It’s amazing the things success will make you take for granted.
LSU beat an admittedly bad Arkansas team by 36, scoring 56 points and racking up 612 yards of offense on all of FOURTY-EIGHT plays. And most of the reaction just seems to be “ho-hum.”
Arkansas managed to rip off a few plays in the fourth quarter and recover one of the weirder onside kicks that you’ll ever watch, but outside of that this was never really close. It would have been nice to see the offense start a little faster, but in the end they averaged a season-high (by more than two yards) 12.75 yards per play on the night.
Basically, LSU picked up a first down every time they snapped the ball. And meanwhile, the defense picked up a season-high 11 tackles for loss while holding the Razorbacks to just 4.3 yards per play and 5 of 17 third-down conversions despite 40 minutes of possession time.
The 2019 Tigers have officially clinched the SEC West championship and a trip to Atlanta for the conference title game with Georgia. Just a little unfinished business to take care of this week.
Let’s get into how it all went down.
- Give John Chavis some credit. There are a lot of aspects of being a modern defensive coordinator that have passed him by, but in terms of the raw X-and-O scheming, he did the best he could early on by keeping safeties back and using linebackers and nickel corners to bracket LSU’s slot receivers early on. It wasn’t going to get much pressure on Burrow, and he was more than fine checking down to Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Thad Moss. It’s not exactly a winning game plan, but it was the best the Razorback defense was going to do under the circumstances. And don’t be surprised if we see more teams try and do that; sometimes aggressive offenses get frustrated when they’re slowed down and will press for big plays.
- Not that it stopped LSU on its first drive. Cornerback gets caught looking back and JaMarr Chase gets by him too fast for the safety to get on top. Ball is a bit under-thrown but Chase adjusts well and gets a good grip on the ball in case the defender rips at it.
- Right away we see a much better gameplan from LSU on handling the option/quarterback running game. Much like Ole Miss, Arkansas tried to put Rashard Lawrence in a bind as the read player. Only this time he attacked the quarterback directly while the linebackers played their scrape reads and a safety rotated down in the direction of the running back’s path. Throws Arkansas off early.
- Although K.J. Jefferson is able to break loose on third and long when Marcel Brooks loses contain trying to spin on the tackle. Luckily, he didn’t seem to know exactly where the line to gain was.
- Another frustrating play for Brooks on the next Arkansas drive with the roughing the passer call. Looks like he just lost his footing and wound up hitting Jefferson in the ankles. Hate to see that on third and long.
- Hogs come back with another big play, but I think Treylon Burks deserves the credit for climbing the ladder on Kristian Fulton. He did a nice job of getting off some physical coverage there, Jefferson made a play to avoid a great K’Lavon Chaisson rush. Defense does collapse down on Jefferson in the red zone and force the field goal.
- Negative plays short-circuit LSU’s next drive. Arkansas’ Jonathan Marshall gets a great jump off the snap on a power-play and shoots his gap when Damien Lewis pulls. Lloyd Cushenberry couldn’t get in front of him. Burrow tries to pull the ball from Clyde Edwards-Helaire on what looked like a pure handoff, and wound up taking the hit himself. Going to have to be careful on broken plays like that. A holding penalty on the next play proved too much of a deficit.
- And then a really strange special teams miscue when Zach Von Rosenberg with an awful punt. No rush or hurry from the return team, Von Rosenberg just duffed it and gives the Hogs good field position.
- Good play design on the third-and-long screen by Arkansas with an orbit motion and a fake handoff to Rakeem Boyd feigning an option look into the boundary. Dekes most of LSU’s defense and there’s nobody at home when Jefferson throws it back to Boyd.
- Arky makes another nice gain on a reverse that looked like it had a pass option, but Tyler Shelvin and the middle of LSU’s defense exerts themselves on a couple run plays to force third and long. Jefferson couldn’t connect and the Razorbacks are held to a field goal again.
- Of course the offense responds in six plays, with two big passes to Moss. He broke LSU’s single-season receptions record for a tight end in this game, and is only 16 yards shy of the yardage mark as well. He’s been a spectacular two-way tight end this year, even as a lead-blocker in the running game taking the place of true fullback. One of several great surprises this year.
- LSU has run “bash” action a ton this year on play-action passes, but Saturday night you saw Arkansas lose the back a ton, creating some easy completions for Burrow to Edwards-Helaire.
- Check out the block from Damien Lewis that sprung Edwards-Helaire for his first touchdown:
- Just a mauling. Nice lead block from Moss as well. Edwards-Helaire is one-on-one with safety Joe Foucha, he makes a cut to the sideline and nobody has the angle.
- Here’s where you really start seeing Arkansas come apart. Jefferson slides a good three yards short of the line to gain on a scramble that could’ve picked up the first down, and on the ensuing offensive drive they commit two bone-headed encroachment penalties on LSU’s next drive.
- Touchdown No. 2 for Burrow on the classic “Mesh” play to Justin Jefferson. It’s funny how a 20-of-25, two touchdown performance from Burrow in the first half just feels...meh. We got spoiled quickly.
