BATON ROUGE, La. — It was unlike anything LSU senior center Ethan Pocic had ever seen.
All around him, the identities of his offensive linemates kept changing. By the end of LSU’s 23-20 win over Mississippi State, Pocic was the only starter not forced to leave the game and head to the trainer’s table at some point.
“I’ve never seen that happen,” Pocic said. “But we were ready.”
What should have been a recipe for disaster against a talented Bulldog defensive line — end A.J. Jefferson came into the game tied for the SEC lead in tackles for loss and sacks — instead became a demonstration of a growing strength for LSU.
In all, the Tigers played seven different line combinations against the Bulldogs, yet made it through the game without allowing a sack.
Among the more unexpected combinations is when Pocic moved out to left tackle from center when K.J. Malone went down with a hamstring injury.
“Seeing Pocic at left tackle it was like ‘Whoa, I didn’t practice for this,’” said tight end Foster Moreau. “But he did a perfectly good job at tackle, just as he would at center or any other position.”
Not quite perfect, Pocic said, but close enough.
“After looking at it, my footwork could’ve been cleaner, but I knew my assignments and stuff,” he said. “It could’ve been cleaner, but it’s not bad for a first time doing that live. I just kind of learned on the go and had fun with it.”
While the ascension of Danny Etling to starting quarterback has been a blessing to the Tigers in a number of ways, his comfort level during Lineman Roulette ended up being one of the hidden benefits. As starters dropped like apples in Sir Isaac Newton’s orchard, the faces entering the game were plenty familiar to Etling, who played behind most of them in training camp.
“I think we have a quality two-deep line,” Etling said. “And I go with the twos a lot, so I trust those guys to protect me like they have been doing since camp.”
The easiest transition was at center, where Andy Dodd hopped in to take over when Pocic slid over to left tackle.
“The center exchange was a lot easier because Andy and I have been going together since last spring,” Etling said.
Credit for the slew of injuries not bubbling into chaos and a broken quarterback goes to offensive line coach Jeff Grimes, who trains his guys to be linemen first and guards, tackles or centers second.
“Thank goodness he’s worked that through what would be our practice weeks so our guys can kind of anticipate where they were going,” Miles said. “So to this point all those combinations had been seen by Coach Grimes and (he) moved guys in positions to play to help us.”
Miles said the Swiss Army knife approach also improves chemistry among the linemen since they know one another’s responsibilities.
“I think there is some camaraderie about that group. I think they’re a very — I think they committed to each other, and I think that makes moving into other spots a little bit more comfortable,” Miles said. “A guy that’s too rigid about where he plays, you know, he’s not really thinking about what the team is, and I think they’re a great group of guys that have team first.”
Fortunately for the Tigers, none of the injuries suffered along the line were diagnosed as particularly serious, so Miles expects “most” everybody to play against Auburn.
The only questionable case appears to be right tackle Toby Weathersby, who was the lone starter not to re-enter the Mississippi State game. But, of course, you didn’t hear that from Miles.
“I’m not allowed to talk about the injuries. You know that, right?” Miles asked an inquisitor at his Monday press conference. “Homeland Security has told me it’s not a thing I can do.”