Last Modified: Friday, October 12, 2012 6:21 PM
LSU may have picked the wrong week to quit patching up its offensive line — now the Tigers may be reduced to drawing straws to get a quorum up front.
Or maybe it’s to see who gets the short straw when No. 3 South Carolina brings one of the nation’s best defensive lines into Tiger Stadium, led by man-child defensive end Jadeveon Clowney.
An LSU offense that has struggled to protect quarterback Zach Mettenberger and was held to 42 yards rushing by Florida last week, will now tangle with a Gamecock defense that leads the Southeastern Conference in sacks by a wide margin and is second only to No. 1-ranked Alabama in run defense.
There are complications.
With their backs firmly against the wall — at least for the preseason dreams they had — the No. 9 Tigers (5-1, 1-1 SEC) could go into tonight’s key showdown against No. 4 South Carolina (6-0, 4-0) with as many as three starters missing up front in the offensive line.
“If you can’t put in five guys that are cohesive and know how to work together and understand the scheme, it can be a real issue,” Miles said of the line. “We’ve been fortunate that we have that.”
But who now?
It’s expected the Tigers could be forced into their fifth different starting combination tonight.
The dominoes started falling when the best of them, left tackle Chris Faulk, was lost for the season in practice the week following the season opener.
His position has been a particular trouble spot since — and it could get more complicated this week.
Starting right guard Josh Williford missed the second half of the Florida game, reportedly after suffering a concussion.
Miles said he will be a game-time decision, but acknowledged Williford missed practice at least early in the week.
But the real mystery in this soap opera concerns Alex Hurst, who has started the last two games at left tackle after playing the right side most of his career.
Miles has said only that Hurst had missed some practice due to “some issues that are personal to him.” But Miles denied reports that Hurst had quit the team when he said on Wednesday that “We don’t expect him to miss the back end of the week.”
At any rate, fans will likely be going through the checklist a little more closely during pregame warm-ups.
The likely replacements run the gamut from redshirt freshman Trae Turner at right guard to sixth-year senior Josh Dworaczyk at left tackle. Dworaczyk has as much experience as any player, but has seen only token playing time in the last month while dealing with his own injuries.
Starting center P.J. Lonergan has also been slowed by injuries but is expected to play, along with sophomore La’el Collins at left tackle and true freshman Vadal Alexander at right tackle.
“We’re counting on our guys to play the position well, period, when they step in and they’re no longer a backup, they’re a starter,” Miles said. “The good news is we have recruited well. I think that, given some time, there are some young guys that will be in a position to play at a very high level.”
But time is something they don’t have against a South Carolina team that has 25 sacks.