LSU improved to 8-2 on year with a seven-point win over the Arkansas on a cold, ugly night in Fayetteville where the offense failed to put away the Razorbacks until the very end.
It was a survive-and-advance situation, recovering from the hangover of the Alabama loss and getting past a desperate team in a rivalry situation. Most expected something ugly, and in that regard, it didn’t disappoint. And of course, a few of the requisite weird LSU-Arkansas moments.
The 8-2 start is LSU’s best record at this point in the season since 2012, and at 5-2 in conference play, the Tigers are assured of a winning record in conference play for the second year in a row. And the season finale at Texas A&M will be a chance for a clear second-place finish in the SEC West, and most likely, a Sugar Bowl birth. Not bad for a team that was near-unanimously expected to win six or seven games and finish fourth or fifth in the SEC West.
That’s still a lot to build toward for this team. We’ll see if they can continue that path, and how things move forward from there.
So on to the weirdness...
- On the whole, that was one of LSU’s more balanced defensive efforts this season. There weren’t a ton of individual standouts on the statline, but with a lot of contributions from reserve players like Jacoby Stevens, Neil Farrell, Tyler Shelvin, Kary Vincent and Terrence Alexander. Season low in total offense allowed (216 yards — a season low for Arkansas), the second-lowest yards per play allowed (3.72 — another season low for the Hogs) and a season-high 12 passes broken up. LSU allowed just SIXTEEN rushing yards. By FAR, the lowest total of the season.
- Right out of the gate, we see Dave Aranda get creative against Arkansas’ protections with a 1-4-6 dime package: Rashard Lawrence lined up on the nose, four linebackers and six defensive backs. It picks up the first sack of the night on Arkansas’ first series.
- Lawrence is over the center with the other four linebackers up on the line covering each offensive linemen. But at the snap, Devin White and Jacob Phillips drop, while Michael Divinity and Ray Thorton come from either edge. Vincent comes from the corner spot, and Divinity made contact with the tackle, then rode him into the inside gap, creating a wide-open rush lane. Four-man rush, seven in coverage and Ty Storey has to hold the ball for an extra beat. LSU used this look on almost every sack or major pressure in the game.
- Steve Ensminger definitely game-planned for a lot of pressure and man-to-man coverage in this game, mostly with deep shots off play-action, or quick throws. It all came through on the Tigers’ second possession with the 40-yard touchdown to Justin Jefferson. LSU aligned unbalanced from an ace set, with two tight ends in a wing set and two receivers in a bunch. Jefferson runs an out-and-up opposite a crossing route, shook the corner and was wide open. Burrow forced him to slow up a bit, but still an easy pitch and catch.
- This game has featured a ton of weird randomness, and this addition didn’t disappoint, right down to a sequence that I have never, in my life, seen before. LSU’s offense lined up with 20-some seconds left in a shotgun set with 12 personnel, with Foster Moreau out wide and Tory Carter in tight. Burrow read the defense, had the offense huddle BACK up, change a play, line back up in an ace set with two tight ends in close, to throw a slant to Ja’Marr Chase for a first down. I’ve never seen a team do so much before a snap, or a quarterback manage it on-time, and without looking all that harried. Burrow took the snap with about two seconds on the clock, but never looked like he was rushing, either.
- I’d like to say that it was indicative of a great day for Burrow, but this actually marked maybe the first time I’ve ever seen him actually UNDER-perform his stat line. In several games this year, such as in the Georgia game, he’s managed the game exceptionally well despite not doing all that great of a job throwing it. Here, he put up one of his more efficient passing days (15-of-21 for 195 yards with a touchdown), but made some noteworthy mental errors, leaving some plays on the field and costing the offense dearly at times.
- For example, just two plays after the sugar huddle, Burrow fumbled a snap from under center. It bounced right back to him almost perfectly for the depth of his drop, and if he just turns and tries to scramble for what he could he probably had a decent lane to get some yards. But he tried to hitch up and get the ball out, and took a sack.
