BATON ROUGE, La. — Alabama’s defensive front gets to the quarterback so quickly, so efficiently and so menacingly, it’s turned haunting the nightmares of opposing quarterbacks into a habit.
But little does Alabama know, LSU quarterback Danny Etling’s been through this all before.
“I took a lot of hits (at Purdue),” Etling said. “I took a lot of hits this season already. I think that hopefully I’ll be ready for those hits. I don’t think you can be hit that much harder than I’ve gotten hit, at least this season.”
Etling started eight games in 2013, his freshman year at Purdue. That season, the Purdue offensive line allowed 39 sacks, the third-most of any Power 5 team, and 19 quarterback hurries. But even that is nothing compared to what the Alabama front seven is capable of.
In eight games this year, all wins, the Alabama front seven has accumulated 32 sacks, the most in college football, and 46 quarterback hurries. Additionally, the Tide have 64 tackles for loss, the third most in the FBS, and forced 13 fumbles, two more than any other SEC program.
Led by standouts Jonathan Allen, Reuben Foster and Tim Williams, the Alabama defensive front seven is easily the toughest the LSU offensive line will have to face this season. But it isn’t just the stars that LSU has to prepare for. As sophomore guard Will Clapp said, everyone on the Alabama defense looks like a “future Sunday guy.”
“Those guys, the thing that makes them great, is there’s not a drop-off between when they rotate,” Clapp said. “When these guys roll in, these guys are just as good as the starters. So that’s what really makes them a very good team. When you can rotate and not lose anything, that’s what makes you dangerous.”
However, LSU does have one advantage it hasn’t had in a while. For this first time since Ed Orgeron took over as interim coach, LSU will likely be able to roll out its starting offensive line at full strength when the Tigers host the Tide next Saturday.
Right tackle Toby Weathersby, who hasn’t played since LSU’s win over Mississippi State on Sept. 17, is expected to return from his ankle injury. Weathersby told SEC Country on Wednesday that he expects to shed his non-contact practice jersey as soon as next week, and should be full-go against Alabama.
To tight end Colin Jeter, getting Weathersby back for the Alabama game is perfect timing.
“I think from my own personal experience, when you’re standing on the sidelines and watching your team play without you and you can’t really do anything, the biggest thing it does is it makes you hungry,” Jeter said. “For us to be playing a team like Alabama when he’s going to be hungry to play … I think he’s going to be ready to roll.”
As for how he plans to prepare for Alabama’s size, speed and talent, Weathersby seems to be relying on the Mr. Rosso approach: If you think you can win, you can win.
“It’s just one of those things where we’ve got to get out there and play,” Weathersby said. “We’ve got to trust ourselves and we’ve got to play ball. That’s how I look at it.”
If there’s one thing that works in the Tigers’ favor, it’s that they won’t be suffering from a lack of motivation to beat Alabama.
Last year, LSU traveled to Tuscaloosa as the undefeated No. 2 team in the country, riding high behind Heisman Trophy front-runner Leonard Fournette. Alabama proceeded to squeeze every last ounce of juice out of the LSU offense until all that was left was pulp and shredded rinds, holding Fournette to 31 yards on 19 carries, with 18 of those yards coming on one play.
As you already know, LSU lost that game.
In fact, it’s been a long while since LSU has beaten Alabama. The Crimson Tide have won the last four regular-season meetings and the last five overall meetings between the squads dating back to the BCS Championship Game on Jan. 9, 2012.
Don’t think this fact has been lost on anyone, especially not LSU’s offensive linemen.
“It was a rough game for all of us last year,” Clapp said. “We remember. But it’s a different year, a different line. And we just have to prepare for another great Alabama defense. We’re just trying to get (a win). It’s been a while since we’ve beaten them. Nobody on this team has beat them. So we’re just looking to get our first victory on them.”