LSU's hopes of writing a storybook ending to Ed Orgeron's stint as interim coach may have been dashed last week in the 10-0 loss to No. 1 Alabama, but the Tigers still will be looking to write a happy ending to the campaign in the final three games of the regular season.
The 24th-ranked Tigers (5-3, 3-2 SEC) look to rebound when they visit No. 25 Arkansas (6-3, 2-3 SEC) Saturday. Kickoff is at 7 p.m. ET (ESPN) at Donald G. Reynolds Stadium in Fayetteville, Ark.
The Tigers had rolled to three victories in three games after Orgeron was named to replace the fired Les Miles, but the offensive shortcomings that were paramount in Miles' dismissal were ever-present in the sixth consecutive loss to the Crimson Tide.
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LSU managed only 125 yards in total offense with a net 33 yards on the ground that included 22 yards lost on five Alabama sacks. Running back Leonard Fournette, who had rushed for 284 yards against Ole Miss two weeks earlier, was held to just 35 on 17 carries.
“It was a very poor offensive performance,” Orgeron said. “We struggled to run the ball, and we struggled to pass protect. Our defense played its butt off. We lose as a team, but we just couldn't get anything going on offense.”
Alabama wasn't exactly an offensive juggernaut, either. The Tigers shut out the visitors for three quarters and held them to season lows in points, total yards (323), passing yards (107) and completions (10). But the Tigers eventually wore down, and the Tide had the ball for 13:35 of the final quarter.
LSU's offense could face similar problems again this week at Arkansas.
Coming off a bye week, the Razorbacks put forth their best effort of the season in a 31-10 pasting of Florida. In particular, the Arkansas defense, which looked like it was moving in quicksand the previous week in a 56-3 loss to Auburn, was dominant against the Gators.
Coach Bret Bielema used the extra time to revamp his starting 11 on the defensive side of the ball. Senior James Ledbetter moved outside, shifting from defensive tackle to end. Star freshman McTelvin Agim shifted into Ledbetter's tackle spot to make his first career start.
Randy Ramsey started at defensive end, and Deatrich Wise Jr. began the game on the bench. They practiced in full pads during the bye week, getting ready for the physical style of play Bielema wanted to see the rest of the way.
And the results were striking. A defense that allowed 543 rushing yards against Auburn gave up 12 against the Gators. Florida's only touchdown came from its own defense on a pick-six of quarterback Austin Allen.
The win over Florida gave the Razorbacks the six wins they need for bowl eligibility. LSU, which will play only an 11-game regular season because of the cancellation of its Nov. 19 date with South Alabama to accommodate the makeup game with Florida, still needs one more win.
The loss to Alabama eliminated the Tigers from the West Division race.
“When we took over the team, we didn't talk about any goals,” Orgeron said. “We were going to play with energy. We were going to play with excitement, and we were going to play one game at a time and none of that has changed.
“There was no talk of championships, there was no talk about the future. There was talk about let's practice better today. Let's take care of the day, and let's take it one game at a time, and that remains.”
Orgeron is confident that the mindset of his team will be fine.
“I know we're going to bounce back,” he said. “I know these guys, I know this team, I've been with them, and this is not going to affect us. We're going to be mentally tough.
“We have a lot of juniors that came back. They want to finish strong. I'm sure they are thinking of going to a good bowl game. They want to finish with a winning season. They want to finish and give everything to LSU.