A day of deficient defense could have been salvaged in any of four plays that began a yard away from the Missouri goal line.
Two LSU runs. Two LSU passes.
Neither play gained a yard. Neither play scored the winning touchdown.
Instead, LSU turned the ball over on downs in the final seconds of its 45-41 loss at unranked Missouri.
Ed Orgeron lamented the sequence again Monday. The Tigers' head coach said there was "no excuse on the goal line. None whatsoever."
Within those four crucial plays, LSU spent its final timeout to prepare a third down call. It was a significant moment, because the Tigers hadn't converted on third down all game.
Third downs are a priority at LSU. One of the job requirements of Orgeron's passing game coordinator staff member is to assist on third downs and red zone situations. Joe Brady helped call such plays in 2019, and only three teams were better than LSU at converting third downs into first downs.
Now it's Scott Linehan, a former NFL head coach and offensive coordinator, who assists LSU offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger. They sat together Saturday in the booth at Faurot Field and relayed their final third down call to quarterback Myles Brennan.
It was a play fake. A pantomime handoff to Ty Davis-Price. Terrace Marshall, LSU's leading receiver, lined up as an H-back behind the left tackle and was supposed to sneak by a fooled defense on a route toward the left pylon.
Missouri wasn't fooled. They had one more defender playing the pass than LSU expected to block, Brennan said later. The LSU offensive linemen crashed right, intending to clear the way for the pass to the left.
Missouri linebacker Nick Bolton rushed off the left edge, directly into the passing lane. Brennan let fly a sharp pass, and Bolton easily slapped it incomplete.
LSU had no answers for its third down situations on Saturday. The Tigers finished the game 0-for-10 on third down conversions. The last time the team didn't convert a third down in a game was in its notorious 24-21 loss to Troy in 2017.
Orgeron said LSU "should have had a better plan on the goal line," and he said the coaching staff started building a new plan Monday. That same morning, Missouri coach Eli Drinkwitz told SEC Network he was relieved LSU didn't try a quarterback sneak, considering his team was down three defensive linemen because of injuries and COVID-19.
That would've been a simple play.
Orgeron said he told both Ensminger and defensive coordinator Bo Pelini, whose defense struggled Saturday, to simplify their schemes.
"We need to get our best personnel in the game," Orgeron told reporters Monday. "When we're driving, we should get our best personnel in the game that fits the plays that we're calling."
Orgeron caught regional criticism for John Emery's lack of carries against Missouri. A week after the sophomore's 103-yard, one-touchdown breakout performance against Vanderbilt, Emery had two carries for 7 yards against Missouri.
Part of the reason, Orgeron said, was because Missouri effectively took the run game away. They loaded up the box with defenders and held LSU to 20 carries for 49 yards — a low average of 2.5 yards per carry.
Instead, LSU found plenty of offense in the passing game. Brennan finished with a career-high 430 yards and four touchdown passes.
"We scored 41 points," Orgeron said. "I'd rather not run the ball well than run the ball well and score 13. So, we gotta take what they give us."
Indeed, LSU's offense scored 41 points against Missouri.
The Tigers are averaging 38.7 points per game, which ranks 17th nationally. Brennan is at the top of the national rankings with 1,112 yards passing (3rd) and 11 touchdowns (4th). Marshall is, too, with 424 yards receiving (6th) and seven touchdown catches (T2nd).
It's comparable success to LSU's record-breaking performance last season, and the scoreboard reflects offense is far from the program's biggest issue.
However, the offense is now in a historically unfamiliar position of shouldering the load while a beleaguered defense sorts out its issues. While the offense is playing that role, there is little room for large errors.
Solving LSU's third down issues, Brennan said Saturday, starts with staying ahead of the chains. "First downs are huge," he said, adding that plays on early downs are "going to be a big emphasis this week."
LSU often set itself up for long third down attempts against Missouri.
On the team's first possession, Brennan was sacked on second down to force a long third-and-13. Brennan's third-down pass to tight end Arik Gilbert produced an 8-yard gain. This would've been first down yardage, but, instead, LSU had to go for it on fourth-and-5 — a conversion that eventually led to a Brennan-to-Marshall touchdown pass.
Later, in the second quarter, two incomplete passes set up a third-and-10 at the Missouri 31, and Brennan's back-shoulder pass to Racey McMath only picked up 7 yards.
Two incomplete passes to start the next series created a similar situation when Kayshon Boutte's 8-yard reception came up short of the first down.
Drops, a recurring issue, hounded LSU again.
On a third-and-2 at the start of the second quarter, sophomore receiver Trey Palmer couldn't hang onto a sideline pass while getting hit by a defender.
On the final drive of the first half, Emery dropped a swing pass while attempting to catch the football with one hand on the run. Two plays later, Brennan's third-and-8 pass to Jontre Kirklin was broken up by a defender.
Perhaps in the most telling third-down sequence came with 7:04 left in the fourth quarter and LSU up 41-3. The Tigers drove to the Missouri 22 before a series of mistakes cost them a shot at a two-score lead.
First, Brennan's pass to the end zone grazed the reaching hands of fullback/tight end Tory Carter. Then Brennan was sacked. Then a delay of game backed LSU into a third-and-18 attempt. Brennan's 3-yard checkdown pass to Emery set up a 45-yard field goal attempt that was blocked by Missouri.
The stop produced a Missouri touchdown, the go-ahead score.
In LSU's upcoming game against Florida, which scores 42.3 points per game, converting third downs will be all the more crucial.
"It's a combination of running the ball, getting more manageable third downs," Orgeron said. "And when we get there, we gotta have better schemes, better protection and we gotta execute. And that's not being done right now.”