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Initial Impressions: LSU 13, Arkansas 16

Arkansas wins the dumbest trophy in sports

NCAA Football: Arkansas at Louisiana State
Ugh. This guy.
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

There are two basic ways to face the last few games of a lost season. You can either give into the frustration, and completely meltdown, as more and more players and coaches check out of the year and make personal business decisions. Or you can lean into the skid, and take this as a chance for those young kids to form the building block of next season.

LSU decided to choose both.

LSU struggled on the game’s opening, then gave up a big punt return to set Arkansas up with a terrific field position. Following that, LSU fell for one of the most obvious trick plays in history, and it looked like this was going to be one of those dismal games in which LSU decides to implode.

But a funny thing happened on the way to oblivion. First, and most importantly, the defense showed up big time. Daronte Jones’ charges authored four consecutive three-and-outs, and the fifth drive was only four plays long.

Arkansas punted six consecutive times and while LSU’s offense didn’t exactly go into 2019 mode, it started to show some life with the switch to Garrett Nussmeier. He wasn’t polished, and he wasn’t an instant savior, but he did find Jack Bech in the back of the end zone for the game’s first touchdown and staking LSU to a 10-3 halftime lead.

LSU might have taken a larger lead, but after LSU started to look like it had finally found a rhythm on offense, Jake Peetz installed the wildcat on the first play from the red zone. Tyrion Davis-Price mishandled the snap, and Arkansas recovered, squandering LSU’s best looking drive of the half.

And then came the third quarter.

Arkansas made its adjustments to be sure, but KJ Jefferson also looked like a different player coming out of the locker room. While the Arkansas offense looked inept in the first half, Jefferson suddenly couldn’t be taken down in the second.

An offense which only converted one first down on eight tries on third down, now seemed to find a rhythm. Even worse for LSU, one of those conversion was on a completely unnecessary penalty by Dwight McGlothern.

And a defense which had played so well, and had set the tone for so long of the night, began to crack. KJ Jefferson slipped out of a sure sack and found a wide open Dominique Johnson for a 43 yard touchdown.

While LSU settled for a long field goal attempt when its offense stalled out around the 40 yard line, Arkansas instead dialed up the fake. The football gods responded accordingly. Cade York’s 55 try died nowhere near the bar. Arkansas gained 24 yards on a fake field goal, right after Orgeron wasted a timeout before the snap.

All of the energy and aggression from the previous weeks seemed to evaporate. This was the game LSU needed to win if they were to make a bowl. Yet this was the game Orgeron went back to being conservative, rather than letting it all hang out, a dead coach walking with nothing to lose.

Come the fourth quarter, LSU was down three, and the season hung in the balance. OK, making some minor bowl isn’t quite the same stakes as an SEC title, but for this team in this season, with all of the things having gone wrong, any reward is something worth playing for.

That’s when Tyrion Davis-Price put the team on his back. He carried the ball six times for 32 yards to get LSU back down the field and tied the game up on a Cade York 45-yard field goal.

LSU would again threaten, getting the ball down to the 38 yard line with just under six minutes to play, but Garrett Nussmeier failed to connect on fourth down facing down an all out blitz. In many ways, it was just like Max Johnson failing to convert a week prior against Bama. The receiver was there, the call was right, but the connection couldn’t be made.

Arkansas responded by going all in on KJ Jefferson. Jefferson finished the game 18 of 25 for 142 yards, but he added 41 yards on 15 rushes. It wasn’t a ton of yards, but it felt huge every time. The Hogs went for it on their own fourth down, but made two mistakes: they didn’t go to Jefferson, and they lined up improperly, and the flag cost them the conversion.

However, Arkansas was able to pin LSU deep on the punt, and LSU started the potential final drive in the shadow of their own end zone. Again, a steady diet of Tyrion Davis-Price, who finished the game with 106 yards on 28 carries.

But with a minute left, LSU was short on its own 45 on fourth down. LSU went to the line, was massively discombobulated, and failed to get off a play. Fourth and one, season on the line, TDP churning, and LSU didn’t even get off a play. Just another moment of game mismanagement this season. And we headed to overtime, because of course we did.

And on 3rd and 20 in the first frame, Nussmeier showed why everyone was excited about him getting a chance to play, connecting on a long pass conversion. And two plays later, he showed why he is a freshman, throwing an interception in the end zone. Nussmeier finished the game 18 for 31 for 179 yards. But the 2 interceptions loom large.

Arkansas would close out the game with a 37 yard field goal to win in overtime. LSU fought valiantly, but there’s no points awarded for valiance in this one. LSU falls 16-13, and now needs to win out in order to make bowl game.

This season can’t end soon enough, and now it likely will.