With the dark cloud of Coach Ed Orgeron’s firing looming over the future of the LSU Tigers, many unknowns are continue to surface as this season quickly comes to an end. With a tough loss in overtime against the Arkansas Razorbacks in Death Valley, these inconsistencies became even more apparent.
But aside from these inconsistencies, one thing has stayed steady: LSU’s defense. This group has stayed rock-solid in moments they were expected to crumble. Despite the absence of many strong defensive starters, those chosen from the roster to step up and dominate have done just that.
“[On the defensive performance] Phenomenal,” Orgeron stated in a press conference following the loss. “I think the defense has been playing lights out. We went more of a 3-4 look and got some more pressure. We missed some plays tonight but overall, I just think the defense has been playing really well.”
The unfortunate and untimely loss, 16-13, for the Tigers resulted in a lifeless locker room.
“They played their hearts out,” Orgeron said. “Too many mistakes, three turnovers on offense, down in the red zone, and we didn’t score again. That’s a hurting group in there right now.”
This is the second week in a row for LSU where offensive performances are what led to the team falling short.
“It’s disappointing, especially as an offensive guy, when the defense comes out and plays like one of the best defenses in the country,” Center Liam Shanahan explained. "We had more than enough chances to win this game, this week and last week. It sucks to be the ones holding us back from getting a couple of wins that could have been really big wins for us.”
This isn’t to say that the defense hasn’t been having their fair share of mistakes. Linebacker Damone Clark confirmed this as he spoke about the moments in the Arkansas game where they just fell flat.
“This is the second week that we’ve come out and just fought until the very end,” Clark said. “It was just that one play, and we fell short. I missed the sack on the quarterback. That one ate me up.”
Outstanding linebacker duo Micah Baskerville and Clark fueled the defensive side for the Tigers. The pair combined for 23 tackles and five tackles for loss. The third most tackles on the team came from Cordale Flott, a cornerback with six.
It was Defensive Captain Clark, though, that really seemed to shine. Both Orgeron and Arkansas Head Coach Sam Pittman undoubtedly took notice of No. 18, each commenting on his performance in post-game press conferences.
LSU’s defense has seemed to acclimate solidly to the sudden change in momentum from Defensive Coordinator Daronte Jones, first seen during the Alabama matchup. Blitzing has become a major driving force for the defense and proven to be a successful matchup to the offensive powerhouses that LSU has seen.
The Tiger’s defense was able to hold the Razorback's primary running back Dominique Johnson to just 39 yards in 14 rushes. Johnson had previously gone 107 yards in 17 rushing attempts against Mississippi State. Linemen trio Jaqueline Roy, Neil Farrell and Glen Logan were effective against the fast-paced running game of Arkansas as well.
The Razorbacks adjusted to the tight-knit Tiger defense following half-time but still struggled to stay ahead of their speed and solidity.
“We tried to throw some screens off of it and pick their linebacker, which wasn’t successful,” Pittman recalled. “We tried to throw a slant, and it didn’t work. They were too fast for us."
The touchdown that granted overtime for Arkansas ultimately came down to quarterback KJ Jefferson scoping out a fault in LSU’s line. This finding led to a successful pass to Johnson, ultimately landing him into the endzone.
“I knew they were bringing the pressure, so I knew I had to make one miss,” Jefferson said. “I saw [Johnson] downfield, wide open. I just tried to give a good ball, and he ended up doing the rest.”
As for LSU, the quarterback battle between Max Johnson and Garrett Nussmeier continues to play out. It is unclear as to when LSU’s offensive structure will be settled into a winning groove. Though the outcomes of the past few games can not be entirely blamed on the quarterback, the instability of the position holder undoubtedly rattles up the entire offensive lineup.
“I don’t think we can put it all on the quarterback,” Orgeron said. “I think we have to look at everything, encompass what we’re doing, and let’s just go from there. We have two games left,” he said, “and we have to regroup.”
LSU will remain in Death Valley next Saturday, where they will face off against the University of Louisiana at Monroe. While it is an easier match-up on the schedule, the Tigers have proved this season that anything really can happen, even if this means results that are not ultimately in LSU’s favor.
Until the Tigers are able to regain the strength behind a successful offensive team, the rest of the season for LSU will remain doubtful. After all, a team can not win a game by scoring field goals.