Hangover, Part II? LSU trying to avoid another post-Alabama collapse
LSU players and coaches are adamant that what transpired Saturday night in Tiger Stadium had nothing to do with lingering effects from the previous week’s loss to Alabama. If they’re right, that might make the 31-14 loss to Arkansas even more troubling.
Regardless of the underlying reasons, LSU now has a two-game losing streak, and its hopes for a conference title have officially been vanquished. With a trip to Ole Miss looming, the Tigers are searching for answers, hoping to avoid another late-season collapse.
- LSU’s offensive line is struggling: For the second straight week, the Tigers were beaten soundly in the trenches. The difference between this week and last? Alabama has the best defense in the conference and Arkansas came in ranked as one of the worst defenses in numerous statistical categories. Yet the Hogs held Leonard Fournette to less than 100 rushing yards and pressured Brandon Harris consistently. After posting just eight sacks through their first nine games, Arkansas had five against LSU.
- Brandon Harris is talented, but inconsistency is a big problem: That’s the same sentence, verbatim, that occupied this spot last week. And though Harris’ numbers look good — 271 yards through the air is his second-best total of the season — the sophomore quarterback misfired too often in crucial situations. Certainly, the offensive line deserves some blame for his struggles, but Harris isn’t making the plays he’s being asked to make often enough. Whether he should be asked to make those plays is another matter.
- Power running games are having success against the Tigers: It wasn’t just the offensive line getting pushed around because LSU’s defensive front could do little to slow Arkansas’ ground game. Though the Hogs relied on big plays to score three touchdowns and were set up via turnover for another, the Tigers rarely forced them off the field quickly. Arkansas’ 299 rushing yards is the most LSU has surrendered since last year’s Mississippi State game, and it’s telling that an Arkansas team that passed for more than 400 yards against Ole Miss last week opted to throw only 16 times against LSU.
- Leonard Fournette’s Heisman hopes are done: And that’s a damn shame. Fournette hasn’t suddenly become any less of a physical freak. The 91 yards he churned out against Arkansas showed his power, explosiveness and ferocity. But too often in the last two weeks he’s been dodging defenders in the backfield, and a second straight loss with less than 100 yards on the ground will push him farther down the ballot for most voters.
- Frustration is mounting: And not just among the fan base. For the first time this season, Fournette sounded aggravated after the game, telling the Baton Rouge Advocate, “they’re coming to stop the run. They have nine, 10 people in the box. They’re ready for the run.” Injured tight end Dillon Gordon went much further, ranting on Twitter about the fans who left Tiger Stadium early, some when LSU still trailed by only 10 points.
Offense: (D) — The stats were better than last week, but the actual results were not. Other than a nice drive at the end of the first half and another to open the second, the LSU offense was mostly ineffective.
Defense: (D) — The Tigers’ pass rush had decent success getting to Brandon Allen, but little else worked for LSU. Arkansas finished with 440 yards of total offense and averaged 7.9 yards per play.
Special Teams: (C-minus) — The Tigers gave up another big kick return in a bad situation. After LSU cut the lead to seven in the third quarter, Arkansas returned the ensuing kick 40 yards — its longest kickoff return of the season — to help set up a field goal drive.
Coaching: (F) — Les Miles repeatedly took the blame in the postgame press conference. That’s admirable, but it would be more so if it didn’t also come with a ring of truth. LSU came out flat — at home and at night, no less — allowing Arkansas to establish a 21-point lead before the Tigers began to fight back.
Overall: (D) — LSU has now lost back-to-back games in back-to-back years to the two teams in the SEC West that resemble it most from a schematic standpoint. It’s difficult to paint that fact as anything other than discouraging.
It seemed as if LSU came into the Saturday night’s game more concerned with taking advantage of Arkansas’ weaknesses, rather than playing to its own strengths. Injuries played a role, as the Tigers were without two of their top tight ends and their starting fullback. That makes lining up in run-heavy sets trickier, but Miles also said after the game that LSU wanted to take advantage of mismatches in the passing game. Of course, that’s part of game planning, but to do so at the expense of one’s own identity is problematic. Yes, take what the defense gives you, but don’t become another team in the process. The Tigers spent most of the first half operating from three-wide, shotgun sets, neutralizing — at least to some extent — Fournette’s ability to run downhill.
- WR Malachi Dupre: Overshadowed by all that went wrong in this game is the fact that Dupre played quite well. He finished with eight catches for 109 yards, including some tough grabs and a touchdown off a ricochet late in the second quarter.
- RB Leonard Fournette: There weren’t many runs that will find their way into his highlight reel, but Fournette ran with the same tenacity that made him the nation’s leading rusher coming into the game. He just didn’t get the help from his offensive line that he got through the first two months of the season.
- S Jamal Adams: This wasn’t one of Adams’ best games, as he got caught on bad angles twice on Arkansas touchdowns. Nonetheless, he made a handful of the momentum-shifting plays he’s become known for, finishing with seven tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, one forced fumble and an interception.
- TE DeSean Smith (undisclosed) went through pregame warm-ups, but was not dressed out during the game.
- LT Jerald Hawkins (hand) left in the first half and did not return.
- FB John David Moore (leg) did not dress out.
- TE Dillon Gordon (Achilles) did not dress out.