their butts off - to get better,'' Alexander said. ''That's why I think you've seen it on the field this year.''
LSU defenders have racked up 17 sacks through the first six games this season, putting them on pace to easily eclipse last season's total of 19 sacks (in 13 games).
The fifth-ranked and unbeaten Tigers (6-0) had five sacks against Florida in a 35-28 victory last Saturday night that dropped the Gators from No. 8 to No. 13 in the national rankings. Defensive end Lewis Neal had three sacks, increasing his team-leading total to seven this season.
The ability to sustain that kind of pressure could be a significant factor this Saturday, when LSU hosts Western Kentucky (6-1) and Hilltoppers quarterback Brandon Doughty, who has averaged 387 yards passing this season.
Neal credits new defensive line coach Ed Orgeron - who has been an assistant in the pros and a head coach at the major college level - with infusing the Tigers' defensive front with energy and passion, while at the same time refining their techniques.
The result, the Tigers say, is a defense which plays with relentless aggression, but also with the discipline required to avoid getting caught out of position.
''Intensity and attention to detail,'' Neal says when asked about Orgeron's influence. ''We study NFL defensive lines all the time. We get and learn technique that NFL players use all the time. Those things help us a lot.''
Davon Godchaux has three sacks this season, while freshman end Arden Key has a sack-and-a-half. But even when defensive linemen are not being credited with sacks, Neal said, they're helping flush QBs into the arms of fellow defenders.
''What people don't realize,'' Neal says, ''is it takes all four defensive linemen to get a sack.''
LSU coach Les Miles credits Orgeron's ''enthusiasm for play and technical expertise,'' for the dramatic increase in sacks this season.
Against Florida, Neal explains, LSU pass rushers were mindful of quarterback Treon Harris' mobility. So when the Tigers beat blockers and got into the backfield, they feigned like they would keep charging, but then pulled up to ensure they didn't lose containment.
''I knew when he wanted to run, so I made him try to run,'' Neal explained. ''I show my presence and then wait for him to make his move ... then I go get him.
''That strategy worked all night long,'' Neal continued. ''You see, quarterbacks get nervous, especially when they are mobile.''
That won't be the case with Doughty, but the senior still could present plenty of problems for the Tigers. After leading the nation with 49 touchdown passes last season, Doughty has 24 through seven games - third behind Baylor's Seth Russell (27) and TCU's Trevone Boykin (25), both of whom are considered Heisman Trophy candidates.
Doughty leads the nation in completion percentage (74.1) and is second behind Russell in yards per attempt (10.18).
Western Kentucky received 11 votes in the AP Poll, and Miles went on the record this week saying he was one of those who had the Hilltoppers in his Top 25.
"This is a very good football team," Miles said. "All you have to do is watch film. ... Doughty, every bit an SEC quarterback, big,talented, strong, smart quarterback. Big arm. Again, enough (that if) you watch the film, he'll get your attention."
Slowing Leonard Fournette could be another story. Winless North Texas averaged 5.8 yards on 35 carries against Western Kentucky on Oct. 15, so dragging down the Heisman front-runner should be quite a difficult task.
LSU ran for 291 yards and four touchdowns when Western Kentucky last visited Baton Rouge, a 42-9 Tigers win Nov. 12, 2011.