Back Hot Read: LSU Rallies in Rivalry Showdown

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Hot Read: LSU Rallies in Rivalry Showdown

By Dave Holcomb
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Dave Holcomb recaps LSU's 27-24 win over Arkansas.

This year’s LSU-Arkansas matchup won’t be remembered as one of the most impactful on the SEC schedule, but it has to be considered one of the most interesting to analyze.

LSU controlled the ball twice as long and ran 38 more plays than Arkansas, yet the Razorbacks out-gained the Tigers in what became a seesaw affair in the second half. Ultimately, the LSU running game and third-down defense enabled the Tigers to escape with a 27-24 win and avoid what would have been a shocking loss considering their time of possession.

Here are five takeaways from the game:

LSU commitment to running game pays dividends

In its last game, LSU rushed for only 32 yards on a whopping 27 carries in a 37-point loss to Auburn. After such a struggle, it would have been very easy for LSU to abandon its running game maybe as early as the first quarter when the Razorbacks held a 7-3 lead.

But the Tigers didn’t do that and while they only averaged 3.0 yards per carry, the rushing attack allowed LSU to control the ball for almost 42 minutes. LSU had 49 rushes for 148 yards, with Tyrion Davis-Price leading the way with 104 yards.

Under Ed Oregeron, the Tigers are 25-1 in games where they have a 100-yard rusher.

Arkansas dominated on first down

The Razorbacks edged the Tigers, 443-419, in total yardage. That’s not a huge difference, but it is when considering Arkansas ran 38 fewer plays. The Razorbacks averaged 8.4 yards per play to LSU’s 4.6.

Incredibly, more than 75 percent of Arkansas’ offense came on first down,where the Razorbacks averaged more than 14 yards per play. Quarterback Felipe Franks had three passes greater than 50 yards on first down to help that average.

Tigers stifle Razorbacks on third down

Arkansas moved the ball extremely well on first down, but the problem was the Razorbacks didn’t do much on second or third down. In fact, they didn’t have a third-down conversion in the game.

LSU’s defense held Arkansas to 0-for-10 on third down. The Razorbacks did convert their only fourth-down try, but that wasn’t nearly enough to overcome the third-down problems.

Conversely, LSU was 10-for-21 on third down. No wonder the Tigers held the ball for more than 41 minutes.

Holding penalties nearly cost LSU

On its first four possessions of the second half, LSU ran 27 plays but punted four times. On its two longest drives (based on plays), the possessions stalled thanks to holding penalties. In one case, the holding call wiped out a completion that went for more than 30 yards.

Had LSU lost, these two mistakes would have been critical. On the game-winning touchdown drive (LSU’s fifth possession of the half), the Tigers also overcame an intentional grounding foul in a goal-to-goal situation.

LSU committed nine penalties for 70 yards in the win.

Arkansas’ tremendous turnaround under Sam Pittman

There aren’t any moral victories in the SEC, but Arkansas has to be proud of the new direction in its program. Despite an unusual offseason and COVID-19 hurdles, which nearly postponed Saturday’s contest, the Razorbacks are much more competitive than a year ago, and that’s a huge understatement.

When the schedule moved to only in-conference, no one hated that more than Arkansas, who won one SEC game from 2017-19. But in Pittman’s first season, the Razorbacks are 3-5 with wins against Mississippi State, Ole Miss and Tennessee. They also only lost to Auburn and now LSU by a field goal or less and were leading Georgia at halftime.

We probably won’t know for sure until college football returns to normal, but no first-year SEC coach is doing a better job in 2020 than Pittman.