Third-down issues prove costly for Hogs
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FAYETTEVILLE — When it mattered most, Arkansas couldn’t stay on the field and couldn’t get LSU off the field Saturday afternoon.
The Razorbacks’ offense failed to convert a single third-down attempt, while their defense allowed the Tigers to move the chains on more than half of their attempts. The result was a heart-breaking 27-24 loss inside Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
Aided by Arkansas’ 0-for-10 effort on third down and bolstered by its own 12-of-23 performance, LSU had the ball more than twice as long as its opponent. The final time of possession breakdown was 41 minutes and 43 seconds for the Tigers, compared to just 18 minutes and 17 seconds for the Razorbacks.
“LSU had the ball the whole time,” head coach Sam Pittman said. “They controlled the football game. They controlled it.”
When they had the ball, the Tigers were consistently ahead of the chains thanks to an adequate run game. Although they ran for only 148 yards, they picked up 95 of those on 22 first-down plays. That’s an average of 4.3 yards per carry.
That allowed LSU to routinely get up to the line of scrimmage, look to the sideline and run the clock down before snapping the ball again.
“The problem was they were winning first down,” Pittman said. “When you win first down and you’ve got second-and-3 and second-and-4, you can sit there and you can milk the clock all day. That’s what they did.”
Those kind of plays typically set up LSU in manageable third downs. Linebacker Grant Morgan said the Tigers found the weak spots of Arkansas’ defense in those situations and made them pay.
On third downs where it needed four or fewer yards, LSU was 8 of 13.
“With the ways that we were doing it, we were trying to man early and tried to pressure up, but they would just find that little seam spot or just being able to throw on the hash that they wanted to,” Morgan said. “So we just got to be able to communicate better.”
Another issue was tackling, according to defensive tackle Jonathan Marshall, plus the Razorbacks were playing without several pieces on the defensive line. Marshall was the only starter available and six contributors were out because of COVID-19 testing and contact tracing.
“I don't really think they physically beat us,” Marshall said. “I think it was more mental than anything. We just have to be in the right spot and things like that."
When Arkansas had the ball, it seemed to either hit an explosive play - Feleipe Franks completed four passes of at least 50 yards - or struggled to string a couple of plays together.
The Razorbacks had only three third-and-short plays, none of which they converted, and a big reason why they struggled to stay ahead of the chains was the lack of a run game.
Playing without Rakeem Boyd, presumably because of COVID-19 protocols, Arkansas managed only 104 yards on 27 attempts. Franks led the way with 43 yards on 14 carries, while Trelon Smith gained just 28 on 11 carries.
On top of that, the Razorbacks couldn’t get yards on the ground in critical spots. They picked up just 12 yards on five third-down runs.
Pittman said LSU had been pretty vanilla on film, but it added more movement on the defensive line Saturday, which caused problems. He also through the Tigers’ linebackers played well.
“We didn’t particularly block well it didn’t look like,” Pittman said. “I don’t know that we trusted it after early. We’re a team, we talked about it at half, about staying with the run. Because we can’t get people to bite up on the pass if we can’t run the football.”
It was an especially disappointing showing on third down - on both sides of the ball - considering it was a point of emphasis at practice this week. The Razorbacks also struggled in that area against Florida, giving up 9 of 12 conversions and picking up only 3 of 9 themselves.
“Whether we had focused on it or didn’t, I would imagine we would be disappointed in third down,” Pittman said. “We have to just keep working on it.”
To Pittman, the issues boiled down to the ground game. Arkansas was ineffective running the ball, while LSU did just enough.
“We couldn't hand the ball off to the tailback and run the ball very well,” Pittman said. “The bottom line is probably they could run it and we couldn't. That's probably the difference in the football game.”