The first step to getting yourself out of a hole is to stop digging. On Saturday, LSU stopped digging.
No, it wasn’t the most technically proficient game of recent memory, but it also was a win, and wins have been in rather short supply this season. Additionally, LSU looked like the better team throughout, even when the scoreboard didn’t reflect it. It was an ugly win, but one would be hard pressed to call it an unjust result.
It’s not like every issue got suddenly fixed, but the team did take some pretty big steps to doing so. You could see the outline of a good LSU team under there, even as it failed to take full advantage of its opportunities. Hell, Rome wasn’t built in a day.
339. Feleipe Franks passing yards. Before we get into the good stuff, let’s start with the bad. Franks threw for 339 yards on 17/26 passing. That’s an average of 13.0 yard per attempt and 19.9 yards per completion. Yes, LSU’s defense allowed almost TWENTY yards per completion, which is just f’n terrible. Mike Woods and Treylon Burks combined for 9 catches on 12 targets for 230 yards.
5. LSU fumbles. This game could have gone very differently thanks to some fumble luck. LSU fumbled the ball five times on the game, but only lost the ball once. That’s atrocious ball security, though it didn’t end up hurting the Tigers all the much.
41:43. LSU’s tie of possession. I get that there’s no correlation between winning and TOP, but it still tells you a whole hell of a lot about the flow of the game. LSU owned the football throughout with over twice as much possession time. LSU went 12 of 23 on third down conversions, and I’m really having trouble wrapping my mind around having 23 third down attempts in a football game. That requires both a lot of long drives and also a true failure to turn possession into points.
Furthermore, LSU went 2 of 2 on fourth downs, giving the Tigers effectively a 14/23 third down rate. By contrast, Arkansas went 0 for 10 on third downs. The defense still gave up big plays, but they did a terrific job of getting off the field on third downs.
48.9. OK, we’ve gotten a bit of mileage out of a Zach von Rosenberg for Ray Guy campaign joke, but… no lie. This was an epic performance that truly played. ZVR had seven punts on the game and five of them were inside the 20. Four went 50+ yards. ZVR continually put Arkansas in terrible field position…
…That the defense promptly squandered. Arkansas started inside its own 10 five times on the game, all due to ZVR punts. The result of those drives? TD, Punt, TD, FG, Punt. Arkansas scored 17 of its 24 points on drives which began inside its own 10. Aransas only started outside its own 10 ONCE in the second half, its final drive, which started at the 25 due to a touchback from a kickoff. Worse, was how little time and plays those long drives took. Arkansas’ three long scoring drives, combined, went 17 plays for 275, taking a total of 4:59 of clock.
4. LSU drives of 5+ plays which resulted in a punt. While Arkansas was making the best of atrocious field position, LSU seemed to put on a clinic in wasted yards. LSU’s offense kept moving up and down the field, only to stall out. LSU opened the game with a 6 play, 5 yard drive and I don’t even know how that’s possible.
But the second half is when LSU took squandering possession to new heights. LSU punted on each of its first four possessions of the half, and all save the third drive went for 5 plays or more:
6 plays, 14 yards, 4:25
12 plays, 34 yards, 6:11
5 plays, 20 yards, 3:22
Just… look at that. 23 plays to gain just 68 yards, burning up 13:58 of clock. A true key to the Arkansas comeback was how little LSU did with the football while it also shortened the game by burning a ton of time for no useful purpose.
LSU also had two long field goal drives which didn’t help a ton either (8-51 and 14-69). That’s a lot of yardage production going nowhere.
30. LSU’s longest pass play. Indicative of this, LSU’s longest play from scrimmage was a 30 yard pass to Racey McMath. TJ Finley had a good not great line of 27/42 for 271 yards and 2 TD with 0 picks, but what stands out is the lack of big plays. OK, and the lack of bad plays. LSU went super conservative on offense, which is great for building confidence, but that was a strategy which ultimately derailed the offense for nearly a decade. Risk is the byproduct of reward. It was probably the right idea to play this one close to the vest for developmental reasons, but Finley has got to look downfield more often.
104. Ty Davis-Price’s rushing yards. TDP had a pretty good game, going for 104 yards and a TD on 22 carries, putting up a 4.3 average. Emery and Curry combined for a line of 15 carries for 34 yards which is… not good. LSU’s run game isn’t getting it done right now, though it feels ore like an offensive line problem than a running back problem. Guys are getting blown up in the backfield. Still, an average of 3.0 as a team will not cut it.
1. Blocked kicks. And there’s the ball game.