Eight months ago a Texas offensive line changed the tone surrounding the team (and in some ways the entire conference) by pushing around the Georgia Bulldogs on the way to a huge 28-21 Sugar Bowl victory.
Now, a new group has a chance to help the Longhorn program take the next step toward national relevance in a huge showdown against another SEC powerhouse opponent in LSU.
Are they up for the task?
If you were to judge by last week’s performance Samuel Cosmi (left tackle), Parker Braun (left guard) Zach Shackleford (center), Junior Angilau (right guard) and Derek Kerstetter (right tackle) looked the part against inferior competition in Louisiana Tech. Texas used its quick offensive linemen to establish the line of scrimmage and get downfield to block on screens that were basically used as an extension of the run game in a 45-14 victory.
“I think all of the starting offensive line graded out as champions, so they played well; certainly not perfect,” Tom Herman commented regarding the Louisiana Tech game. “I thought our communication was really good.”
But LSU isn’t Louisiana Tech.
The Tigers bring back three starters from last year’s team in Rashard Lawerence, Glen Logan and Breiden Fehoko and boast depth with Tyler Shelving, Justin Thomas and true freshman Saki Ika.
It’s a group that has size, strength and depth and may just be the most complete unit the Longhorns will see all year.
The LSU defense isn’t built for defensive linemen to shoot gaps and get upfield super fast, but that doesn’t mean the Tigers are punchless up front. The large defensive ends and nose tackle are meant to eat up blocks, demand double teams and create tons of room for the active Tiger linebackers to fly around and make plays.
The Longhorns will have to win one-on-one battles to avoid getting jammed up on the way to block an extremely athletic group of linebackers that includes K’Lavon Chaisson, Andre Anthony, Jacob Phillips and Michael Divinity.
Further complicating the matter, Texas is down to one healthy full-time scholarship running back in Keaontay Ingram, which likely means it will lean a little more heavily on Sam Ehlinger’s ability to run the ball than they might with a deeper pool of backs at its disposal.
While this raises the stakes even higher for the Longhorn offensive line, the players certainly don’t seem to be phased by the big stage, the big opponent or the big task in front of them.
“People always play us really well, really hard and LSU is going to do the same thing that everyone else (that plays us) does,” Texas center Zach Shackleford said. “They are going to bring their best and we are going to bring ours.”
Which team’s “best” is better might very well determine the outcome of this mammoth showdown. And we all get to find out the answer together Saturday night.