Max Johnson was the only LSU player who had to answer questions Saturday night. The sophomore quarterback stood there representing the rest of his team, and you could see the frustration on his face after a 42-21 loss.
“It freakin’ sucks,” Johnson said. “I’m not going to lie. But we’ve just got to come back to work on Monday and get better and grind and block out the noise and be ourselves. It's only us. It's only our team. We've just got to work harder and be better."
LSU doesn’t have another choice. Kentucky dominated every facet of the game, particularly along the line of scrimmage. Now after two straight losses, LSU hosts No. 20 Florida next weekend, continuing a string of ranked opponents.
Every week, we rewatch the game to figure out what went right or wrong, determine three players of the game and choose three defining stats. Not much went well in this one. Let’s review.
Remember the missed assignments and explosive plays that defined LSU’s defense last season? The Tigers had mostly avoided them since their first game in 2021, but they reappeared against Kentucky.
On their opening drive, the Wildcats faced fourth-and-goal from the 3-yard line. They called a rub route. Running back Chris Rodriguez Jr. leaked into the flat, uncovered. The concept is designed to do that, but no one on LSU’s defense ran after him, leaving Rodriguez wide open.
Then, Kentucky set up its second touchdown with a 34-yard pass to uncovered tight end Justin Rigg, who ran up the seam through zone coverage. While LSU’s defense didn’t allow another score in the first half, Kentucky continued to rattle off explosive plays. There was a 32-yard carry. Rodriguez rushed up the middle for 21 yards.
LEXINGTON, Ky. — A horse named Time for Trouble ran in the third race at Keeneland here Saturday.
Eventually, the dam broke. On the opening drive of the second half, with LSU trailing 14-0, Rodriguez lined up in a pistol set. Kentucky’s offensive line sealed the edge of LSU’s defense, one of the receivers ran across the formation to block cornerback Eli Ricks and there was a massive hole for Rodriguez. He gained 22 yards.
The run set the tone for the second half. Two plays later, Levis ran up the middle and broke multiple tackles, carrying 6-foot-6 defensive end Ali Gaye on his back. Once Levis scored on a quarterback sneak, the game seemed out of reach at 21-0 with LSU’s offense out of sync. Kentucky kept running the ball.
LSU’s defense had played fairly well since it allowed 210 yards rushing in a season-opening loss to UCLA. The one exception was when it struggled to tackle Auburn quarterback Bo Nix last weekend, but Nix has such a rare elusive quality that could almost be explained.
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The Tigers didn’t have defensive tackle Joseph Evans or three other defensive starters, so they moved freshman Maason Smith back inside Saturday. But this came down to physicality and technique at the line of scrimmage.
Kentucky beat LSU in both areas, often pushing the Tigers off the ball. They'll have to improve. The next two weeks, they face the top-2 rushing offenses in the Southeastern Conference in Florida and Ole Miss.
Offense tried to find balance
LSU made a clear commitment to running the ball, an issue the previous five games. It finished with 35 rushing attempts and 38 passes.
The Tigers don’t have to revive the rushing attack they once had, but they needed to find balance in the offense to set up manageable third downs, score from short yardage and take pressure off Johnson by making teams respect the run.
Though the running plays didn’t work at first, LSU stuck to its plan, unlike previous games. It eventually worked in the second half as junior running back Tyrion Davis-Price recorded a season-high 147 yards on 22 carries with two touchdowns.
LSU was in desperate need of a spark, but this time it wasn’t the fault of a lackluster ground game.
The running schemes had variety. LSU used a pistol formation with freshman Corey Kiner. It even once lined up in an I-formation at the goal line. The Tigers also pushed the ball outside. On Davis-Price’s 30-yard gain — the longest run for LSU this season — left tackle Cam Wire and left guard Ed Ingram pulled across the formation to seal a lane.
The problem for LSU ended up being its passing game, which had been a strength all year. Johnson looked unsettled in the pocket as Kentucky sacked him four times, including once on the opening drive to force a fumble. He also struggled with accuracy, completing 58% of his passes for 261 yards and one touchdown.
LSU hadn't lost a game since 2018 when rushing for over 100 yards. The key moving forward will be marrying the two run and pass attacks to build a dynamic offense. But everyone will hold their breath until they know the status of sophomore wide receiver Kayshon Boutte, who left the game on a cart in the fourth quarter.
Three defining stats:
Kentucky rushed for 330 yards on 45 carries, an average of 7.3 yards per rush.
1 for 5
LSU attempted five fourth down conversions as it tried to sustain drives. It made one.
Kentucky recorded nine tackles for loss, including four sacks, as it controlled the line of scrimmage. LSU had one sack.
Players of the game:
Chris Rodriguez Jr.
Kentucky’s starting running back finished with 147 yards on 16 carries, an average of 9.2 yards per rush. He scored two touchdowns.
Kentucky’s offensive line
Someone had to open holes for Rodriguez and the other running backs. Kentucky’s offensive line constantly won at the point of attack.
LSU’s junior running back played his best game of the year. Davis-Price rushed for 147 yards and two touchdowns, making him the first LSU player to exceed 100 yards rushing this season.