A week filled with meetings in an atmosphere of severe criticism ended in the best possible way for the LSU football team.
Coming off a stretch in which the Tigers lost two of three games – including one to Sun Belt Conference member Troy at home, they got back into the win column by edging Florida 17-16 at The Swamp.
LSU beat the Gators due to a missed extra point. It had been 20 years since the Tigers had won a one-point Southeastern Conference road game. LSU nipped Vanderbilt 7-6 at Nashville in 1997 – also because of a missed extra point.
“This Monday is a lot different from last Monday,” said LSU coach Ed Orgeron at his weekly media luncheon Monday. “I finally slept a night. This victory was a testament that we believe in each other. Through the adversity, we became stronger. The staff got closer.
“With our backs to the wall, there was attention to detail all week. We gave it all we had. Everyone gave every ounce of energy. We finally galvanized as a team. We had not been playing as a team. In every game, we have to win as a football team. One unit is not going win the game for us.”
It appeared that the Tigers’ losing ways were going to continue in the third quarter against the Gators. LSU allowed two long scoring drives which put Florida within an extra point of tying the score. However, Eddy Pineiro missed the first extra point attempt of his career.
The Tigers defense seemed to get new life after that missed conversion attempt. LSU held the Gators to one first down on three fourth-quarter possessions. Needing a field goal to win the game, Florida never crossed midfield.
“When Florida missed the extra point, that was it,” Orgeron said. “We clicked. We said, ‘we can win this game.’ If they don’t score, they don’t win. That was our battle cry. It was their grit and their will to win. On the sidelines, they were saying, ‘we were going to stop them.’”
The performance was not pretty, especially on offense. Derrius Guice and Darrel Williams combined for 85 rushing yards on 29 carries – slightly less than three yards per attempt. LSU’s three longest runs were by wide receivers Russell Gage and Derrick Dillon (30 yards) and quarterback Danny Etling (15 yards).
Etling completed just nine passes – with only one caught by a wide receiver. Williams and Guice were responsible for five of the nine receptions.
Then, there was the makeup of the offensive line. Tackles K.J. Malone and Toby Weathersby left the game due to injuries. Malone and Weathersby were replaced by true freshmen Saahdiq Charles and Austin Deculus, respectively. With Ed Ingram at right guard, there were three true freshmen on the line.
“Under the circumstances, the three freshmen did very well,” Orgeron said. “They made mistakes, but they showed they could handle the physicality of the SEC. They could handle the one-on-ones. The biggest thing was assignment mistakes.
“We have to stay positive with them. It’s a next man up thing. We don’t say, ‘You’re a freshman.’ There are no excuses. You play like a LSU Tiger. I don’t know yet if the freshmen are going to play this week (against Auburn). Toby and K.J. are questionable. If we have to start the freshmen, we’ll start them.”
The lack of continuity on the offensive line is certainly having a negative effect on the LSU running game. Moreover, Guice is not healthy. Guice was held to 50 yards on 17 carries against Florida with no run gaining more than eight yards.
“Derrius has a nagging injury,” Orgeron said. “In order to play full speed against a team like Florida, you have to practice full speed. Derrius has been limited in practice. There were signs late in the game he can do it when he broke some tackles. Is he hurting? Yes. Is he limited? Yes. But, he is getting better.”
Outside linebacker Arden Key is another veteran, who is far from being in game shape. Missing months of football work is preventing Key from being his usual self. Orgeron acknowledged Monday that Key weighed as much as 270 pounds. He is down to 255 pounds.
Another LSU defender will make his first appearance of the year against Auburn – defensive end Frank Herron, who has completed a six-game suspension. Herron’s return is greatly needed since Rashard Lawrence continues to be hindered by ankle injuries.
“Having Frank back will give us a rotation with three defensive ends,” Orgeron said. “Like Arden, it will take Frank time to get in game shape. We will see how he practices this week. I think he will be excited. Arden’s pass rush is not where he wants to be.”