Coming in as a 17.5 point favorite, it was anything, but easy for the LSU Tigers in their thrilling last second 34-31 field goal victory over the Arkansas Razorbacks for the Golden Boot Trophy. Still, wins are hard to come by in the SEC and the Tigers will look to learn and get better from that while taking a 2-0 conference record to Oxford, Mississippi next week. Before we focus on the Tigers’ road trip, here is a last look at the Tigers’ win this past Saturday.
1. Big passing plays sparks LSU
The first half was a sluggish start for the Tigers’ offense as LSU was trailing Arkansas 13-3 just under a minute left to go until halftime. That was until Jayden Daniels took a deep shot and found Malik Nabers for the touchdown to pull within three. Since that drive, the LSU offense caught on fire by scoring on its next five possessions. Despite a slow start, when Jayden Daniels got comfortable, he was tough to slow down as most of his production came in the second half. Daniels was so good that his second half alone garnered him Co-SEC Offensive Player of the Week honors for the second week in the row completing 20 of 29 passes for 320 yards and four touchdowns to only one interception.
After an offseason that has been heavily questioned if Daniels is going to trust his receivers and throw the football downfield, it was back-to-back 49 yard touchdown deep passes on consecutive drives that gave the necessary spark and energy back into Tiger Stadium.
2. Malik Nabers and Brian Thomas Jr. are making their case as the top WR duo in the country.
It is a given after Malik Nabers’ dominating performance and the numbers that he has posted over the last two years that he has emerged as not only LSU’s WR1, but also as one of the top wide receivers in the nation. The wide receiver room at LSU is talented in general, but the question was which wide receiver was going to separate himself as the second option. With a huge performance this past Saturday, Brian Thomas Jr. has solidified himself as that guy. At 6’4, 205 pounds, the Walker native has always been ultra-talented, but it has always been about putting it together. Saturday night, Thomas certainly put it together and had a WR1 type performance. In fact, the Tigers got that from both receivers.
Thomas helped the Tigers’ offense find its rhythm with back-to-back 49 yard touchdown catches. He had the best game of his LSU career with five catches for 133 yards and two touchdowns while Nabers had another productive day at the office with eight catches for 130 yards and two touchdowns. Defenses were trying to double team Nabers, but you can’t do that anymore as Brian Thomas Jr. will show why he cannot be covered one on one.
3. LSU is going to have to win shootouts the rest of the way:
It is what it is, but this game is just one example of what LSU is going to have to do in order to have success the rest of the way and that is they are going to have to win a lot of shootouts. After four weeks in the season, you are who you are and for LSU, they have one of the most explosive and dangerous offenses in the country. However, the defensive side of the football leaves much to be desired giving up over 30 points for the second time in four games. The defense can improve, but after giving up close to 300 yards and multiple blown coverage touchdowns, the pass defense is still an Achilles heel for this team. However, the Tigers have the offense that is capable of keeping up with anybody left on their schedule.
4. Third down defense needs to get better:
What has plagued a lot of LSU’s defensive struggles, especially on Saturday and in the loss against Florida State has been the defense’s inability to get off the field in crucial situations. In the two combined games, opponents converted 62% on the money downs including 9 of 14 on Saturday. There were a couple of plays that were there to be made, but Arkansas QB KJ Jefferson was incredible in extending plays with his legs and making big plays. For the most part, LSU’s defense held its own on the first two downs, but that side of the football has to do a better job of executing when it matters most.
5. Be aggressive with your front seven and deal with the consequences.
What was a bright spot about the LSU defense was its pass rush. Although the Tigers were only able to bring down Jefferson four times throughout the night, the pass rush was constant all game long. They even had a great sequence of plays in the third quarter when Whit Weeks and Mekhi Wingo brought Jefferson down and the very next play, freshman Da’Shawn Womack brought down the big quarterback down for back to back sacks. Without a doubt, the strength of this defense is the front seven with Harold Perkins Jr., Maason Smith, Wingo, Womack, Jordan Jefferson,Bradyn Swinson, Saivion Jones, Weeks, and Greg Penn III all being capable of having a big impact in forcing quarterbacks to make quicker decisions. Wreaking havoc against Mississippi State certainly helped the backend of the defense two weeks ago and this defense is at its best when they are putting pressure on the quarterback. The Tigers may not have the guys that LSU fans are used to seeing patrolling the backend of the defense, but what they do have is talented pass rushers. Defensive coordinator Matt House needs to take on the same mental approach as the offense is taking right now, and that is be aggressive. If the pass rush does not get there and gives up a big play, so be it. However, if the Tigers can be effective in rushing the passer and can give their explosive offense some extra possessions, that could be the difference in a lot of games moving forward.