FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — An LSU offense that struggled to put points on the scoreboard in recent weeks had no margin for error on a bitterly cold and crisp Saturday night in Razorback Stadium.
The scoring opportunities against Arkansas were few and far between with just nine possessions — three in the first half — and when LSU had a legitimate chance to score points, it came up frustratingly empty in a 17-0 setback.
Kicker Colby Delahoussaye missed field-goal attempts of 27 and 47 yards, and quarterback Anthony Jennings lost a fumble deep in Arkansas territory in the fourth quarter to ensure LSU’s first regular-season shutout in 12 seasons.
The last shutout in the regular season came against Alabama 31-0 on Nov. 16, 2002 in Tiger Stadium. The only shutout of coach Les Miles’ 10-year tenure came in a 21-0 loss to Alabama in the BCS title game on Jan. 9, 2012.
The Tigers, who scored a total of 30 points in earlier Southeastern Conference games with Auburn (seven), Ole Miss (10) and Alabama (13), ventured inside Arkansas 20-yard line just once in the game and were as cold as the near-freezing temperature at kickoff.
LSU had five punts, two missed field goals and a fumble and turned the ball over on downs. The Tigers were held to 123 total yards on 54 snaps — with just 51 coming in the first half on 26 plays.
The problems started early after Arkansas had the first possession of the game and got a 32-yard field goal from Adam McFain.
On the Tigers’ second play from scrimmage, the shotgun snap from center Elliott Porter sailed over Jennings’ head, and Jennings could only fall on it at the LSU 3-yard line for a 27-yard loss.
“If the offense had started faster, it would have been a different game,” Miles said. “It’s that simple. We have some work to do. We need to make fixes and finish the season strong.”
While LSU’s offense appeared out of sync early, running back Terrence Magee wouldn’t go that far after a frustrating evening in which the Tigers netted a season-low 36 rushing yards on 32 attempts.
To make matters worse for LSU, which ranked fifth in the SEC with 221.4 rushing yards per game, the Tigers were playing without two starters on the offensive line. Left guard Vadal Alexander was home with a hand injury, and Porter left in the second quarter with a right leg injury.
“We made some of the right checks, but they had a great defensive line, and there were some miscommunications in some of the early series,” Jennings said. “Our starting five on the offensive line has been building cohesion all season, and to have two guys go down was big.”
Jennings completed just 12 of 22 pass attempts for 87 yards with four sacks.
When asked if it seemed like his offense is getting worse, Miles said, “Yeah, absolutely. … Starting the game, we would like to have moved the ball better.
“We lost another offensive starter (Porter), and that jumbled the line,” said Miles, who shifted right guard Ethan Pocic to center and put Evan Washington in Pocic’s spot. “That created more problems.”
“I don’t think we were out of sync; it was just a matter of execution,” said Magee, who led LSU with 24 rushing yards on seven carries. “On the first series, the bad snap put us in a bad position.”
LSU’s second series was doomed by a sack and a delay of game penalty before the Tigers finally settled into a rhythm on what would be their final possession of the first half.
Jennings moved his team down the field by converting three times on third down and getting another first down on a third-and-6 when wide receiver Travin Dural drew a pass interference penalty from Arkansas cornerback Henre’ Toliver.
But LSU failed to get the ball in the end zone from the Arkansas 13, getting just 3 yards on a run by Darrel Williams and two incompletions.
That brought in the usually-reliable Delahoussaye, who pushed a 27-yard field-goal attempt wide right to help Arkansas take a 10-0 lead to halftime.
“We try not to put any extra pressure on ourselves,” Dural said of the offense’s struggles. “It’s just very frustrating to move the ball and have the opportunity to put points on the board and not be successful.”
LSU got the ball first in the second half, but had a three-and-out before mounting its best drive of the game.
Fueled by a 12-yard run by Magee on the drive’s first play and helped by a 15-yard targeting penalty by Arkansas strong safety Rohan Gaines on tight end DeSean Smith the Tigers were set up at the Razorbacks’ 24.
But two running plays netted 4 yards and Jennings was sacked by defensive end Trey Flowers to bring in Delahoussaye for a 47-yard attempt that was wide right and far short.
Another three-and-out was followed by a decent drive that ended, however, when Jennings fumbled at the Arkansas 19 with 8:21 to play in the game.
“It’s very frustrating,” Jennings said of being shut out. “We need those points when we sustain long drives and get down there. We have to finish (drives). We got down there two or three times and got nothing.”
Follow Sheldon Mickles on Twitter @MicklesAdvocate .