Everything seemed to be going as planned early in LSU’s non-conference game against Louisiana Tech on Saturday night. …
… Until it wasn’t anymore.
The Tigers (4-0) escaped a scare from the Bulldogs (2-1) with a 38-21 victory after watching a 24-point lead dwindle down to just three points in the fourth quarter.
“Give (Louisiana) Tech some credit,” said LSU head coach Ed Orgeron. “I thought they had an excellent game plan, especially on offense. The receivers made some plays and the quarterback played fantastic.”
LSU seemed to have everything under control, keeping LTU off the board for most of the first half and building a 24-0 lead. But the Bulldogs mounted a rally that lasted nearly two quarters in which they scored 21 unanswered points behind the leadership of LTU quarterback J’Mar Smith and putting LSU fans on the edge of their seats late in the game.
Smith finished the game completing 27 of 50 passes for 330 yards and three touchdowns. He was sacked just two times, both in the final drive of the game.
“He got out of the pocket a few times, and that’s on us,” said LSU defensive end Breiden Fehoko. “We allowed him to roll outside a couple times when we could have sacked him. We could have had at least four sacks.”
Smith’s favorite receiver throughout the game proved to be Adrian Hardy, who put on a show catching 10 passes for 181 yards and two touchdowns, the second of which was a 42-yard jump ball that put the Bulldogs within a field goal.
Even Orgeron couldn’t help but smile about Hardy’s performance on such a big stage.
“Yeah he did (give us some trouble),” Orgeron said. “I said it all week, they’ve got some guys that can go to the NFL. They gave us trouble, and there were some times when they beat us.”
The Tigers finally responded midway through the fourth quarter with a touchdown drive assisted by a pass interference call in the end zone that put the ball on the LTU 2-yard line.
Three plays later, running back Nick Brossette crossed the goal line for the third time, giving the Tigers a 31-21 cushion. Brossette finished the game with 87 yards on 23 carries.
LSU put the final nail in the coffin after forcing a turnover on downs with a fourth-and-inches stop, allowing the Tigers to march down the field one last time for a seven-play, 46-yard touchdown drive capped by running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire’s second touchdown run of the game.
“I give all the credit to the offensive line,” Edward-Helaire said. “Getting a push from the front five guys and then being at the second level so quick, it’s something that a running back enjoys. Once you get to that second level in plays back-to-back, you just get comfortable as a running back.”
Helaire had a career performance, tallying 136 yards on 20 carries.
Orgeron named wide receiver Dee Anderson his most valuable player of the game after he came down with five catches for 80 yards and drawing the pivotal pass interference penalty that ultimately allowed the Tigers to take a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter.
“Dee (Anderson’s) come a long way,” Orgeron said. “He’s a fantastic athlete. He’s worked hard on his maturity, and I’m proud of him. He’s doing all the things we’re asking of him.”
Twice in the first half the Tigers had plays initially ruled touchdowns called back, but both ultimately resulted in a pair of one-yard touchdown runs by Brossette.
The first was a 21-yard pass from Joe Burrow to Ja’Marr Chase, who stepped out of bounds a yard short of the end zone. The second looked like a scoop-and-score by linebacker Devin White, who reached out and grabbed a dropped ball with one hand and returned it all the way down to the 3-yard line before stepping out of bounds.
Shortly after Cole Tracy kicked a 24-yard field goal to put the Tigers up 17-0 in the second quarter, safety Ed Paris made good use of the tip drill as he grabbed an interception that was touched by at least three other athletes on the field before him.
One play later, Edwards-Helaire followed his blocks for a 28-yard trip to the end zone to put the Tigers up 24-0.
After struggling to get the ball past midfield for most of the first half, the Bulldogs finally got on the board late in the first half after an 11-play, 75-yard touchdown drive capped off by a 20-yard touchdown pass from Smith to receiver Adrian Hardy on third down.
The Bulldogs had another chance to score in the final minute of the half after a sack by stand-out defensive end Jaylon Ferguson forced LSU quarterback Joe Burrow to cough the ball up and defensive tackle Keonatye Garner jumped on it. The fumble was LSU’s first turnover of the season, making them the last team in the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision to commit a turnover.
The Bulldogs started the drive at the LSU 36-yard line, but a 49-yard field goal attempt by LTU kicker Bailey Hale bounced off the uprights as time expired, leaving LTU fruitless despite the opportunity.
Orgeron said the coaching staff had to pull the defense aside and address the unit’s effort for the first time this season, especially when things didn’t get better after the halftime break.
“We have to get 100 times better,” Orgeron said of his team. “I’ve been saying that the whole time. Last week in Auburn we fought, and things went our way. We can’t play like this and expect to win the SEC.”