Ed Orgeron said this was the best LSU had looked in practice all week and on Saturday the Tigers took advantage of a short handed Arkansas club. Coming off a three week hiatus, the Tigers looked rejuvenated and picked up a much needed 27-24 win over Arkansas in Fayetteville.
It wasn't always pretty for LSU on either side of the ball but the Tigers' offense and defense came through with big plays down the stretch to squeak out the victory. It all started with freshman quarterback TJ Finley, who led the offense 67 yards down the field for the go ahead touchdown with just under four minutes to go.
Finley, who completed 27-of-42 passes for 271 yards and two touchdowns on the afternoon, was masterful on the final drive, capping a drive where one touchdown had been taken away and an intentional grounding call left the Tigers at 3rd-and-13.
Then, stepping up in the pocket and buying some time, Finley delivered a 13-yard strike to Jaray Jenkins for the go ahead score.
With a lead in hand and the Tigers' defense needing one stop, it was redshirst freshman Jay Ward's turn for the spotlight. Ward had been picked on most of the afternoon after starter Elias Ricks was ejected for targeting but made the plays when it counted most.
On a third-and-3 pass, Ward came up with a huge hit to jar the ball loose and force a field goal. On that potentially game tying field goal, Ward was able to get a finger on the ball to keep it from going through the uprights.
While LSU made the plays in the end, explosive plays continued to be a problem for the Tigers but not nearly as consistently. Outside of two busted coverages that led to touchdowns, the LSU defense held up in the opening 30 minutes, in large part because of a consistent pass rush and improved run defense.
The two explosive plays were disappointing as LSU showed an ability for much of the first half to get Feleipe Franks and the Arkansas offense off the field. But a busted coverage on a pick route in the first quarter led to a touchdown. When freshman cornerback Elias Ricks was disqualified in the first half for targeting, Franks attacked his replacement Ward for a 50-yard bomb and forced a pass interference a few drives later.
But outside of those two scoring drives, the defense showed major strides, forcing five punts and a Jabril Cox interception that led to first half points for the offense. On those six drives, Arkansas put together a total of 30 yards and chewed up just 6:24 of the clock.
The defense for the most part stuck with their assignments and were able to hold the Arkansas run game in check throughout the afternoon, allowing just 32 yards in the first half. It also forced the Razorbacks into a pedestrian 0-for-10 third down conversion rate.
But with Ricks out of the game, the secondary succumbed to more explosive plays in the second half and only magnified in the second half when Derek Stingley went out with a head injury in the third quarter. The Razorbacks scored on back-to-back drives in the third and fourth quarters headlined by explosive plays.
After being out gained 276 to 182 in the first half, the Razorbacks came roaring back by out gaining the Tigers 261 to 143 in the second half.
Perhaps the biggest point of dominance for LSU was the methodical way in which it moved the ball on offense. The Tigers chewed up 41:43 of the clock Saturday afternoon, running 91 plays to Arkansas 53.
Offensively, LSU was able to establish a run game with Tyrion Davis-Price going for 104 yards on the afternoon while the team totaled 148 for the game after a pedestrian performance against Auburn.
Finley connected with six different receivers as Racey McMath scored his first touchdown of the 2020 season while Arik Gilbert and Terrace Marshall continued their stellar starts to the season. Early pressure on Finley didn't deter the young freshman who delivered some extremely impressive throws in tight windows, leading LSU on scoring drives of 51, 75, 69 and 67 yards throughout the day.