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Gilmore starting to make impact

The hiring of Dave Aranda as defensive coordinator meant the arrival of an odd-man front for LSU.

In that defensive system, there is the necessity of finding a space-eating nose tackle. When Aranda arrived at LSU, he didn’t see a ready-made nose tackle among his returning starters.

Aranda first placed Christian LaCouture at nose tackle. Near the end of spring practice, Aranda moved Davon Godchaux in the middle of the defensive line with LaCouture moving back to end.

When LaCouture suffered a season-ending knee injury in August, Aranda and then-defensive line coach Ed Orgeron had to make another change. Godchaux went back to defensive end and fourth-year junior Greg Gilmore was inserted as the No. 1 nose tackle.

Many observers felt that Gilmore was a stop-gap replacement at nose tackle with the arrival of the highly-regarded Travonte Valentine. Six games into the season, such a prediction is totally wrong.

Gilmore has seized control of the nose tackle position. Valentine didn’t play one snap against Southern Mississippi as freshman Ed Alexander was Gilmore’s backup. Logging the most playing time of his career, Gilmore made six tackles against the Golden Eagles.

“Playing so many snaps really tests you mentally,” Gilmore said. “It’s also tough physically, but (members of the media) see what we do on Mondays (much conditioning work). I was good with playing so much last week.”

Gilmore’s six tackles were a career-high. Gilmore and defensive end Lewis Neal tied for the team-high in tackles against USM. Gilmore has now been credited with 22 tackles for the season – more than his total from the last two years combined. Entering 2016, Gilmore had 17 tackles.

It has taken Gilmore a long time to finally make an impact at LSU. Coming out of Hope Mills (N.C.) South View High School, Gilmore was rated the No. 5 defensive tackle in the country. As a senior, Gilmore registered 90 tackles, including ten behind the line of scrimmage.

However, Gilmore was far from ready for the rigors of Southeastern Conference football. He was redshirted in 2013 and participated in only six games in 2014. Gilmore began to make some improvement in 2015 when Orgeron was hired as defensive line coach.

Gilmore became part of the rotation at defensive tackle a year ago. He took part in all 12 games with one start against Western Kentucky. Gilmore recorded 13 tackles, including a season’s best four in the regular-season finale against Texas A&M.

Given the chance to be a starter after LaCouture was injured, Gilmore has not wasted the opportunity. Valentine has received fewer and fewer snaps since the season-opener against Wisconsin when Gilmore had to leave the lineup on the first series because his helmet came off his head.

There is no doubt that Gilmore has a chip on his shoulder when it comes to his production on the field.

“I am the underdog,” Gilmore said. “I am not some three-year starter. I have stuff to prove every week. I have something to prove to myself and to the offensive linemen I go up against. I want to show my opponent that I have improved.

“What’s the next step for me? I can be a better 2-I player (lines up on inside shoulder of guard). My hands can be better and my feet can be better. I can be better at taking on double teams.”

Gilmore, along with his defensive teammates, will have another challenge this week when Ole Miss comes to Tiger Stadium. Like most of LSU’s opponents this season, the Rebels run a spread offense. The other offenses did not have a quarterback like Ole Miss’ Chad Kelly.

Kelly accounted for 361 yards and four touchdowns in the Rebels’ 38-17 victory against the Tigers in Oxford last season. Kelly was 19-of-34 for 280 yards with two touchdowns passing and picked up 81 yards and two touchdowns rushing.

In less than two years, Kelly has accounted for more than 6,600 yards of offense and has been responsible for 58 touchdowns. Barring injury, Kelly will end his career No. 3 in both categories on Ole Miss’ all-time rankings – behind Bo Wallace and Eli Manning.

“I have bad memories of last year’s game against Ole Miss,” Gilmore said. “Ole Miss is pretty big up front and they are good position blockers. Kelly is a great quarterback. We have to try and keep him in the pocket. We must push the pocket up the middle.

“We have good pass rushers on the outside, but the main point is to keep him in the middle especially with his running ability.”

LSU has faced this style of quarterback this season, but none had the arm of Kelly. Moreover, the Tigers are getting ready for the up-tempo system utilized by coach Hugh Freeze’s Rebels.

“We’ll use the double huddles during practice,” Gilmore said. “One play is over and we have to run to the other hash mark for another play (with another group of offensive players). Practicing like that helps against their speed (in running plays). It’s not that fast in the game.

“Ole Miss was pretty fast in getting off plays last year. We’ll have a better plan against then this year than we had last year.”