By Wesley Wright
The Tigers’ ship has not sunk just yet, but it is definitely taking on water.
For the second straight year, the Golden Boot is going back across the border to Arkansas. The loss to Arkansas was just the sixth of the Les Miles era on a Saturday night in Death Valley.
After winning the first seven games of the season, the Tigers have lost the last two in dominating fashion. The Tigers have now lost to both Alabama and Arkansas in consecutive seasons.
Both the Razorbacks and Tide have concocted a formula for taming the Tigers by getting physical at the line of scrimmage and jumping on the Tigers early. LSU simply is not built to play from behind.
“We’re sore losers. Period,” LSU senior cornerback Jalen Mills said. “We didn’t come here to lose.”
Unfortunately for the Tigers, Arkansas came into Baton Rouge with purpose and confidence last Saturday night. The Razorbacks didn’t seem to be the least bit intimidated by LSU or the environment in Death Valley.
Where LSU fell short against the Razorbacks was on the defensive side of the ball. The Tigers’ defense spotted Arkansas a 21-point lead in the first half, forcing the offense to play from behind the entire game.
One of the Tigers’ main defensive shortcomings was a lack of focus and discipline. LSU’s defense relies mainly on its playmaking ability, and Arkansas repeatedly took advantage of guys over pursuing and being out of position.
Poor tackling also plagued the Tigers throughout the contest, highlighted by a Mills missed tackle on Jared Cornelius’ 69-yard touchdown that Miles called “a nice little dipsy-doodle.” Cornelius’ touchdown put the Razorbacks up 31-14 in the fourth quarter, essentially clinching the game.
For the second consecutive week the Tigers struggled to stop the opposition’s rushing attack. A week after allowing Alabama to run roughshod for 250 yards, the Tigers gave up 299 yards on the ground to Arkansas.
Time and time again the massive Arkansas offensive line pushed the Tiger defense back and controlled the line of scrimmage.
By comparison, the Tigers only managed three rushing yards in the first half and 59 total yards on the ground. Arkansas averaged 7.5 yards per rushing attempt, nearly a first down per rush, and it goes without saying that it’s a tall task to win a football game when your defense is giving up those types of numbers on the ground.
Another main problem for the LSU defense is its lack of depth. Arkansas fielded 27 defensive players in the game compared to just 23 for LSU. That lack of depth defensively can be a nightmare when facing a physically imposing squad like Arkansas.
The Razorbacks’ colossal offensive line would give even the strongest defensive fronts fits, let alone one that is short a few bodies. A lack of reliable rotation players along the LSU’s defensive front seven, combined with the grueling SEC schedule, have caused the Tigers to burn out.
Following two straight conference losses, some fans may feel the overall season looks bleak for LSU, but there is still reason for hope in a successful final two weeks.
The Tigers have knocked out the toughest parts of their schedule, with games against Ole Miss and Texas A&M remaining. Both the Rebels and Aggies implement a spread offense, which is a better matchup for the Tigers than the punch-you-in-the-facemask physical style Arkansas and Alabama play.
When asked what goals the Tigers had left for the season Mills simply stated, “Beat Ole Miss. It’s a one game season.”
These next two games are where the Tigers lay the foundation for next season.
If the Tigers can manage to plug some holes in the ship, next season they might just be able to sail it to the College Football Playoff.