Football used to be a game of field position. Back in the 1950’s it was common for teams to occasionally punt on third down, such was the premium placed on field position. Football was a game based on conquering territory, and making them pay for every yard.
Yeah, not so much anymore.
Arkansas erased a six-point halftime deficit and every single one of its second half drives started inside its own ten yard line. Instead of stalling out, Arkansas instead found its offense and, in particularly, gained 155 yards in the third quarter. LSU dominated the flow of play and spent most of the game with its offense methodically driving down the field, only to stall out over and over again. LSU finished with over 40 minutes of time of possession, which at least kept the LSU defense off the field as much as humanly possible.
Arkansas would zip down the field in a few plays, usually by virtue of a few big passing plays. Eli Ricks got himself thrown out of the game in the first half due to a targeting call, and Derek Stingley would take a knee to the head, forcing himself to sit out the rest of the game. Just like that, LSU was down its top three corners, and Arkansas rightfully took advantage.
It was that sort of game. The breaks just didn’t quite fall LSU’s way, and then the Hogs took full advantage to exploit that 50/50 play. While Arkansas mounted its second half comeback, LSU had two drives inside the Arkansas 30 get pulled back thanks to questionable holding calls. Neither were bad calls on their own, but they also weren’t the kind of plays which always get called. 50/50 went the wrong way, the ball moved backwards to near midfield, and LSU’s drive couldn’t keep going.
Some of the wounds were self-inflicted. LSU, nursing a three-point lead before the half, organized a drive down the length of the field which got the ball to the 27 with 27 seconds left, as LSU called its first timeout. LSU would somehow only manage to run three more plays, one of which was a run play from the 11 with 6 seconds left, which was… ambitious to say the least. LSU settled for a field goal.
LSU also seemed addicted to the run in the second half, when the run game plainly wasn’t working. LSU ran for 50 yards on 19 carries in the second half alone (22 for 48 when you count the final time wasting snaps), and averaged just 3.2 yards per carry on the game. Ed Orgeron seemed to be replaced by Les Miles. It’s masterpiece was a 12-play, 34- yard drive which burned 6:11 of clock… and resulted in a punt.
Still, with all of that working against the team, LSU got its act together halfway through the fourth quarter, and TJ Finley guided the offense 67 yards over 10 plays, shrugging off several more 50/50 calls which went the wrong way. But it didn’t matter. Finley found Jaray Jenkins alone in the end zone for a go ahead score.
The problem now, obviously, was that the LSU defense had to get a stop. Even with the benefit of their own questionable call to start off the drive well behind the sticks, Arkansas found itself near midfield in just a couple of plays. But the defense stiffened up and forced a third and long. Feleipe Franks avoided the sack to make it fourth and three just shy of the midfield stripe. Surprising no one, Arkansas converted the first, and the end game was on.
This time, shocking almost everyone, LSU’s defense made the stop and forced a long field goal attempt. With 1:30 left, AJ Reed muffed his 44-yard attempt and it fell well short of the bar. Jay Ward may have gotten just enough of a finger on it to secure the win.
It wasn’t pretty, but it was a win. And a win it was this team desperately needed. We’re not in any position to turn down valuable wins because they weren’t pretty enough. This team showed grit, it showed heart, and it came out of an ugly game with ugly weather with a scant three-point win.
No moral victories. No moral losses. This was, wait for it, a Les Miles style win. We’ll take it. Welcome to 500.