Controlling Line of Scrimmage Main Goal, Challenge For LSU Against Georgia
When the College Football Playoff committee ranked Ohio State ahead of LSU last week, citing the defensive lapses the Tigers have endured during parts of the season, senior defensive end Rashard Lawrence took that to heart.
He took it to heart because he knows what every other defensive player on this team knows. The talent is there, the coaching is there, the schemes are there. They simply need to execute better.
"We wanted to prove it to ourselves because we really haven't played to our standard," Lawrence said. "Regardless if we're one, two, three or four, we have to help our offense and if we do our jobs we know Joe [Burrow] is going to score when he gets the ball back."
Well the defense certainly gave the committee a lot to think about, holding Jimbo Fisher and Texas A&M to seven points and 169 total yards to cap off a perfect regular season.
LSU controlled the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball against Texas A&M, sacking Kellen Mond five times on defense while giving Burrow and the offense enough time to rack up 553 yards of offense.
Just like most SEC games, the battle starts up front and that statement couldn't ring truer this week against No. 4 Georgia, a team that boasts one of the best offensive and defensive lines in the country.
The Bulldog offense is a traditional SEC offense, a ground and pound team that will try to out physical you on the front line, averaging 200 rushing yards per game on a stellar 5.6 yards per carry.
The only way that kind of production is sustainable is with a first rate offensive line, starting with likely top-10 pick Andrew Thomas manning the left tackle spot.
"They run a lot of zone and basic schemes, if you watch their offense, they're not fancy, they're not trying to toy you around with reverses or sweeps," senior defensive end Breiden Fehoko said. "Everything is basic zone read and what makes them so good is they're aggressive at the point of attack. That's what I remember about last year and why we won. We threw the first punch and the last punch and that's how it's gotta be this Saturday."
While Georgia doesn't lay a ton of points on its opponents, it relies on the offensive line tremendously to carve out running lanes for one of the most talented running backs in the SEC, D'Andre Swift. Swift enters the SEC Championship fourth in the conference in rushing yards (1,203) and seventh in yards per carry (6.23).
Lawrence said the responsibility lies on the defensive line's back to apply pressure and give the Bulldog offensive line different stunts and looks to throw them off.
"Personally I think they're the best offensive line we'll face all season," Lawrence said. "They don't quit, regardless of the scoreboard they're going to play for four quarters and are well coached."
All season long, the defense has been the calling card for Georgia and that starts up front with what coach Ed Orgeron called a defensive line unit stocked full of NFL talent. Georgia enters Saturday's game allowing just 71 yards on the ground, good for second best in the country while also holding its opponents to 10.4 points per game, also second in the country.
"The thing when you watch the Georgia Bulldogs, ever since I've been watching football, they get 11 helmets to the football," Orgeron said. "They fly to the football. They tackle well in space. They're very physical."
The real area where this Georgia defense thrives, however, is in the redzone as the Bulldogs have allowed just 13 scores when opponents get into the redzone, a stat that leads the nation.
For Burrow and company to continue its success, it'll need the much improved offensive line to continue its stellar play up front. That starts with getting the run game going early junior center Lloyd Cushenberry says.
"Just like all season, we have to set the tone early," Cushenberry said. "We have to set the tone in the run game, open lanes for Clyde and that can open up Joe and the receivers can do. It all starts with the o-line just like every week and if we can control their movement and get push off the ball then I feel like we'll be fine."
Whether it be Auburn, Florida or Alabama, the LSU offensive line has answered the bell each and every time. Cushenberry was asked if there was one particular area offensively that LSU needs to control in order to leave Atlanta with a win.
"The offensive line getting off to a fast start, controlling their movement up front," Cushenberry said. "They do a lot of stunts and line games so we have to control that and keeping hits off Joe."
Much like the Alabama game in early November, Orgeron and the Tigers don't want to make this game any bigger than it already is. Junior safety JaCoby Stevens said LSU believes it can win Saturday in Atlanta, which is why there's no need to pile on the extra hype.
"We believe we can go into Atlanta and win the conference," Stevens said. "Usually when teams make a big deal out of games like this, bark the loudest, they're usually teams that have no bite. We believe in our game, believe in our training, believe in our coaching and can come out with a victory on Saturday."