Florida and LSU both have stupendously talented defenses, and great coaches running them: Will Muschamp and Dan Quinn have five or six Gators on their defensive line who might play in the NFL, while Les Miles and John Chavis have a secondary with four or five Tigers who will star on Sunday. Neither defense has a scheme that's been wreaking havoc because of scheme alone this year, though: Florida's kept things fairly vanilla and relied on its line to get pressure, while LSU has been able to line up Tyrann Mathieu all over the place and trust that the "Honey Badger" will create chaos.
That's why it might be LSU's offensive line — its philosophy, not its personnel — that makes the difference for the Tigers in Baton Rouge this Saturday.
LSU has played Oregon, Mississippi State, and West Virginia, three teams that had a combined 114 sacks in 2010 — and the Tigers are tied for 10th nationally in sacks allowed, behind a bunch of teams with veteran offensive lines (Stanford, Oklahoma, Boise State), mobile quarterbacks (Michigan, Oregon), and option schemes (Air Force, Navy). LSU doesn't have any of those things for certain, thanks to a rash of injuries and that Jordan Jefferson bar fight/suspension thing, though it should be noted that the line is pretty impressive when fully healthy.
What the Tigers do have is a really smart solution to the "How can we ensure our quarterback keeps all of his teeth?" question posed by the slew of merciless SEC pass rushes: More blockers. It's that easy.
You see that picture up there, at the top of the article? It's from last week's LSU-Kentucky game, and it's fairly close to the sort of thing LSU will do if Florida threatens blitz on Saturday: There's the normal five-man line, and a tight end kept back in pass protection; that back could be blocking, too, or could release to the flats for a checkdown. Florida can blitz six and drop five if it wants, but those are six big bodies (none of the six tight ends on LSU's roster is shorter than 6'3") and another left to chip, and that blitz is likely to do very little.
Quinn praised LSU's line earlier this week, and cited the same scheme.
Defensive coordinator Dan Quinn said the Tigers often use seven blockers on pass plays, keeping a tight end and running back in to protect quarterback Jarrett Lee.
"They’re playing well as a unit," Quinn said of the LSU offensive line.
"It’s an experienced group coming back. It’s a function of those two things: an experienced club along with help from the outside guys."
Lee has been far more successful in 2011 (seven touchdowns and one interception on 108 pass attempts) than he was in 2008 (14 touchdowns and 16 interceptions on 269 pass attempts). But Lee hasn't made the strides some might have hoped he would, and he's still physically limited, especially compared to Jefferson, and he might still be turnover-prone under pressure.
Smartly, LSU probably isn't going to risk finding out, and has instead chosen not to allow that pressure, giving up the big plays that having three or four wide receivers on the field can bring. LSU's line (22 sacks or more in every year since 2008; three sacks through five games in 2011) has done some growing up, and has dealt well with some injuries this year; their maturation makes a schematic choice like this look better than it is.
But LSU fans can credit Miles, whose background is as an offensive line coach, for this, and for knowing what he needs to do to make sure that his quarterback doesn't prevent his team from winning games. Miles may be crazy, but he's definitely not dumb.