By JAMES MORAN | Tiger Rag Associate Editor
Between the half-empty stadium and a listless effort against a non-conference opponent, one could assume LSU football hit its lowest point since the days of Curley Hallman or Gerry DiNardo on Saturday night.
But with seven Southeastern Conference games left on the schedule, it’s also fair to wonder if even darker days are ahead in a season that’s rapidly spinning out of control.
Troy walked into Tiger Stadium and handed LSU a 24-21 loss that will go down among the most embarrassing in the program’s recent history. The Trojans, a 20-point underdog at kickoff, snapped LSU’s 49-game non-conference home winning streak in a strikingly matter-of-fact fashion.
“Obviously a disappointing performance. We were outcoached and outplayed tonight,” LSU coach Ed Orgeron said. “We’ve got to keep this team together. They’re hurting in there. We’ve got to figure out why we’re not making the plays we need to make.
“We’ve got to do some soul searching and look at what we’re doing wrong.”
An offensive line starting two true freshmen for the first time since 1986 couldn’t block anyone in the first half. The defensive line, missing Rashard Lawrence, got bullied at the point of attack all night as Troy racked up 206 yards on the ground.
The tackling was suspect, and LSU turned the ball over four times to boot, but third downs told the tale. Troy converted on 10-of-18 to extend drive after drive, while LSU failed to convert any of its eight third downs.
“No excuse, we’ve got to get off the field,” safety John Battle said. “Most of that was on the secondary, and I put that on us.”
The lone intrigue came in the third quarter as true freshman Myles Brennan replaced a battered and bruised Danny Etling under center. The rookie inherited a 17-0 deficit and threw his first career touchdown to inject life into a catatonic football team.
But the freshman did what freshmen quarterbacks tend to do: make mistakes. He threw an interception in a 17-7 game, and Troy marched right back down the field for an insurance touchdown to get the game back under control.
“Danny got roughed up a little bit, and he could’ve went back in there, but we wanted to give Myles a shot,” Orgeron said. “We needed a boost. He made some big plays, he did. But obviously that interception at the end was critical.”
LSU reinserted Etling into the game and he led a lightning-quick scoring drive, hooking up with Russell Gage for a 34-yard touchdown to cut the deficit back down to 10.
A lost Troy fumble deep in LSU territory — the second of its kind on the night — gave LSU a last gasp with 5:26 left on the clock, trailing by 10. Etling led a 92-yard touchdown drive capped by a touchdown pass to Foster Moreau to bring the Tigers within a field goal.
That got LSU within three points, but Troy recovered an attempted onside kick and drained the final two minutes off the clock to cement the upset.
“You’re frustrated,” Etling said. “You just want to get back out there and get back out there Monday and fix everything. You want to get this taste out of your mouth as quickly as possible.”
Unlike the in famous 2008 Troy game, a late surge wasn’t enough to dig LSU out of the sinkhole the Tigers put themselves in with an absolutely putrid first half.
Running back Nick Brossette lost a fumble on the first play from scrimmage, and Troy quickly cashed in on a short touchdown run by quarterback Brandon Silvers. LSU turned the ball over on downs on the ensuing possession.
The two sides traded punts before Troy drove into LSU territory and missed a short field goal. LSU promptly drove deep into Troy field goal only to have Jack Gonsulin miss a 35-yard field goal that would’ve gotten the Tigers on the board.
Troy extended its lead to 10-0 thanks to a bizarre sequence at the end of the half. The clock appeared to run out after a Troy completion, and both teams went to the locker room. Then, after an official review, two seconds were put back on the clock, and Troy added a field goal at the buzzer.
According to ESPN Stats & Info, it was the first time LSU trailed at the half of a non-conference home game since Nov. 14, 2009.
LSU made matters even worse as Troy running back Jordan Chunn ripped off a 74-yard run on the first play from scrimmage in the second half. Three plays later Chunn scored to put LSU in a 17-0 hole.
“I think we need more energy,” nose tackle Greg Gilmore said of the disastrous start. “I think we need to be a little more focused during the week and — I don’t really know man. Sometimes after a loss like this you have to sit back and think about what I could’ve done better as a leader.”
LSU doesn’t have much time to lick its wounds before heading to The Swamp next Saturday to take on Florida. Orgeron himself acknowledged that the week would be a fight to keep the team together.
At least of the veteran leaders already took that challenge personally.
“I told them to play for me, man,” Gilmore said. “This is all I got left. I came back to LSU and I know the style of defense we can play, but we’ve got to realize last year’s defense is gone, man. We’ve got to revamp and become our own. (Florida) is going to be a war, man. I’m looking forward to it.”