- To the corncob in the white and block-striped shirt who flagged Jefferson for celebrating — WITH HIS TEAMMATES. Grow up. I don’t care how old you are. Grow up. Learn to understand the game you’re supposed to be administrating and the place you’re doing it at. These LSU receivers have celebrated with each other all year. They don’t taunt opponents, they celebrate together because they work together. And the back judge on Saturday broke up a freaking HANDSHAKE on Chase’s first touchdown and then flagged Jefferson. The league should reprimand him. What a joke of a call from a joke of an official.
- Shelvin continues a streak of really strong play this year inside, and was a big reason Boyd finished with just a 2.5 yards per carry average on the night. Early in the second half you saw him just stiff the center to hold up Boyd for Lawrence to close. And of course he had an incredibly impressive punt rush in which he damn near threw a member of the shield protection back into the punter.
- On the next drive Chase fumbles. Looks like his elbow hit but there was no clear view to overturn it based on whether the ball was already moving or not. I can’t really kill the review for not overturning, but it brings to life the frustration of the irrefutable evidence standard on return, which assumes that the call on the field is right in the first place. Football continues to fail its officiating apparatus (don’t get me started about the NFL’s farce on Saturday in the Superdome).
- Really saw Jacoby Stevens blossom in the third quarter with three sacks, giving him the team lead overall. With Maurice Hampton subbing in for Grant Delpit, it seemed like Dave Aranda wanted to keep the freshman comfortable with some basic coverage concepts, while Stevens got to work underneath a little more, and at outside linebacker. Arkansas tight end Grayson Gunter, in particular, could not handle Stevens off the edge.
- For his part, I thought Hampton did okay. Didn’t really stand out, but seemed to be in the right place most of the time. Given how little game time he’s actually seen on defense, that’s a pretty good sign late in the season.
- Offense made pretty quick work of things in the second half, with three touchdowns in four plays, two of them from Edwards-Helaire. He had the kind of night you usually see a five-star tailback have against a completely overmatched high school opponent in Youtube highlights. Men against boys type stuff. 188 yards and three touchdowns on six carries. For a point of reference, Edwards-Helaire had as many touchdowns as Arkansas had successful tackles of him in the running game. And then he added another seven catches for 65 yards. He’s cracked the 1,000-yard mark on the season, and has probably broken through into LSU lore as well, given that most expected freshmen tailbacks to take his job. He’ll be a first-team All-SEC selection this season, and probably should’ve made the Doak Walker finalist list as well.
- On the 89-yarder, great blocks from Badara Traore and Jamal Pettigrew at the point of attack, and then Racey McMath down the field to allow Edwards-Helaire to the sideline.
- Nice to see John Emery break out for a nice touchdown as well. There’s still a chance for him to contribute in spots, even as Edwards-Helaire becomes an increasingly valuable player.
- The defensive fourth quarter was more annoying than anything, but at the same time the unit deserves credit for helping LSU get a 50-point lead entering that final period. This wasn’t packing it in up 28 with three quarters left. And yes, some starters were still in but a lot of backups — including regulars like Damone Clark and Breiden Fehoko — were in the game. Clark actually missed a couple tackles, including a prime opportunity to get a stop on fourth and one. Realistically, all this would’ve done is pad the defense’s stats. Arkansas still finished below their (admittedly low) season averages in most categories.
- Looks like Kary Vincent might’ve been the one to bust on Arkansas’ first touchdown on a stick-nod play. He follows one of the slot receivers outside with Stevens, which leaves Jacob Phillips one-on-one trying to stay with the nod route (receiver fakes sitting down on a stick route before breaking deep), which is a bad match-up. Vincent pointed at Phillips on the touchdown, but based on the pre-snap alignment and Stevens’ tacking the receiver outside as well, it would seem like he was supposed to have deep middle.
- Luck is a big part of every season when it comes to how balls bounce, and I swear LSU’s caught almost every bad one when it comes to onside kicks. Balls kipping up out of reach or perfectly to a prone player. Luckily it hasn’t really hurt them too much. But Saturday Arkansas got it right over the Tigers’ front line and then caught a good bounce away from the closest man. And then about three more players failed to get the ball down before Arkansas could get to it. I’d say it’s a coaching point but at some point it does come down to the freak bounces of an oblong ball.
- In general, I don’t buy the “defense gets tired out more when the offense scores quickly” narrative, and the advanced stats don’t back that up for many teams either. However, a game like this, when LSU regularly scored very quickly in the second half, I could buy it as a possibility. Arkansas had the ball for more than two thirds of this game and, more importantly, 71 plays to LSU’s 48. Giving up the late scores is a little more forgivable compared to the Ole Miss game.
So here we are. 11-0 and ready to wash 12 months of bad taste out of our collective mouths before a trip to Atlanta and a chance to win the SEC championship and cement a top seed in the College Football Playoff.
It’s been a helluva ride. Ain’t ready to get off yet, either.