On the last Saturday in September, the Trojan football team from Troy, Alabama, walked into LSU’s Death Valley to take on the Tigers. Most viewers didn’t expect much from the game other than an easy LSU win and the Trojans leaving Louisiana with a hefty paycheck for playing the LSU football team.
One of those expectations proved to be true.
After the first drive of the third quarter, things we nightmarish for LSU fans. Troy was off to a 17-0 lead over the Tigers and LSU had already fumbled the ball twice. Things began to turn around for head coach Ed Orgeron’s Tigers, as they finally started to put up some points in the third quarter.
After a touchdown pass from backup quarterback Myles Brennan and another touchdown pass from starting quarterback Danny Etling, along with another Troy touchdown, the score was 24-14 with less than eight minutes left in the game.
Etling threw for another touchdown with just under two minutes left, and suddenly it was a three-point game. LSU attempted and failed the on-side kick, but forced a three-and-out and received the ball with 18 seconds left. Etling completed a 27-yard pass on the first play, but then threw his second interception. The LSU Tigers had lost to the Troy Trojans of the Sun Belt conference.
After this heartbreaking loss, Ed Orgeron began to feel his seat getting warmer in his first season as head coach. He had to turn things around quickly if he wanted to keep his job, and the next week showed an opportunity to prove himself against a ranked Florida team in Gainesville.
After a hurricane caused the game to be postponed and moved from Gainesville to Baton Rouge, the Gators defeated the Tigers 16-10 on two fourth-quarter field goals to clinch a trip to the SEC championship.
This year’s game, which was originally supposed to be played in Baton Rouge but was moved to Gainesville due to last year’s change, was Orgeron’s opportunity.
After a touchdown that should have tied the game in the third quarter, Florida’s kicker missed the extra point and the Gators were down 17-16. After a scoreless fourth quarter, the Tigers had a one-point victory over a ranked team and appeared to have regained their composure.
So, what changed for the Tigers between losing to Troy and beating the ranked Gators?
LSU was missing several key players against the Trojans. Most obvious is Derrius Guice, the star running back who was a preseason favorite to win the Heisman. Darrel Williams started in place of Guice against Troy and was effective, but having both against Florida allowed the Tigers to focus on their running game and not rely on Etling’s questionable arm too much.
On the defensive side of the ball against Troy, the Tigers were without starting nose tackle Ed Alexander and defensive end Rashard Lawrence. Both played and recorded tackles against the Gators.
Injuries can hurt any team’s performance in any game, but being without a player like Guice has an impact on the game plan for the entire team.
One of the biggest issues for LSU in their loss to Troy was turnovers. Two fumbles, along with two interceptions from Danny Etling, not only stalled the Tigers offense but also led to 14 points for Troy.
Similar to Auburn’s five turnovers against Mercer, which led to a one-possession game in the fourth quarter, LSU’s turnover struggles are what set up the opportunity for Troy to beat an SEC powerhouse. Troy is a good football team and would at least avoid embarrassment against most teams, but the turnovers gave Troy points and kept points off of the Tiger’s scoreboard, leading to LSU’s defeat.
Against Florida, the Tigers never turned the ball over. Ball security kept them from giving the Gators too many scoring opportunities, while giving themselves more scoring opportunities. Losing the turnover battle makes it difficult to win a football game, and that disadvantage was too difficult for LSU to overcome against Troy.
Against Florida, the Tigers had zero turnovers.
A Strong Start
Against Troy, LSU actually showed a strong finish to the game. The Tigers scored 21 points on three passing touchdowns in the second half. The issue is that both their offense and defense came out to a slow start.
Two minutes into the third quarter, Troy had already scored 17 points. 41 minutes of regulation time passed before the Tigers scored their first points, and the slow start was too much for them to overcome.
In Gainesville, Orgeron’s team scored 17 points in the first 35 regulation minutes of the game. Florida didn’t score a touchdown until the middle of the third quarter, similar to LSU’s offensive performance against Troy. In the same way, the slow start for Florida was too much to overcome.
The return of Derrius Guice, along with other key players, led to a much stronger performance for the LSU Tigers. A team that was once viewed as the second-best team in the SEC was viewed as one of the worst after losing to Troy, but the victory over the Gators changed those opinions.
This week, Orgeron’s team is only a seven-point underdog to the No. 10 Auburn Tigers. If LSU fails to score points early against Auburn’s impressive defense, and if Guice and Williams cannot get the running game going, Orgeron could see another tough deficit that he can’t come back from. Also, avoiding four turnovers would probably be a good idea.