BATON ROUGE, La. — Playing on one good ankle, sophomore defensive end Rashard Lawrence needed only one hand to demonstrate why he is the most important player on the LSU defense.
Early in the first quarter, Syracuse wide receiver Ervin Philips caught a bubble screen from quarterback Eric Dungey. The play is designed to take advantage of the space vacated by defensive ends crashing toward the quarterback on the pass rush. And that’s what this particular play by the Orange should have done.
But Lawrence saw it coming.
Using quickness that shouldn’t be possible for a 300-pound man on two good ankles, much less one, Lawrence somehow redirected his path, pivoting from the direction of Dungey to Philips. He dove, reached out with his left arm and yanked Philips to the turf for a 2-yard loss on what could have been a significant gain against any other player.
“We’re different when Rashard Lawrence is in there,” LSU coach Ed Orgeron said. “I think you guys can see that. He’s the leader. He’s our bell cow. He played on a hurt ankle [Saturday night] but played the whole game.”
Unfortunately for LSU, you can make that two hurt ankles.
Orgeron said Lawrence tweaked his right ankle — also known as the good one — in the fourth quarter of the Tigers’ 35-26 win.
After the game, Lawrence said the new injury wasn’t that painful. But he also said that’s expected with adrenaline still rushing through his system.
“I couldn’t tell you [how much it hurts] right now,” Lawrence said. “I’m feeling good. We just got a win.”
Though he played with a heavy brace over his left ankle, Lawrence did not feel hindered.
“My ankle’s OK. A little sore, but it’s OK,” he said. “I think it’s getting stronger.”
The missing ingredient
Fans will see that Syracuse moved the ball through the air with relative ease. But that was not the case on the ground, and that’s where Lawrence comes into play. The Orange were limited to 76 yards on 27 carries one week after Mississippi State mashed the Tigers for 285 rushing yards.
“I think it’s huge when I’m out there,” Lawrence said. “I can help the team not only when I’m playing but as a leader. I see myself as a leader. When guys see you out there making plays, that’s big. I try to make plays and have them feed off my energy.”
Lawrence’s energy is infectious, but it was drained when he wasn’t able to go against the Bulldogs last week. He also missed LSU’s home opener against Chattanooga after hurting his ankle against BYU.
“I was depressed, to be honest,” Lawrence said. “Missing two games was depressing. I talked to my mom. She helped me through it. To be back out there with my brothers was big.”
Lawrence found Mom’s advice to be the best.
“The biggest thing was praying,” he said. “I talked to her every day, and she said I was going to come back stronger than ever.”
She was right on Saturday night. Lawrence finished with 5 tackles and 2 for a loss, 1 of which was a sack.
LSU fans may want to take up his mother’s advice and start praying for those ankles, too.
“You see how big I am. That’s a lot of weight on your ankle,” Lawrence said. “But Jack [Marucci] and the [trainers] do a good job taking care of me.”