Ed Orgeron approached the podium Saturday night teary eyed. For the second straight week, LSU had nearly pulled off an upset, and for the second straight week, LSU had come up short.

This time, LSU fell to Arkansas 16-13 in overtime. Orgeron hurt for the players back inside the locker room after another close loss. They had fought once again without more than a dozen starters and had nothing to show for their effort.

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. Let’s review.

What to make of Garrett Nussmeier

The freshman quarterback received the first significant snaps of his career after taking over for sophomore Max Johnson, who played two drives and never returned to the game.

Nussmeier’s first play provided a sign of things to come. He dropped back to midfield on a play-action pass and launched the ball toward the end zone, trying to find freshman wide receiver Malik Nabers. The coverage was there, and Arkansas batted down the ball.

But Nussmeier gave LSU a spark as the Tigers scored on consecutive possessions to take a 10-3 lead. He showed a strong arm and a fearlessness as he attempted difficult throws, particularly on the run or off-platform. He wasn’t afraid to take those chances.

On his one touchdown, Nussmeier’s gunslinger approach paid off. Arkansas blitzed. A defender beat left tackle Cameron Wire. Nussmeier felt the pressure approaching from his blind side and spun out of trouble. Then he looked up and tossed a 29-yard pass into the back of the end zone that only Jack Bech could catch. Nussmeier smacked his chest as he looked at the student section.

Arkansas rarely gave Nussmeier an open receiver, and he didn't create as much the rest of the game. He finished 18 of 31 for 179 yards and averaged 5.8 yards per attempt.

Nussmeier will have to erase his mistakes. His first interception was a risk as he threw into three-deep coverage down the seam. His second needed to be placed further toward the back pylon on a fade route in overtime. Nussmeier placed his hands on his helmet after the turnover, knowing Arkansas could easily win.

Still, you could see why Nussmeier may turn into an elite quarterback. He brought energy. He pushed the ball downfield. He displayed the arm strength to make every throw. Two plays before his overtime interception, Nussmeier fit a 24-yard strike over the middle to pick up a first down. LSU can work with that.

The offense as a whole

Regardless of who plays quarterback, LSU has issues on offense. Over the last three games, the Tigers have scored 17, 14 and now 13 points, unable to sustain momentum. They have still eclipsed 30 points against another Power Five conference team once this season.

Center Liam Shanahan said Saturday night that LSU has tried to establish the run the last two weeks, and junior running back Tyrion Davis-Price has eclipsed 100 yards in each game.

But the rushing attack hasn’t been effective enough to maintain the offense by itself. Davis-Price averaged 3.8 yards per carry on 28 attempts against Arkansas, his longest run a 13-yard gain. When an offense wants to run, it needs to occasionally break off long chunks of yardage. Outside of the Florida game, that hasn’t happened.

Turnovers in particular have stunted LSU’s offensive momentum. An interception and a fumble led to two Alabama touchdowns last weekend. On Saturday night, when LSU had a chance to go up 17-3 in the first half, it tried a wildcat formation with Davis-Price.

LSU had never tried that formation this season. The snap was wide and bounced off Davis-Price’s hands. LSU’s offense never recovered. It now has a minus-six turnover margin over the last three games.

Defense maintains pressure

If you thought LSU’s defensive performance against Alabama last weekend was a one-off, the group proved Saturday its turnaround isn’t a fluke.

Arkansas gained 18 yards on its first play. It didn’t pick up another first down until the second quarter and punted six straight times at one point. Arkansas had been held under 20 points once this season. That was by Georgia, which has the top defense in the country.

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All the changes have come since the open date, when LSU installed new defensive schemes and decided to blitz a lot more. A week after blitzing on roughly half of Alabama’s plays, LSU blitzed on 17 of Arkansas’ pass attempts, according to Pro Football Focus.

The strategy has helped LSU hold their last two opponents to 308 and 281 total yards, respectively, and neither team had much success running the ball. The defensive shift is shocking when you consider LSU allowed an average of 6.9 yards per play the previous three games. Alabama and Arkansas averaged a combined 4.6 yards.

LSU swarmed to the ball against Arkansas, tackling well in the open field. It controlled the line of scrimmage. It didn’t allow many big plays.

The problem came when Arkansas quarterback KJ Jefferson started avoiding sacks. None was more pivotal than his 43-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter. Linebacker Damone Clark blitzed up the middle. Jefferson spun away, ran to his right and tossed the ball to a wide-open running back.

That shouldn’t have happened, but when the defense played like it did for an entire game, you can’t ask for much more.

Three defining stats

4

LSU reached Arkansas territory four times without scoring a point.

3

Arkansas only picked up three third-down conversions, finishing 3 for 16 as LSU’s defense dominated.

2.6

LSU wanted to run the football, but it averaged a net 2.6 yards per carry.

Players of the game

K Cam Little, Arkansas

Little went 3 for 3 on field goals, including the game-winning 37-yarder in overtime.

LB Micah Baskerville, LSU

Baskerville tied a career-high with 12 tackles, including 3½ for a loss with two sacks.

LB Bumper Pool, Arkansas

The leader of Arkansas’ defense, Pool made 13 tackles, including two for a loss. He also deflected a pass.

Email Wilson Alexander at walexander@theadvocate.com

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