LSU’s third-down conversion rate against Troy this past weekend wasn’t just bad, it was nonexistent.
When LSU walked off the field on Saturday the stat sheet showed the Tigers going 0 for 8 on the high-pressured down.
By Monday, officials corrected the box score to show the team going 0 for 9.
Either way, LSU failed to convert a single third down for the first time since losing to Auburn in 2014.
This is not an anomaly for this season.
After five games the Tigers are 94th in the nation with a 35-percent conversion rate, successfully moving the chains on just 20 of the 57 third downs they faced this season. Only Ole Miss and Vanderbilt are worse in the Southeastern Conference.
In their losses to Mississippi State and Troy, that number drops to a 13.6-percent success rate.
The Tigers know it isn’t pretty. They admit it’s one of the bigger problems they face amid a season that seems to generate a flurry of newfound concerns on a weekly basis.
But the first step to fixing any problem is to admit there is one.
“We missed some throws,” Orgeron said immediately following Saturday’s loss. “We had some guys open. We missed some reads. We didn’t protect well. Overall breakdown.”
Quarterback Danny Etling summed up the issue as a lack of execution.
And he should know, seeing as he’s the one most called upon to execute on third downs.
Officially, the Tigers split 38 pass plays to 19 runs on third down this season, but seven of those runs were passes that either Etling or backup Myles Brennan pulled down to run it themselves.
The most common play call is a pass to wide receiver DJ Chark, who was targeted a team-high nine times on third down. He has successfully converted three of those passes for first downs.
Running back Derrius Guice is the only player with more conversions at four, albeit on the ground.
As a whole, LSU completed 19 passes on third down, 10 of which earned the first.
Brennan also has two interceptions and Derrick Dillon fumbled a reception on third down against Troy in the red zone.
“Whether it was a dropped pass or whether it was a misread or whether it was missed protection or a missed step from someone, it was just a mixture of things,” Etling said. “But it all came down to execution (against Troy). The plays were there; we just didn’t execute.”
The reason LSU has to lean on Etling and the passing game so much is because the Tigers aren’t getting the job done on first and second downs.
About 68 percent of LSU’s third downs (39 of 57) this season require the Tigers to gain 5 or more yards in order to move the chains.
The average distance needed is 7.8 yards, a considerable concern for a team averaging 4.5 yards gained on third down.
LSU converted just nine third-and-longs in total.
Tight end Foster Moreau said executing better means gaining at least 4 yards on first down, at least half that on second down and then convert on third.
“We’d love to have (our conversion rate) over 50 percent. That’d be great,” Moreau said. “Third-and-7, third-and-8, those are tough to convert. Those are tough for everyone. … We just need to be more effective on first and second down, so on third down, when it comes, we can be more efficient.”
LSU put a greater emphasis on third downs — for both offense and defense — this week at practice, coach Ed Orgeron said.
On Wednesday the team held a more extensive third down study than they had in previous weeks, he added.
Similar to the offense, the LSU defense struggled with third downs this season. The Tigers are 10th in the SEC in opponent conversion rate at 40.5 percent.
Orgeron said LSU struggled with third-down screens, in particular.
"Like we do every Wednesday, we went through every possible scenario and what’s the best scenario for us. We practiced third down on Wednesday a little more than we usually do, practiced it today a little more than we usually do. But it all comes down to protection and timing of the rights."
CRUNCHING THIRD DOWN NUMBERS
Total conversions: 20 of 57
- Passes - 38
- Runs - 19
- Successful conversions with 5+ yards to go: 9 of 39
- Average distance needed: 7.8 yards
Top receiver targets (completions - successes)
- Chark - 9 (4 - 3)
- Gage - 6 (2 - 1)
- Dillon - 5 (5 - 3)
- Moreau - 3 (1 - 0)
- Williams - 3 (3 - 1)
- Davis - 2
- Sullivan - 2
- Edwards Helaire - 2 (2 - 2)
- INT - 2
- Washington - 1 (1- 0)
- Moore - 1
- Guice - 1 (1 -0)
- TEAM - 1
Top runners (successes)
- Guice - 5 (4)
- Etling - 4 (1)
- Brossette - 3 (2)
- Brennan - 3 (1)
- Williams - 3 (2)
- Moore - 1