Honestly, I'm not sure what else to say about this one. No moral losses. But I can't say that LSU totally deserved that one. If you asked me which set of players wanted this one more, I'd say it was the ones in red & white. But that and $2 will buy you a cup of coffee, so now all that remains for LSU is to watch the Saturday games and wait for the postseason politics to play out.
But whatever their next game is, it will damn sure take a better effort to win.
- 10-2 is still a record to be proud of, and it's still not an easy one to come by. If it was, LSU would have more than just 14 10-win seasons in history. The Tigers deserve some credit for holding on, and for winning their first game in the state of Arkansas since 2006. However...
- That said...hachi machi! Just a lack of any consistent, down-in, down-out effort, especially on defense. How many broken tackles? How many short throws that turned into 6-8 yard gains because one, and sometimes two, defenders simply didn't make the play in easy, one-on-one situations? The D came alive a couple of times when absolutely needed, but those plays felt more like the exception, and not the rule. And imagine what could've happened without some of Arkansas' major gaffes?
- I can't honestly say I had a lot of major qualms with the playcalling. Was it a little more conservative than recent weeks? Yes, but with that effort level, different plays would've just failed in different ways. If anything, the coaches' frustration was somewhat easy to sense, as they just seemed to switch things up at times, trying to catch some rhythm. The result was too many passes in streaks with too many runs. Greg Studrawa has taken, overall, an unfair amount of heat from fans at times this season, but if he has a flaw, it's that he seems to struggle to bring the offense back to stability when things get off-kilter in the flow of the game.
- For example, the start of the game. Great gameplan. LSU came out running right at the Razorbacks and doing a great job of asserting their will. Arkansas responded by stacking the line of scrimmage, much like they did when Reggie Herring was running their defense. Five defenders on the line of scrimmage, with a lot of line slants, pressure and man coverage. The kind of defense that places a premium on a QB reading where the pressure is coming from and the offensive line winning one-on-one battles, and neither really happened. The Tigers moved to more seven-man protections, but receivers struggled to get open and the ball still couldn't get off. It would've been a good time for some screens or misdirection plays, but LSU just looked frustrated in general. Where was Russell Shepard?
- Granted, it doesn't help when Zach Mettenberger misses on a couple of open deep shots as well. He just never looked totally comfortable out there. Probably because his o-line's effort was spotty at best from midway through the first quarter and on. Instead of distributing the ball, he seemed to lock in on Jarvis Landry, Odell Beckham Jr., Spencer Ware and Kenny Hilliard. His long throws sailed on him a bit.
- Another odd thing I'm noticing the last two weeks: it's taking Mettenberger longer to get out of the huddle at times. He gets the play and gets in there on time -- 16 or 17 seconds to go -- but for whatever reason it's taking 8-10 seconds for the huddle to break and get lined up. Almost as though it's taking him too long to recite the call to his teammates or something. It hasn't caught up to the offense often (I can think of one time where it forced them to burn a timeout), but it's a very odd phenomenon given that it doesn't happen regularly.
- Back to the defense. Two tackles for loss. Two, for an entire game. Tied with the Alabama game for a season-low. Tyler Wilson is a smart, quick-footed passer that avoids a lot of sacks by getting the ball out quickly (and he avoided at least two potential big'ns from Barkevious Mingo) but it doesn't help when LSU rushes three far too often and does things like drop Sam Montgomery into coverage.
- It felt like John Chavis wanted to protect his young DBs with a lot of mixed zone-looks underneath (hence ends dropping into coverage) and force Arkansas to dink and dunk (especially to the running backs). The problem is that if you're going to play that style your players have to tackle, and LSU simply did not. And once they shifted back to more man-pressures, Wilson was dialed in and finding his open guys, even when the coverage was solid.
- Jalen Collins, Jalen Mills and Ronald Martin are young football players, and there's no shame in those guys getting beat on routes by a vet like Cobi Hamilton. But simply failing to break down and throw a decent tackling attempt is entirely another matter. Once this bunch hits the offseason -- and hopefully they can find a way to stretch this out another week -- somebody in this group is going to have to step up as an emotional and on-field leader. I hate to reference Brandon Taylor again, but positive influence that keeps the defensive backs on the same page. That's the biggest thing lacking from this outfit right now.
- Lamin Barrow had one of his best statistical days with 12 tackles, but it was also abundantly clear that Arkansas set out to pick on him in coverage.
- Nice pick by Tharold Simon, but it was a bit of a lollipop throw from Wilson. Overall, he continues to have issues with concentration at times, and was one of the main culprits re: tackling issues.
- All that said, enough of the negatives. How about some positives? For one, a big difference between good programs and bad ones, is that the good ones find ways to win these snooze-jobs. LSU was saved by the derp on a number of plays, including the obvious fumble on Arkansas' first drive. In the end, the right players stepped up at the right moments.
- The most obvious example has to be Jarvis Landry's amazing touchdown catch, as good as we've seen from any I've ever seen from a Tiger. Classic vertical concept, with Landry running a seam route right down the middle of the defense. The throw was a flat-footed touch masterpiece by Mettenberger, perfectly over the top of the defense where it was either going to be caught or sail out of the endzone. Landry turned, got his hand on it and scooped it in. A masterpiece that will live far beyond Landry's time in Baton Rouge.
- Likewise, Beckham came through on the final drive with a big-time catch and run. Great job of coming back to Mettenberger to secure the catch, and once he broke free he (in learning from his mistake from the Florida game, clearly), put both hands on the ball the second it was clear he'd be tackled. Overall it was a fairly ballsy playcall, with three receivers running relatively deep routes and seven protecting. A gamble on Arkansas bringing pressure. The Razorbacks hedged with a delayed blitz, but Beckham still had one-on-one outside.
- Steve Buerlein, sadly, welched on his promise to jump out of the booth. So I guess that means we'll have to deal with him and Tim Brando again next year for the Friday afternoon death slot.
- In the stepping-up category, kudos to Jalen Collins for knocking that final pass down. Good job of feeling his guy, getting turned around and his eyes on Wilson. Once the ball was in the air, he had a good bead on it to put it on the ground and secure the game.
- Strong efforts from special teams in nearly all phases. Drew Alleman made some big kicks, Brad Wing put forth a strong punting effort and Michael Ford came up with a big return when it was needed.
- Truthfully, when LSU went right down the field to make it a 17-3 game following Arkansas' third-quarter field goal, I expected the Razorbacks to fold. On the one hand, give John L. Smith some credit for keeping his players' heads in the game. But he let them down in the end. The fourth-and-inches I could actually forgive, because with all the momentum they had every reason to believe they could kick that field goal, get the ball back and drive to the doorstep again. The better questions were the 4th and 5 and 4 in the third and fourth quarter, and the 40-yard field goal he played for in the second quarter. When your players are throwing themselves around like they have nothing to lose, you might as well coach like it.
- Overall, this has to go down as one of the more schizophrenic teams of the Les Miles Era, which is quite the statement, no? Overall, LSU never seemed to totally put it together in this offseason. They tended to play up and down to their competition, and never seemed to totally focus until their backs were against the wall. But, like I said the good news is that they found a way to fight back most of the time, despite a ton of injuries and attrition. The next step is to do what great teams do, and dominate the teams they should dominate. The 2011 team learned that lesson with some tough times in 2009 and 2010. And with a lot of young talent on hand, it's now on the coaching staff to carry those lessons through the offseason, whenever that may start.