Some of the agony and aggravation of LSU’s disappointing 2020 football season finally eased Saturday afternoon.
LSU’s Jay Ward partially blocked a potential game-tying 44-yard field goal by Arkansas placekicker A.J. Reed with 1:24 left to preserve the Tigers’ 27-24 SEC road victory in rainy, windy Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
LSU, 3-3 after getting its first win in almost a month, took the lead on freshman quarterback TJ Finley’s scrambling 13-yard TD pass to wide receiver Jaray Jenkins with 3:59 left.
It was LSU’s only points of the second half after leading 20-14 at halftime.
The Razorbacks, playing without six defensive linemen (including three starters) because of COVID-19 quarantine, scored 10 points after halftime on mammoth 95 and 88-yard drives against a Tigers defense that had lost starting cornerbacks Eli Ricks (ejected for targeting in the first half) and Derek Stingley Jr. (unspecified head injury).
LSU’s Finley, who converted two third downs on the Tigers game-winning 9-play, 67-yard drive, passed for 271 yards and two TDs.
LSU’s offense did its best to follow a game plan similar to the one employed in its last win, a 52-24 decision over South Carolina almost a month ago
The Tigers tried to bang away with 49 rushing attempts for 148 yards, including 104 yards rushing on 24 carries by Tyrion Davis-Price.
“I knew from the first quarter on we were going to have to pound the ball,” Davis-Price said.
So did LSU coach Ed Orgeron, who’s now 13-0 in games following a loss.
“The biggest thing was time of possession,” Orgeron said. “It allowed us to keep our defense fresh and they made big plays at the end.”
Arkansas ended up out-gaining the Tigers 443 yards to 419, because quarterback Feleipe Franks bombed LSU’s secondary for 339 yards including five completions accounting for 245 yards.
The Tigers’ defense year-long habit of allowing long-distance gains was a reason LSU led by just six points at halftime despite dominating time of possession.
LSU, ranked 113th in the country in total defense, held the Razorbacks to 32 yards rushing in the opening half and 0 for 5 in third-down conversions. Also, a Jabril Cox interception and his 36-yard return put the Tigers on the Arkansas doorstep for Davis-Price’s 1-yard TD run to give the Tigers a 17-7 lead with 4:21 left in the first half.
Arkansas had 182 yards total offense in the first half. But 115 yards came on Franks’ 65-yard TD pass to Treylon Burks for a 7-3 lead with 3:40 left in the first quarter and Franks’ 50-yard completion to Mike Woods that set up Franks’ 10-yard TD keeper to cut the Tigers’ lead to 17-14 with 3:34 in the first half.
LSU placekicker Cade York opened the first half scoring for the Tigers with a 49-yard field goal and closed the half with a 24-yard field goal. The half-ending field goal was somewhat of a disappointment because clock mismanagement killed LSU’s chances at a touchdown.
The game turned late in the third quarter. LSU’s offense had 22 snaps in the period yet gained just 64 yards and went scoreless.
And just like LSU’s 48-11 loss at Auburn three weeks ago when a 54-yard Zach Von Rosenberg punt to the Auburn 1 went to waste as AU drove 99 yards for a TD just before halftime, his 34-yard punt downed at the Arkansas 5 also became a footnote.
Starting with Franks’ 29-yard pass to Woods on the first play of the drive and then a 50-yard hookup with Woods on the fourth play, it took the Hogs just 90 seconds and six plays to cover 95 yards ending with Franks scoring the go-ahead TD on a 10-yard keeper with 1:04 left in the third quarter.
Then, the Razorbacks added a 22-yard AJ Reed field goal on its ensuing 88-yard drive for a 24-20 advantage with 12:42 left to play.
LSU’s offense twice killed fourth drives with crucial holding penalties before finally getting something going from its 33-yard line with 7:30 left.
Just more two minutes later, it appeared Finley threw a 25-yard TD pass to Davis-Price, but a replay review confirmed an incomplete call on the field.
Undeterred, Finley converted two huge third-down conversions, the latter Finley’s game-winning TD strike to a sliding Jenkins.