As Mississippi State slowly — and then very quickly — overcame a 20-point second-half deficit last Saturday, Arden Key and his LSU defensive teammates were overcome with one emotion.
“We were pretty shocked,” the hybrid outside linebacker said.
Afterward, they took the blame.
“I felt we kind of let off the gas toward the end,” Key said, “and it cost us almost.”
LSU’s defense might have pulled its foot off the accelerator, but the offense did not.
The Tigers’ second-half scoring woes the past two weeks are rooted in turnovers, penalties and a handful of untimely incomplete passes. LSU coach Les Miles and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron’s play-calling didn’t change much (22 passes to 26 runs), but the execution, for whatever reason, did.
The result: one touchdown on 10 significant drives (discounting the final two drives of each game).
“We felt like we were moving the ball great,” receiver D.J. Chark said. “We just had a few turnovers that kind of messed things up. We felt like we were still dominant. We felt like they couldn’t really stop us, but we were stopping ourselves.”
Four of the 10 drives ended in turnovers: two lost fumbles (one from quarterback Danny Etling and another from running back Leonard Fournette); a turnover on downs after another Fournette fumble; and an interception from Etling in the end zone.
Three of the drives were dragged down by an offensive lineman’s penalty. Center Ethan Pocic, in his first play at left tackle against State, was called for holding on third-and-5 on a 19-yard first down completion to receiver Travin Dural. Pocic slid to tackle after an injury to K.J. Malone.
Against Jacksonville State, Maea Teuhema was flagged for holding on a similar play. His hold, also on third-and-5, negated a first-down completion to tight end Colin Jeter.
“Execution. Coaches were calling the right plays,” Dural said. “Had a couple of penalties, a couple of turnovers. We just need to execute better. We had guys getting open.”
Etling misfired, too, and LSU receivers dropped at least three passes in the final two quarters of those games. Etling’s second-half numbers (5 of 16) are in stark contrast to what he has done in first halves (20 of 28).