LSU’s passing game obviously improved over the past three games, and that has led to improved balanced for the offense.
But those improvements haven’t translated into comparable improvement in the Tigers’ red-zone offense. LSU went into its game against Ole Miss on Saturday tied for sixth in the Southeastern Conference with a red-zone scoring percentage of 83. The Tigers had scored on 35 of their 42 possessions that reached the opponents’ 20-yard line.
LSU matched that percentage in the 41-35 victory against the Rebels, scoring on five of six red-zone possessions. But only three of those scores (60 percent) were touchdowns, again matching the Tigers’ season-long performance (21-of-35).
Two of the possessions ended in Drew Alleman field goals, and another ended when Zach Mettenberger threw an interception.
LSU did thrive in the red zone when it counted most, scoring touchdowns on its final two trips.
Red-zone efficiency hasn’t been a strength for the Tigers defense, either. LSU entered the game tied for 11th in the SEC, having allowed points on 83 percent of its opponents’ trips inside the 20. Against the Rebels, who led the SEC in red-zone efficiency (94 percent), LSU’s defense, like its offense, was at its best when it mattered most.
Ole Miss scored touchdowns on its first two trips into the red zone, but the third one was pivotal. The score was tied at 35 late in the fourth quarter when the Rebels reached the Tigers’ 16-yard line. But three consecutive negative plays pushed the Rebels well out of the red zone, and Bryson Rose missed a 53-yard field goal.
LSU then drove to Jeremy Hill’s game-winning 1-yard touchdown run.
Turnovers, penalties return
The Tigers regressed in terms of turnovers and penalties, two recurring problems this season.
Mettenberger had not thrown an interception in any of the previous three games, and LSU had lost just one fumble over that period of time.
But Mettenberger threw two interceptions Saturday, although the first appeared to be caused by a bad route by Jarvis Landry, who also lost a fumble.
Mettenberger’s first interception ended a streak of 56 consecutive offensive possessions over 17 quarters without a turnover (the fumble LSU lost against Mississippi State a week earlier came on a punt return).
The Tigers’ defense and special teams took the ball away four times to offset the turnovers.
LSU — which was penalized a season-low two times a week earlier against Mississippi State — had six against Ole Miss. Though the six flags and 56 yards lost are manageable numbers, some came on key plays.
Barkevious Mingo jumped offsides three times, though one of the penalties was declined, and the first one came during a Rebels touchdown drive. The second one turned what would have been a third-down failure into a third-and-1, which Ole Miss converted. Though the Rebels punted at the end of the possession, the penalty helped them advance the ball 34 yards upfield before punting.
A holding call on center P.J. Lonergan negated a 50-yard completion from Mettenberger to James Wright that would have given the Tigers a first-and-goal at the 9. Instead, LSU wound up punting.
Another miscue that hurt, though it doesn’t figure into the penalty statistics, was James Hairston’s out-of-bounds kickoff after the Tigers had tied the score at 28 early in the fourth quarter.
That gave Ole Miss the ball at its 35, and four plays later, the Rebels were in the LSU end zone.
Alleman streak intact
LSU’s botched extra point attempt after the Tigers’ go-ahead touchdown with 15 seconds remaining didn’t affect Alleman’s PAT streak.
The snap got away from holder Brad Wing, who was tackled, and Alleman never got a chance to kick the ball.
Alleman has the second-longest streak of made PATs in school history (103). He needs to make seven more in a row to break David Browndyke’s record.
LSU scored its most points in an SEC game and matched its second-highest point total in any game this season. The Tigers had their second-highest yardage total (427) in an SEC game, falling just short of the 435 they gained against Alabama.
Nonetheless, only three LSU players had positive net rushing yards in the game. Jeremy Hill gained 77 yards on 20 carries, Spencer Ware had 55 on eight carries and Michael Ford had 20 on four.
J.C. Copeland and Russell Shepard each had one carry for no gain, Kenny Hilliard lost a yard on his only carry and Mettenberger had a net on minus-6 yards on three attempts.
LSU totaled 145 yards on 38 rushes.