Luck runs out for LSU's offense
CFN's analysis of Arkansas' 31-23 win against Louisiana State on Saturday:
By Pete Fiutak
Call it a karma adjustment. LSU had gotten every break in the book over the course of the season, with several created on its own, but against the Hogs, the team’s problems became glaring and unavoidable. For all the good things the Tigers have done this year, they got by without the slightest bit of offensive consistency, and it turned out to be costly this week. LSU this year has been the equivalent of the bad shot that just so happened to go in.
Against Arkansas, the shot rimmed out.
If you had told the LSU coaches before the Arkansas game that their quarterbacks would complete 59 percent of their passes for 194 yards with no interceptions, while Ryan Mallett would complete 57 percent of his throws, going just 13 of 23 with two interceptions, they would have taken it in a heartbeat and would have assumed everything came out on the right side. While the LSU defense did a fantastic job of keeping Mallett under wraps, it couldn’t stop receiver Cobi Hamilton in the second quarter and the offense couldn’t pick up the slack. The LSU running game didn’t show up, and there were three lost fumbles.
Whereas the O’s issues could be glossed over in wins, they were glaring in a loss.
The Tigers had gotten away with a mediocre attack all season long because it was timely and had an uncanny knack of capitalizing on every opportunity. When push came to shove, LSU’s offense always managed to get the one break needed to get by and was able to come through in the clutch, whether it was with Stevan Ridley and the ground game, or with Jordan Jefferson throwing well against Florida. Against Arkansas, the Tigers needed to be able to close on drives and get touchdowns instead of three Josh Jasper field goals in the second half, and they couldn’t. When it was time to play well enough to be worthy of a BCS game, the offense showed why LSU will fall short this season.
That LSU was able to keep it so close with an offense that couldn’t generate 300 yards was impressive, but going forward and looking ahead to next year, there will always be a rock-hard ceiling on what this team can do until it can be more complete, more explosive and far, far more consistent.
Last year, the Tigers had the receivers, but the offensive line and the running game were a mess. This year, the line has been great, but the passing game is pedestrian at best, miserable at worst. And once it came time to get into a little bit of a firefight, the Tigers couldn’t get it done. For a program that goes into each season shooting for the national title, this game might have exposed a hard truth: It’s not going to happen until the coaching staff doesn’t assume the breaks will come.
By Richard Cirminiello
Ryan Mallett is a gem at quarterback, but it’s the Hogs’ jewel of the Knile that really helped make those dreams of a Sugar Bowl possible.
Mallett is terrific, a next-level hurler, with the long-balls skills to make Al Davis fill a spittoon with drool. However, running back Knile Davis has been the somewhat unheralded ingredient that’s really made the Arkansas offense go. Mallett can stretch a defense, but what good is it if there’s no one available to take advantage in the short game? Davis has been an revelation in his second season out of Fort Bend Marshall (Texas) High School, going from a part-time player in September to the foundation of the running game in the second half of the year. He brings an element of power and toughness to an otherwise finesse team, giving the Razorbacks the ability to punch teams in the chops. It’s that balance and diversity that caused so many problems for a rugged LSU defense on Saturday afternoon, as Mallett threw for more than 300 yards and Davis ran for more than 150.
By the way, this is why you don’t mind paying Bobby Petrino all that money and you tolerate his penchant for happy feet. The guy can flat-out coach. In only his third season, he has Arkansas in the top 10, winning 10 games, and contending for one of those four at-large BCS bowl bids. Oh, and to those of you who choose to point to Mallett as the difference-maker, No. 15 doesn’t transfer from Ann Arbor to Fayetteville almost three years ago if Petrino isn’t the school’s coach.
By Matt Zemek
LSU, you could run, but you couldn’t escape the consequences of mistakes that were never eradicated from your team in 2010. A journey that began with a very lucky escape against North Carolina; continued with a supremely fortuitous (beyond fortuitous, if that’s possible) Houdini against Tennessee; and then needed the most improbable kind of bounce to survive at Florida finally took a wrong turn at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock. From the inability to cover up Arkansas’ fumbles, to bad snaps on multiple occasions, to ghastly red-zone failures, to horrid tackling and fundamentals, the Tigers came up short.
The deeper truth of this game was not that LSU failed to play at a lofty standard; that’s actually been the Tigers’ modus operandi throughout the season. The key to this game — other than the 80-yard touchdown at the end of the first half, of course — was the fact that on this day, LSU’s opponent managed to be more reliable and resolute. Indeed, the Arkansas Razorbacks — who made plenty of mistakes in their own right on Saturday — did a better job of settling down when crunch time came calling. Mallett shook off a number of horrible throws to lead his team with a steady hand and deliver a 39-yard scoring dart on fourth-and-three. The Hogs’ offensive line mashed LSU’s front seven on eight consecutive power-running plays that shortened the game and carved out a multi-possession lead the home team was able to preserve in the final minutes. Sure, this wasn’t an elegant performance, but given the eternally contentious and unpredictable nature of the LSU-Arkansas rivalry — this game regularly goes down to the wire — a simple victory carries far more weight than any style points. Two or three decades ago, both the Cotton and Sugar Bowls were postseason destinations of choice in college football. Today, only the Sugar is a premium prize, and Arkansas now has the inside track to the Superdome as long as Auburn takes care of business in the SEC Championship Game.
No, Arkansas isn’t a finished product or a complete team. However, the Hogs were clearly better than the shaky and schizophrenic LSU team that has manifested itself from day one of this season. Petrino and Co. have nothing to apologize for after finishing their regular season with a flourish.