LSU Texas A M Football

Texas A&M defensive lineman DeMarvin Leal (8) upends LSU quarterback TJ Finley (11) for a sack during the second quarter of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 28, 2020. in College Station, Texas. (AP Photo/Sam Craft)

When LSU still had a chance against Texas A&M early in the third quarter, two unblocked Texas A&M players sprinted toward quarterback TJ Finley on third down. LSU’s offensive line slid to the left, leaving running back Tyrion Davis-Price alone to handle the incoming rushers.

Davis-Price blocked one player, but the other forced Finley into a desperate throw. The ball landed out of bounds. Finley landed on his back. He looked around the field and adjusted his helmet.

Throughout LSU’s 20-7 loss Saturday night at Kyle Field, the Tigers’ offensive line struggled to diagnose and block similar blitz packages. The constant pressure forced Finley and fellow freshman quarterback Max Johnson into errant passes and limited LSU’s ability to run the football, a necessity in its recently formed ball-control offense.

“It all starts up front with the blocking,” coach Ed Orgeron said.

LSU’s defense played well enough to win the game, but its offense didn’t score until the Tigers’ final possession, narrowly avoiding a shutout. The Tigers averaged 1.4 yards per carry. They converted two third down attempts. They averaged 3.7 yards per play. They punted 11 times.

The problems stemmed from the offensive line, a group that last season won the Joe Moore Award as the nation’s best offensive line. But that unit lost three starters and one key rotational player. They have been inconsistent at best this season.

In games LSU won, like South Carolina and Arkansas, the offensive line pushed defenders off the ball and created time for the freshman quarterbacks. LSU leaned on its running game — it rushed for 276 yards against South Carolina and held the ball for almost 42 minutes against Arkansas — to create high percentage throws.

In the games LSU lost, like Auburn and now No. 5 Texas A&M, the offensive line repeatedly got beat. Texas A&M entered the game with the nation’s ninth-best rushing defense, allowing 95.67 yards per game, and LSU threw more often than it had since Finley became the starter after Myles Brennan suffered an injury.

"There's no room for us to run the football," Orgeron said. "I think we've got to call better plays. I think we've got to have a better plan. I was really disappointed in our plan, disappointed in our execution.”

Though LSU didn’t allow a sack in the first half, Texas A&M applied consistent pressure. Finley dodged sacks, but the havoc forced him into rushed throws. He completed 36% of his passes (9 for 25) and LSU fell behind the chains, setting up long third downs. LSU finished 2 for 16 on third down.

The Tigers trailed 13-0 at halftime. They opened the third quarter with two short runs and an incomplete pass.

On LSU’s next possession, it reached Texas A&M territory with a 26-yard completion. The Tigers soon reached third down. Texas A&M appeared to bring heavy pressure. Instead, several defenders dropped into coverage. Four players rushed Finely, confusing LSU’s offensive line. Right guard Chasen Hines missed his block. Under pressure again, Finley overthrew his intended target. LSU punted.

With LSU backed against its goal line later in the third quarter, linebacker Aaron Hansford beat left tackle Dare Rosenthal, causing Finley to hurry. With Hansford around his legs, Finley tossed a wobbly pass. It sailed into the middle of the field. Texas A&M linebacker Buddy Johnson intercepted the ball. He returned it 15 yards for a touchdown.

Texas A&M finished with three sacks, all coming in the second half once Max Johnson entered the game.

“We should've had a better plan on offense,” Orgeron said. “We couldn't run the ball. We couldn't protect. It's not all the quarterback's fault. He was running for his life all day. Both of them were.”

Afterward, as he reiterated the need for LSU to have a better offensive game plan moving forward, Orgeron highlighted the offensive line as an area that needs evaluation before LSU plays No. 1 Alabama and No. 6 Florida in consecutive weeks. The Tigers got beat off the edge throughout their loss. Orgeron wondered if LSU should’ve used more blockers.

“They had a good plan for our protections,” Orgeron said, “and we didn't adjust to it as well as we should have.”

Email Wilson Alexander at walexander@theadvocate.com