ulmlsu.112121 HS 3137.JPG

LSU wide receiver Brian Thomas Jr. (11) runs the ball past ULM safety Jabari Johnson (2), ULM safety Jordyn Riley (20) and ULM defensive tackle Sir'Darrius Ellis (90) for the touchdown in the second half of the Tigers' 27-14 win over the Warhawks, Saturday, November 20, 2021, at Tiger Stadium on the campus of LSU in Baton Rouge, La.

This was the kind of game you watch again only if you have to. LSU beat UL-Monroe 27-14 to pull within one win of bowl eligibility, but coach Ed Orgeron and the players themselves admitted the game was ugly.

Though LSU led 24-7 midway through the fourth quarter, it missed multiple scoring chances, averaged 2.4 yards per carry and attempted a fake punt pass that UL-Monroe intercepted to set up its first touchdown.

The same team that almost upset Alabama and Arkansas without about a dozen starters “could never throw the knockout punch,” as Orgeron said.

The Tigers will have to review the tape to make corrections before their regular season finale against Texas A&M. We also watched it, as we do every week, to figure out what went right or wrong, determine three players of the game and choose three defining stats. Let’s review.

Freshman WRs stand out

LSU started three freshman wide receivers, and by the end of the game, the group reminded everyone why there has been so much optimism around them since preseason practice.

Malik Nabers caught four passes for a career-high 143 yards and one touchdown. Brian Thomas Jr. scored on a 42-yard reception. Jack Bech led the team with five catches, once again being used as an underneath outlet.

Nabers had the best game of the three. With LSU facing third-and-3 on the opening drive, he lined up in the slot, caught a tunnel screen and sprinted 48 yards to set up LSU’s first touchdown.

Then, Nabers flashed his speed. Nabers ran a dig route on third-and-6, caught a pass from sophomore quarterback Max Johnson and took off for a 67-yard touchdown, LSU’s longest play from scrimmage this season.

Thomas was used in a variety of ways. With LSU leading 17-7 in the third quarter, he ran a drag. Johnson avoided a sack and flung him the ball. Thomas eluded two defenders and weaved into the end zone to give LSU a more comfortable lead.

The freshmen aren’t perfect. Nabers dropped two passes on the opening drive of the second half. But when Kayshon Boutte returns next season from his ankle injury, LSU could have a loaded wide receiver corps.

Red zone issues continue

LSU’s offense has struggled inside the red zone the last three games, and the issue persisted Saturday night.

The Tigers finished 2 for 4 in the red zone with one touchdown. They missed a field goal, and Johnson was sacked on fourth-and-3 when LSU had a chance to stretch its lead at the beginning of the third quarter.

The first missed opportunity came on LSU’s second possession. The Tigers had a first down at the 20-yard line. Johnson threw an incomplete pass, freshman wide receiver Chris Hilton Jr. was tackled for no gain and Johnson fumbled when he didn’t expect the snap. He said ULM’s defensive players were clapping.

LSU scored the next time it reached the red zone, but it settled for a field goal after three straight incomplete passes from the 9-yard line. One was dropped by junior receiver Devonta Lee in the end zone.

LSU sports news in your inbox

If you're a Tiger fan you won't want to miss this newsletter. Sign up today.

Later, in the third quarter, LSU faced second-and-7 from the 18-yard line. It tried an end-around to Thomas, an inside run and then a pass. That’s when ULM sacked Johnson, forcing LSU to turnover the ball.

LSU is now 8 for 13 in the red zone over the past four games. The inability to finish drives prevented the team from upsetting Alabama and Arkansas, and it could hurt again next weekend against Texas A&M, which has the 11th-best red zone defense in the country.

Opponents have scored 12 red-zone touchdowns against the Aggies.

Two goal-line stands

While LSU’s offense struggled in the red zone, its defense made two goal-line stands.

The Warhawks had a first-and-goal from the 8-yard line on their second possession. Safety Cam Lewis made a tackle on first down. Linebackers Micah Baskerville and Damone Clark made a touchdown-saving tackle on second down. Then on third-and-goal from the 1-yard line, defensive tackle Neil Farrell blew up an inside run by pushing the center off the line of scrimmage.

ULM went for it. Offensive coordinator Rich Rodriguez called a rub route. The running back leaked into the flat. But pressure forced a low throw, and the running back had to fall to make the catch. He tumbled short of the goal line.

Other than the possession after the failed fake punt, LSU didn’t let ULM cross midfield again until the beginning of the fourth quarter. Trailing 24-7, the Warhawks soon faced first-and-goal from the 10-yard line.

After three inside runs gained a total of 8 yards, ULM ran a double-reverse pass. The quarterback was open in the end zone, but the ball sailed high. Crisis averted.


2 for 4: LSU finished 2 for 4 in the red zone with one touchdown, unable to stretch out the score.

157: Nabers and Thomas gained 157 total yards on three receptions, which provided 38% of LSU’s yardage.

26%: ULM went 4 for 15 on third down. Over the last three games, LSU’s opponents are 11 for 44 (25%) on third down.

Players of the game

Malik Nabers, LSU, wide receiver: The freshman caught four passes for a career-high 143 yards and one touchdown.

Max Johnson, LSU, quarterback: Johnson went 22 of 33 for 319 yards. He scored three total touchdowns.

Damone Clark, LSU, linebacker: Clark recorded seven tackles, including 1 1/2 for a loss. He still leads the country with 127 tackles this season.

Email Wilson Alexander at walexander@theadvocate.com