Tell The Truth Monday: LSU showed fight, but things are getting tougher
LSU needed a win badly.
It got one when it defeated Arkansas 27-24 on Saturday.
That evened its record at 3-3.
That’s the bottom line.
But it’s Tell The Truth Monday.
There is more to consider than just the bottom line. LSU still has a lot of work to do.
Its defense was better against Arkansas than it has been most of the year, but not good enough. It didn’t give up as many big plays as it usually does, but it still gave up too many.
The offensive line played one of its better games. That enabled the Tigers to run the ball well, which made things easier for TJ Finley, who bounced back from 3 turnovers and a benching in the last game against Auburn, to play well.
And the Tigers possessed the ball for almost 42 minutes, which mitigated the defense’s shortcomings.
Head coach Ed Orgeron and offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger had a good plan. They were playing a team missing 6 defensive linemen due to COVID issues.
They ran at Arkansas and kept running at them and wore them down. It was smart and LSU took advantage of the opportunity.
But the Tigers don’t figure to get another opportunity like that.
In fact, there don’t appear to be many opportunities for success left on this schedule.
This modest 3-3 record might represent the zenith of this season.
Next up is a trip to face No. 5 Texas A&M, which has seen its last 2 games postponed due to COVID issues.
Then comes a home game against Ole Miss. The Rebels are just 3-4, but they have won their last 2 games and feature one of the nation’s most explosive passing combos in Matt Corral and Elijah Moore.
Given the way Lane Kiffin’s offense has been rolling up yards and points – and the way Bo Pelini’s defense has been surrendering them – Ole Miss might score on every possession.
Finley likely will have to play his best game yet – better than he played against South Carolina and better than he played against Arkansas – if LSU is going to have any hope of keeping up against Texas A&M or Ole Miss.
The game against Ole Miss tentatively will be followed by the makeup game at No. 6 Florida. The home game against No. 1 Alabama, postponed from Nov. 14 because of the Tigers’ COVID issues, is still in limbo.
Regardless of how many games LSU winds up playing the rest of the way, it’s hard to envision as many wins as losses.
Things can change, especially in this COVID-plagued season, but the rest of the season seems significantly more challenging than the first 6 games have been for a team still struggling.
Nonetheless the victory against Arkansas, though far from a work of art, did provide some hope that the Tigers might be starting on an upward trajectory for the first time this season. The previous victories – against Vanderbilt and South Carolina – were aberrations rather than the start of any trend.
The win against Arkansas isn’t likely to start a winning streak. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be the start of an upward trend.
The Tigers fought for 60 minutes. They got off to a good start, fell behind, rallied to regain the lead, then held on.
They lost both starting cornerbacks during the game and gave up big plays in the passing game. But the big plays didn’t come in waves like they did against Mississippi State, Missouri and Auburn.
A team that seemed to lack confidence in each of its losses could have stopped believing and let this game get away from it too.
But it didn’t.
It trailed 24-21 with 7:07 left before Finley guided a 9-play, 67-yard touchdown drive to take the lead with less than 4 minutes remaining.
Feleipe Franks marched the Razorbacks to a 2nd-and-3 at the Tigers’ 27, but the defense forced 2 incompletions and a field-goal attempt.
Jay Ward, who had a few bad plays after replacing Elias Ricks at cornerback, made one of the best plays of the LSU season when he deflected the field-goal attempt to preserve the victory.
Ward showed resiliency, just as Finley did in bouncing back from a benching against Auburn, just as the offensive line and the defense did.
So did the coaching staff and the rest of the players by putting behind them the Auburn debacle, and the Alabama postponement as well COVID disruptions in general.
LSU seemed lost in each of its 3 losses.
Its first victory came easily against an outmanned opponent. Its second victory came against a team that was starting to unravel under a coach who has since been fired.
But the third victory was one the Tigers had to fight for.
And they won the fight.