Brian Kelly was first to point out that, particularly this last week, the trenches extended beyond the o-line to the tight ends and even running backs who needed to help contain a devastating Alabama pass rush. For example the “Superman” block that running back Josh Williams laid on Jayden Daniels overtime touchdown run is exactly the kind of effort that LSU needed in that game and why there’s so much optimism around what can continue in this offense.
“I think Brad [Davis] has done a really good job of developing those guys week in and week out. I think our backs have helped. Our tight ends helped in protection,” Kelly said. “It’s not just those five guys, but clearly the biggest concern we had was their two end pass rushers.”
The awareness the entire line needed to play with against the Crimson Tide is a byproduct of that growing communication and scheme execution. According to Football Outsiders, this group ranks No. 1 in offensive stuff rate, meaning the Tigers are getting pushed up front, as well as ranking No. 5 in pressure rate, meaning a cleaner pocket for the quarterback Daniels.
Tasked with the bulk of the protection duties on those two pass rushers were the two true freshmen Cambell and Jones, who just continued to show why their futures are so bright with the program. Kelly has put a lot of trust in both players and they have rewarded it with outstanding performances and reps against All-American pass rushers that will only make them better.
Immediately after the game, Kelly recalled in his press conference Campbell coming over to him after being beat on one play and taking Kelly through step by step of how he wasn’t going to ever let it happen again.
“I don’t know how they do it to be honest, it’s amazing. They have a mental toughness that is unusual for their age and lack of experience,” Kelly said. “They are strong mentally. Campbell gives up a sack, comes back and explains to me precisely what happened and the steps he’s going to take so that it never happens again, for the rest of his life. That’s how unusual those two freshmen are, they’re so focused on doing their job and doing it well.”
“You’ve got to give credit to the two freshmen. Emery and Will just do an incredible job play in and play out focus and refocusing, letting the play go and coming back to the next play and just with all-out effort. Sustained all-out effort,” Kelly added Monday.
On defense, since losing Maason Smith, it’s been the play inside of Mekhi Wingo that has stolen the show. Ali Gaye, BJ Ojulari and Jaquelin Roy have been the glue guys up front all year but the assertion of Wingo as a run stuffer and overall disrupter in the middle has allowed others to have success.
The Tigers have also gotten increasingly creative with how they use freshman star linebacker Harold Perkins, who gets into the backfield with such ease that he’s an extension of the defensive line as well. Kelly thinks the success in pass rush has come through the diverse gameplans from defensive coordinator Matt House to make the game uncomfortable for the opposing quarterback.
“I think what we’ve done really well is mix up the front. We’ve played some three-down to take the pressure off of losing a player of that caliber [Smith] and by doing so have been able to rotate that defensive tackle position with three-down and four-down,” Kelly said. “By doing so, obviously you’re playing with one nose. I think that’s really helped us a lot.”
The pressure up front has led to inefficient nights for each of the last three opponents from a passing perspective and as a result, has really allowed LSU to be more creative with its playcalling. LSU has had pretty much a whole season to get used to mobile quarterbacks and the Tigers face another one this weekend in Razorbacks’ KJ Jefferson, whose style is a bit more of a physical, bruising kind of runner.
In order for LSU to continue reaching the levels of success it has the last few weeks, it must start up front.