Tigers keep finding young stars

BATON ROUGE, La. -- When LSU starting running back Spencer Ware was taken to the locker room during the second quarter of The Tigers' 23-21 win over South Carolina on Saturday night with what later proved to be a stomach ailment, it seemed the Tigers' injury issues had gone from bad to absurd.

Already, LSU was without three of its original starting five offensive linemen, including projected first-round NFL draft pick Chris Faulk. Already, the Tigers were without Alfred Blue, originally its starting running back, for the season and just this week the Tigers lost linebacker Kwon Alexander for the rest of the year.

No way LSU can keep having players go down. Right?

Actually, it was no problem. True freshman Jeremy Hill became the latest young Tiger to take an opportunity and -- in his case, literally -- run with it. The Baton Rouge native ran for 124 yards and two touchdowns on 17 carries in his first significant playing time of the season, including a 50-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter that proved to be the game winner.

"I'm going to keep this in my memory," Hill said. "It was kind of the first night where I showed the world what I could do."

There have been a lot of young Tigers who have taken advantage of opportunities this year, more than one might expect from a team that's 6-1 with a national championship path completely in its own hands. The Tigers have had five freshmen start this season, all a direct result of injuries or suspensions.

Against South Carolina, an injury to right guard Josh Williford allowed redshirt freshman guard Trai Turner to make his first start; he fared well next to fellow freshman Vadal Alexander, the Tigers' right tackle.

"The two young guys, Vadal and Trai, played lights out," quarterback Zach Mettenberger said. "I think they're going to be a good combo in the future on the right side for sure."

At linebacker, true freshman Lamar Louis got his first start, replacing fellow true freshman Kwon Alexander (no relation to Vadal) on the strong side.

And it's not far-fetched to think Hill might earn consideration for a start somewhere down the road, although Ware's illness was not serious and he eventually returned to the game. LSU has used three different starting running backs, including Ware, Kenny Hilliard and Blue. If Hill stays hot, he could join the freshman party.

Miles does not try to redshirt true freshmen. It's a good thing because that strategy would be shot with the attrition that started in August camp when Tyrann Mathieu was booted from the team for substance abuse issues and linebacker Tahj Jones was lost for the season to academic issues.

Those losses opened the door for true freshman Jalen Mills to become the starter in Mathieu's place and, after junior Luke Muncie became ill with an ailment that caused him to lose weight, Kwon Alexander became a starter at linebacker.

After the opener against North Texas, left tackle Faulk was lost for the season for a knee injury suffered at practice, creating a crack in a door that Vadal Alexander eventually was able to get through. First, sixth-year senior Josh Dworaczyk got the chance to start, but a recurring knee injury forced him out of the lineup and eventually Alexander moved into the lineup at right tackle.

With the knee issue improved, Dworaczyk returned to the lineup Saturday after Alex Hurst -- who had shifted from right tackle to left tackle to make room for Vadal Alexander -- missed Saturday's game.

Save the poor offensive performance in the 14-6 loss to Florida, the attrition doesn't seem to take a toll. When LSU was opening huge holes in the second half, it was often behind Turner and Alexander. And the biggest of those runs was Hill's 50-yard run, meaning a true freshman ran behind a redshirt freshman and a true freshman for the decisive play in a win over the No. 3 team in the country.

"Once you come here," Hill said, "you know you are going to have to wait your turn to play. Once you get that opportunity to play, you have to take advantage of it and run with it."

A lot of freshman aren't having to wait long this season.