LSU lacks leadership.
The Tigers have not had their best season. There are a multitude of reasons for why, but the biggest is the lack of communication amongst position groups.
Leaders may not have to be vocal, but they must be able to communicate with their teammates. LSU has struggled badly in that area.
The Tigers have lost three games this season, all on the road. Communication amongst players in raucous and unfamiliar territory is understandably difficult.
There is no stat that measures how often players speak to each other. But with constant breakdowns and long periods of stagnant play, LSU has looked befuddled far too often this season.
The two worst groups when it comes to communication has been the defensive backs and offensive line.
LSU lost so many contributors from last year's team, most of which had multiple years of starting experience. The lack of experience has shown.
LSU has dearly missed left tackle Josh Dworaczyk, center P.J. Lonergan and safety Eric Reid this season. The loss of those three players is the main reason why the offensive line and secondary has struggled communicating this season.
LSU was not particularly strong on the offensive line and the secondary last season. The problem has been a lack of improvement this season.
The secondary has probably been the biggest disappointment this season. To the surprise of nobody, their struggles bled over against the Crimson Tide. But they have been spoken about plenty of times this season.
It is now time to focus on the play of the LSU offensive line.
LSU's big uglies played their best against Florida. The Gators have not looked worse on the defensive line this season than when the Tigers beat them down in Tiger Stadium.
But when LSU's offensive line has not been at home, they have been average at best.
The Tigers have allowed 18 sacks through 10 games, which is a respectable number. But 14 of those sacks have come in LSU's four road games.
All three of LSU's losses have come away from Death Valley. The Tigers have rushed for 234 yards on 102 carries in those games, which averages out to a paltry 2.2 yards-per-carry.
Trai Turner explained to me after LSU's victory against Florida how easier communication can be at home. Crowd noise plays more of a factor than people think, probably more so for the offensive line than anybody else.
When it comes to pre and post-snap checks, people focus on the quarterback and his receivers. While it's massive for them to be on the same page, an argument can be made it is more difficult for the offensive line to relay signals to each other.
Offensive tackles do not have the luxury of looking directly at the football at the time of the snap. Skill position players do, which also makes it easier to communicate with the quarterback pre-snap.
Audibles are tough to hear on the road, which forces offensive lineman to stay in their stance longer. This affects their mental and physical endurance towards the back end of the game.
Center Elliott Porter must also make blocking calls, which can get difficult amidst crowd noise. Porter's best game came against Auburn, where he outplayed and outsmarted his Tigers counterpart. The rest of the offensive line must help him more.
A perfect example was on LSU's final drive against Georgia. The right side of the LSU offensive line crumbled and allowed a pivotal sack. The Tigers failed to recover.
LSU sets up their opening play at its own 27-yard-line. The Tigers are in Shoutgun with three wide receivers and two running backs in the backfield with Mettenberger.
Notice the left side of the Georgia defensive line. They have two pass rushers, one standing and the other in a three-point stance, lined up a full two yards off the line of scrimmage. This allows them more space to run a "twist" stunt, where the defensive end wraps around the defensive tackle when the ball is snapped.
When two of Georgia's pass rushers are lined up that far off the line of scrimmage, it should be an immediate tip-off to the LSU offensive line. Right tackle Jerald Hawkins, right guard Trai Turner and center Elliott Porter should all notify each other that assignments might change during the play.
The ball is snapped and the "twist" begins on the left side of the Georgia line.
Turner does a great job of guiding the defensive tackle into Hawkins. But now it is his job to block outside linebacker Leonard Floyd twisting inside to the A-Gap. Porter sees no blitzing linebackers coming his way, so he now must help any inside pressure through either A-Gap.
Turner and Porter converge rather late to block Floyd. Because Floyd started off so far away from the line of scrimmage, the speedy freshman has a head of steam toward Mettenberger. Because it was a "twist," personal backfield protectors Jeremy Hill and Travis Dickson leave the backfield seeing no early pressure up the middle.
Floyd shreds through the broken down pass protection and crushes Mettenberger.
This play was inexcusable from the LSU offensive line. The right guard, Turner, and tackle, Hawkins, must relay to their center, Porter, that a "twist" might be coming so extra help can come from the inside. The most critical gaps to protect are the A-Gaps, which is the space located between the center and guard. The Tigers failed to do so in a crucial moment of the game.
The LSU offensive line started the game dominantly against Alabama. But similar to their play all season, they could not keep it together for a full four quarters. The group closed poorly by allowing three sacks on the final drive.
Mettenberger must also do a better job of speaking with his offensive line. LSU suffered a critical fumble when he walked up the line of scrimmage for an audible out of shotgun while Porter snapped the football.
Though Dworaczyk did not play center for LSU last season, he would sometimes make calls at left tackle. He was also a verbal leader the group looked up to, especially after he was inserted before playing South Carolina. The line was dominant against Jadeveon Clowney and the unit drastically improved.
The Tigers desperately miss players like Dworaczyk, Lonergan and Reid. The offensive line and secondary have yet to find consistency this season.
To be fair, the offensive line, like the secondary, has had their fair share of personnel changes. The loss of left guard Josh Williford forced Alexander to move to left guard from right tackle, inserting Hawkins at right tackle. This came after left tackle La'el Collins moved from the left guard to left tackle.
Les Miles will lean on offensive line coach Greg Studwara heavily in these next couple of games. Studwara was replaced by Cam Cameron as the offensive coordinator and now focuses on the offensive line. With two games left at home, there is no reason the line does not finish the season strong.
The line, for the most part, has been a good group. But there is still plenty of room to grow with favorable matchups against Texas A&M and Arkansas ahead.
If Miles wants to finish unblemished, he will find a way to get his players to communicate better. If not, LSU fans should expect more of the same.
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