Three Observations: Defensive Standouts, Reserves Receive Meaningful Snaps and 2019 Offense in a Class of its Own
There was no celebrating in the LSU locker room after the No. 1 Tigers defeated an Arkansas team that hasn't won a conference game in three years. It wasn't because the team was disappointed in its effort, how could you be when the final score is 56-20, with it not being that close for the majority of the evening.
The Tiger offense scored touchdowns on seven of its final nine possessions, the defense regained some confidence but the players and coaching staff are continuing a 'business as usual' approach as the 2019 regular season draws to a close.
Here are a few takeaways from Saturday night's win including the historic chase the offense is on and where the defense feels it's at with the postseason right around the corner.
JaCoby Stevens, Jacob Phillips combine for huge day at the office
One of the most important takeaways to leave Saturday's game was the defensive effort the starters displayed after two weeks where junior safety JaCoby Stevens said the unit was 'embarrassed.'
According to coach Ed Orgeron, he was the only one happy with the Tigers 21-point SEC road win over Ole Miss, saying after the Rebel win, the team was taking it pretty hard. So it was important for the defense to find a rhythm and fueled by astonishing performances from veteran players Jacob Phillips and JaCoby Stevens, held the Razorback offense to six points.
Phillips was all over the field in the first half, totaling five tackles on the first drive alone and finishing with 10 tackles, 2.5 of which went for a loss.
"Preparing for the game, knowing my keys before they happen and just playing loose and fast was the difference for me tonight," Phillips said. "I feel like the confidence level of the defense is kind of the same because we gave up a few points at the end of the game so that put a bad taste in our mouths. Overall, I think we play our best as a defense when everybody is playing loose and anticipating plays."
LSU would allow two touchdowns in the final few minutes of the Arkansas game to make the defensive effort look a little different at first glance. On the final three drives, the Arkansas offense with backups from both teams in, posted 145 yards in the last 8:35 of the game.
Total, the defense allowed 305 yards which means before those final three garbage time drives, the LSU defense had held the Arkansas offense in check with just 160 total yards.
Stevens was another major component of that effort as the junior safety had possibly the game of his career at LSU with eight tackles, three sacks and four tackles for a loss. For a guy that's already won SEC Defensive Player of the Week twice in 2019, that's saying something. The junior now leads the team in sacks this season and has shown dramatic improvements in his overall game as a full time starter.
"We were focused, we were sharp we didn't take this opponent for granted," Stevens said. "In the SEC West you can be beaten on any given Saturday and I know their record doesn't show it but they have elite players."
LSU offense in a class of its own in the SEC record books
When the 2019 season started there was a sense the LSU offense would look different with the switch to the spread, bringing in Joe Brady and another year under Joe Burrow's belt. How different the offense would look is where the skepticism came in, mostly because it was something that had been in the works for years.
Still, to say back in August that the 2019 LSU offense would be setting not only school records, but conference records left and right, the notion would've been scoffed at. Yet here we are in late November and the Tigers are doing just that.
In Saturday's win over Arkansas, LSU became the first school in SEC history to have a 4,000-yard passer (Burrow), a 1,000-yard rusher (Clyde Edwards-Helaire) and two 1,000-yard receivers (Ja'Marr Chase and Justin Jefferson) in the same season.
Senior tight end Thaddeus Moss also set a school record for most receptions by a tight end in a single season with 36 after a four catch day against the Razorbacks.
In addition, Burrow's 4,014 passing yards sit just 261 yards behind Tim Couch's SEC record 4,275 yards set in 1998. His now 41 passing touchdowns in 2019 are only three behind former Missouri quarterback Drew Lock's 44 that he set in 2017.
Just an average day for Burrow would give him the conference yardage record and four more touchdowns against the Aggies would give him that record as well. Simply put, the turnaround in just one season has been staggering and with as many as four games remaining, likely isn't ending anytime soon.
"We have five guys on the field at all times that can beat you," Burrow said. "I think Thad had over 60 yards in the first half, Clyde had over 60 yards receiving as well so it's really pick your poison with those five guys. Who are you going to cover one-on-one?"
LSU youngsters get valuable reps down the stretch
With LSU beating the brakes off of Arkansas by the middle of the third quarter, the Tigers started to turn to a few of their younger, inexperienced players down the stretch.
For a few it turned out to be a glowing success as fans got to see five-star running back John Emery in action for the first time in weeks as well as sophomore quarterback Myles Brennan.
Emery received two carries on the night, the second of which he took 39-yards to the house for his third career touchdown. Brennan on the other hand, with such a commanding lead, only threw the ball four times, completing two of them for 25 yards.
On defense, everyone got their first look at freshman safety Maurice Hampton in the lineup. Hampton, who had played very little on defense in 2019, sticking mainly to special teams, was announced as the starter and recorded six tackles in his debut performance.
"I think he did well, I'm proud of him," Orgeron said of Hampton's performance. "Obviously there'll be some things on the film where we'll need to get better but it was his first start in an SEC game. I thought the guy did tremendous."