- Later, in the second quarter on LSU’s second scoring drive, Burrow drops back off play-action and has an easy completion to Carter in the flat, trying to scramble and find a man down field. It drew a holding penalty — one eventually negated by a targeting call on Arkansas one play later. It was an unnecessary risk to pass on the easy completion, especially on second-and-seven in Arkansas territory.
- And on the very next play, he could have probably scored a touchdown himself if he kept the ball on a power-read play that Nick Brossette gained little on. Of course, LSU scored on the next play anyway.
- LSU made a lot of hay out of a counter run out of an ace set with a tight end/receiver bunch look, slicing carter across the formation and pulling the strong-side guard. The pulls hit perfectly to set up Brossette’s 12-yard score. He broke a tackle himself a few yards down the field, and then Garrett Brumfield and Saahdiq Charles mostly combined to push the pile the rest of the way. It was a beefy way to cap a 14-play, 77-yard drive that ate up nearly seven and a half minutes, but sadly, the line didn’t maintain that effort all game.
- The poor decision-making by Burrow cost LSU a gift score after Arkansas fumbled in their own territory in the first half’s final minute. The Razorback defense brings a six-man pressure, and Dee Anderson is wide open on a shallow cross right away. Burrow tries to scramble and find a deeper option, coughs the ball up to Dre Greenlaw, who turns the gift into a near disaster for LSU. I know throwing short and over the middle isn’t ideal with just 36 seconds on the clock, but the offense had two timeouts, and Anderson might have been able to run for a first down even. Regardless, the offense didn’t have to go much farther to get into Cole Tracy’s kicking range. It could have been a killer mistake for Burrow. It arguably got the Razorbacks back in the game.
- It also led to Kristian Fulton getting his legs pinned awkwardly while trying to defend Cheyenne O’Grady in the endzone. I’m told Fulton will be fine in the long term, but may sit out this week against Rice to heal up.
- For the other “well, I’ve never seen that before, either” moment out of this game:
- Arkansas attempts the jet-sweep toss play, but Rakeem Boyd collides with the receiver right after the catch, effectively making the tackle. That’s a fail I’ve never seen before, I have to admit. And one that quickly went viral on social media. But what the globalist elites won’t tell you is that even if Boyd hadn’t tackled his teammate, Rashard Lawrence was in perfect position to blow up the play himself.
- Lawrence may have only had one tackle and one QB hurry in the stat sheet, but he had one of his most disruptive days in a while. Constantly in the backfield and interrupting Arkansas’ blocking schemes to create opportunities for others.
- Another odd call worth noting: Chad Morris calling a moving pocket play with six seconds left before the half. Storey got the ball out in time with Grant Delpit breaking the pass up. But that was a risk that could have eaten up too much time and robbed the Razorbacks of the field goal attempt.
- LSU’s Thorpe Award finalist filled up the stat sheet again in this one: a team-leading six tackles (all solo), with a sack, a fumble recovery and two pass break-ups. His sack came on third down on Arkansas’ first possession of the second half:
- From that same dime look with one lineman and four linebackers, LSU keeps Devin White in a traditional Mike position, but actually rushes five on the play (Aranda used mostly four-man looks in this game overall), with Lawrence, Phillips and Divinity all rushing at Arkansas’ right side and Thorton/Delpit coming from the left. Offensive line sides to their right, and the tackle is left one-on-two against Thornton and Delpit.
- LSU’s offense got back in gear on its second possession of the second half, with Burrow making two very nice throws, one in the face of a corner blitz, to Jefferson. The touchdown came from a 21-personnel grouping variant I haven’t seen this year: a shotgun look with a tailback and Carter lined up in a three-point stance as a fullback. LSU ran a couple of different read plays out of this look, and Clyde Edwards-Helaire scored from 13 yards out on a well-executed power read:
- Carter kicks out the end, Damien Lewis pulls around and Edwards-Helaire has a nice crease on the guard’s inside hip for five or six yards, breaks a tackle and skips into the endzone.
