BATON ROUGE, La. — Something about the LSU offensive line isn’t adding up.
On one side of the equation, there’s the eye test — and the eye test is ugly. LSU’s offensive line has looked porous over the past three weeks, allowing 15 tackles for loss, 4 sacks and 8 quarterback hurries. The Tigers have as many team losses (2) as rushing touchdowns in that span.
Because of these rough showings, the offensive line and position coach Jeff Grimes have absorbed a lot of criticism. But there’s more to the equation.
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Every week, Grimes grades LSU’s linemen on a 0-100 scale, taking into account everything from sacks and pressures allowed to completed assignments and high-effort plays. Despite allowing 5 tackles for loss and a quarterback hurry, center Will Clapp and left tackle K.J. Malone both said Grimes graded the Tigers highly following the Troy loss. Clapp said the line had more “great effort” plays than any previous week, and Malone said every starter graded out at 85 percent or better.
Why should fans believe what they’re being told when their eyes seem to tell them something so much different?
Pro Football Focus, an independent website that analyzes player performances, graded Clapp and Malone as two of the best offensive linemen in the SEC for the week. Clapp, in fact, performed better than any other SEC lineman. And while Malone didn’t eclipse the 85 percent he mentioned on Grimes’ scale, he did rank as one of the two best offensive tackles in the league.
PFF Week 5 – SEC Team of the Week – Offense pic.twitter.com/BGqZ2kiVRX
— PFF College Football (@PFF_College) October 3, 2017
How can this disparity exist between what fans are seeing and what the linemen are actually doing?
“People can criticize,” Clapp said. “But at the end of the day, if you’re on the outside of this building, people don’t know what’s going on in here. You think one player is playing bad or a group is playing bad, and really they’re grading out well. You really never know. We just block out all the noise. We know what’s going on here, and we know what we need to do to fix it.”
Clapp isn’t willing to publicly say what needs to be fixed. Same with Malone. But the two upperclassmen made one thing clear: Simplifying LSU’s offense won’t affect the linemen. Not one bit.
The myriad shifts and motions in offensive coordinator Matt Canada’s scheme might complicate things for running backs and wide receivers. But on the offensive line, plays always come down to whether you have to block a gap or a zone. Wide receiver D.J. Chark can run from sideline to sideline four times before the ball is snapped. If Clapp has to block the A gap to his left, whatever Chark is doing doesn’t change that.
That’s why it’s peculiar to hear LSU coach Ed Orgeron say he wants to simplify the offense to help the offensive line. That was his plan heading into the Troy game. Then the third quarter began and LSU went back to shifting and motioning across the field. Simplicity didn’t make anything better.
“I really didn’t see a difference,” Malone said of the two offensive tactics. “At first, shifting was hard because I had to get in shape. But now that I’m used to it, it doesn’t really affect me.”
If it’s not the shifts or the motions, what is it then? What’s holding back the offensive line? Even if the grades are high, the Tigers are averaging 4.8 yards per carry this year, compared to 6.1 yards per carry in 2016. Something is different, even from spring practice and preseason camp.
“I really don’t know,” Malone said. “During camp and during the spring, we were beating the defense every day. BYU, we beat them. So I really don’t know what happened. I think people just aren’t buying in.”
Malone added that LSU needs to limit its turnovers. A fumble, two interceptions, a missed field goal and a turnover on downs ended five scoring threats for the Tigers versus Troy. Clapp said LSU has to get back to the offense it ran during the spring and preseason, an offense that looked similar to the one we’re seeing on the field, and produce some big plays.
“We want to get back to those big runs, explosive plays,” Clapp said. “Just get back to being an explosive offense.”
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