Wanted: LT to play for LSU, stability eludes Tigers

Published 11:54 am Thursday, September 23, 2021

Earlier this week Ed Orgeron walked into the LSU offensive line’s meeting room.

“Who’s going to be our left tackle?” he growled.

Blank stares. Crickets.

Crank up the Abbott and Costello routine.

“I don’t know,” Orgeron admitted this week.

What’s the conundrum?

The Tigers (2-1) have been playing mix and match with a struggling offensive line, prepare to open Southeastern Conference play at Mississippi State (2-1) Saturday morning.

But at least it seems to be down to one missing piece.

“We still haven’t found a left tackle,” said Orgeron, who acted like he might be conducting opening tryouts in advance of the Starkville trip.

Starter Cam Wire, who hasn’t played since going down with an injury in the first half of the UCLA game on Sept. 4, isn’t like to play again this week, Orgeron said, although the junior was at Wednesday’s practice wearing a knee brace and a non-contact jersey.

“He hasn’t practiced yet,” he said.

The offensive line, plagued by minor injuries that kept them from working as a unit much in August, has been a season-long problem both opening running lanes and protecting quarterback Max Johnson.

“We haven’t jelled yet like we want to,” Orgeron said. “Those guys are trying. It seems one day we have this guy in, one day we have that guy in. That line has to jell and play together.”

It wasn’t supposed to be like this. At one point Orgeron said he thought he would have last year’s entire offensive line returning intact.

But the dominoes started falling in the offseason when left tackle Drew Rosenthal transferred to Kentucky.

He was arguably the Tigers’ best lineman a year ago — at least when he played, which wasn’t that often as he sat out five games to serve suspensions.

But that left Wire, who started the five games that Rosenthal missed.

Replacing Wire has been more of a problem.

Sophomore Marlon Martinez started against McNeese State two weeks ago, while redshirt freshman Xavier Hill got the nod last week against Central Michigan.

Several other younger players such as true freshman Garrett Dellinger and redshirt freshman Marcus Dumervil got looks during the game.

“We need some of the young guys,” Orgeron said. “We put them in last week, they didn’t play very well. They know it. They weren’t ready to play. Until we get guys practicing all week together, this is going to be an ongoing process.”

Even without Wire, it has shown progress, albeit against lesser competition, since the UCLA debacle.

“We did get better at throwing the ball, better at spreading the ball around,” Orgeron said. “We have a tremendous group of athletes.”

But the Tigers rank 120th in the nation in rushing offense at 85.7 yards per game.

“We’re not there yet with the run game,” Orgeron said. “We did not block as well we should. In protection, we only gave up one sack (against Central Michigan), but it still wasn’t sound. We’re going to get tested the week.”

Help on the Way?

LSU expects to hear soon about running back John Emery’s appeal for eligibility after the NCAA flagged a course he had taken and ruled him academically ineligible before the season started.

“He’s ready to go; he’s been working like everybody else,” Orgeron said Wednesday. “As soon as they tell us he’s cleared, he’s going to play.”

Orgeron also said he expects to get back starting safety Jay Ward, who hasn’t played since the season opener.

Oops

Orgeron acknowledged that SEC game officials made what could have been critical error if last week had been a closer game.

After a replay overturned a call to give Deion Smith a catch at the CMU 45-yard line, officials mistakenly put the ball in play at the LSU 45-yard line. LSU eventually scored anyway, but what was a 93-yard drive actually had to cover 103 yards.

“I was so excited it got overturned, we didn’t notice the wrong spot,” Orgeron said. “We should have noticed it as a coaching staff.”