- The offense struggled with efficiency again, and upon second look it was different things at different times. A few individual mistakes like what I’ve illustrated from Burrow, plus a Chase drop on third down, and a horrible no-call of a facemask or DPI on Dee Anderson. Mostly, the offensive line struggled in different ways across the board: Charles, Brumfield, Lewis, Lloyd Cushenberry, Austin Deculus, Adrian Magee and Chasen Hines all took turns whiffing on some blocks, especially when it came to working in space.
- It’s also worth noting that three or four plays were blocked well enough that a more explosive back could have maybe gotten through for a bigger gain as well.
- Rough sequence for Vincent in the second half: he gets flagged for taunting O’Grady after an incompletion that would have forced a punt, and then dropped an interception on the very next play, right before Arkansas’ final touchdown of the night.
- O’Grady picked up a make-up taunting call after his score, but the whole issue is stupid. As a general rule, taunting doesn’t bother me. It generally happens all game, and if a player doesn’t want his fee-fees hurt by an opponent, he should make the play. But if refs want to crack down on it, they should start well before the fourth quarter. O’Grady and LSU defenders were talking trash to each other all game, with the Hogs tight end being very animated after his first score. It’s bad management on the officials’ part to ignore it for three quarters, then start throwing flags in the fourth.
- On the subject of going for it on fourth down late, I do think Orgeron made the right call there. Yes, it was well within Cole Tracy’s range, but if you want to coach aggressively, you take the risk to try and put the game away with the conversion to either set up a touchdown, or run more time off before the shorter kick. What I did not like was the call to go into the shotgun. Arkansas blew LSU’s line off the ball and Edwards-Helaire had no shot to get the first. Although Burrow may have had a shot to convert if he keeps the ball on the read.
- One thing that I’ve gotten a lot of questions about is LSU’s issues running screens. I haven’t exactly studied it extensively in the other games (I can remember quite a few stalling when a defensive lineman read the play and found a way to keep the back from releasing, but I can’t verify that), but I decided to chart the three screens LSU ran in this game. The first two came on LSU’s opening drive: on the first, Greenlaw read the play and stayed on Brossette’s hip, so Burrow threw it in the dirt rather than risk the pick; on the second, the defensive front was fooled, but Chase missed a block on the corner, who was able to get in before the blockers could get out in front. This one was well set up for a nice play, had Chase made the block. The third came in the second half: an Arkansas blitz forced Burrow to throw the ball before Edwards-Helaire could get out into the flat or the blockers could even set up.
- Regardless of the why — and each play failed in a different way — it’s something that’s been a problem all year on a portion of the offense that Ensminger set out to really work on.
- Overall, the offense mostly operated out of the 12 personnel grouping with Foster Moreau and Tory Carter in tight end positions, either in a bunch grouping, or in a wing set, along with that shotgun/fullback look. Overall, the running game was much more successful on misdirection runs.
- In the second half, we did see Ensminger call more straight QB runs, probably to make up for some of Burrow’s poor reads on option plays. The QB wrap/draw play on the final drive near midfield picked up 16 yards and, essentially clinched the game. It was a great call, as frustrated as people may have been with Ensminger’s other calls in the game. It’s also worth noting that as bad as the offense was, it put the game away when it absolutely had to. That doesn’t forgive the sloppiness before, however.
- On zone plays, LSU’s big problems usually came from back side blocking struggling to get to the next level and cut off pursuit. It finally all clicked on Brossette’s 16-yarder to clinch the game. As for the decision to kneel or not kneel, I get both arguments. Making the game 14 points is just as much of a clincher as getting on the doorstop and eating the clock, but with multiple safeties banged up I can also see the decision to not take any risk at all with giving Arkansas the ball back. That said, once it was first and goal, I would have just knelt the ball and not risked anything else fluky.