LSU Players Feel Newfound Confidence Can Help Team Finish On a Strong Note

Vets and young players make clutch plays, will need to continue to grow over final four games of season
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Jay Ward knows Saturday's end of game blocked field goal against the Arkansas Razorbacks was the biggest moment of his young career at LSU. But Ward doesn't want that moment to be the defining play of his collegiate career. 

Because after stepping into the Mississippi State in game one still recovering from a meniscus tear and then being thrown into the starting role once Elias Ricks and Derek Stingley Jr. both left Saturday's game against Arkansas, Ward had mightily struggled. After all, that's how this season has gone for not only Ward or even just the young players on the roster. 

It's been a struggle from top to bottom for the Tigers this season. But it's drives like the fourth quarter touchdown sparked by quarterback  TJ Finley and plays like the third-and-three stop and subsequent blocked field goal from Ward that spark confidence

"I'm trying to improve and keep it going because I don't wanna look at that and be like 'Dang that was my only accomplishment here,'" Ward said. 

LSU really seemed to turn a corner in the fourth quarter of a close game against the Razorbacks. In past losses to Missouri and Mississippi State, the Tigers were outscored 24-10 in the fourth quarter and seemed to lose focus down the stretch of those close games.

But when it counted most against the Razorbacks, a critical fourth quarter stop, touchdown drive and fourth quarter stop helped a young team find a way to win in the clutch. It's the first time all season the Tigers trailed in the fourth quarter and found a way, even while not at its prettiest, to pull out a win. 

That's progress anyway you look at it according to center Liam Shanahan.

"That's a big thing for our team is we've just gotta keep growing up. We've got a lot of young guys playing, a lot of young guys starting to step up and really play well," Shanahan said. "This past week definitely wasn't the prettiest win but we fought through adversity and that's a game we very easily could've lost. That's a good sign moving forward. 

Now the goal is proving this team can put together consecutive winning performances. To this point in the 2020 schedule, LSU hasn't lost back-to-back games but it also hasn't won back-to-back games either. Linebacker Jabril Cox has been a steady constant in the middle of the defense while parts around him are constantly interchanging. 

Though the explosive plays remain an issue, LSU did force eight three-and-outs against Arkansas which proves to Cox that the unit is heading in the right direction as the most difficult slate of games approaches. 

"This is a huge confidence boost, a lot of guys went down and it was the next man up mentality," Cox said. "The guys that came in and filled those holes did a pretty good job and this just gives us another opportunity to keep getting better as a whole."

Cox pointed to the improvements in technique across the board that the players have really started to show a greater understanding of. While there's been plenty of shifting across all levels of the defense in terms of personnel, the Tigers have relatively settled in on a rotation and that's helped with the communication between the players, particularly on the front seven.

It helped stall the Arkansas running backs to just 60 yards on the ground and is a trend that Cox hopes the front seven can carry over into the Texas A&M game. 

"Adding on quickly to our coverage is something that will stop the running backs from getting out. Just attacking the holes is something that we worked on with these past weeks," Cox said. "Not having the o-line get up on us so just hurrying up and adding on to our coverage is something that we've worked on."

LSU enters as two touchdown underdogs to the No. 5 ranked Aggies with not many giving this team a chance to even hang with Texas A&M on the road. 

"No one expects us to win, we're the underdogs so going in there and trying to ruin their day is something we're gonna try to do," Cox said.