BATON ROUGE, La. – Louisiana Tech trailed No. 6 LSU by just three points midway through the fourth quarter but the Tigers scored two touchdowns over the final eight minutes to pull away for a 38-21 win over the Bulldogs before 102,321 fans at Tiger Stadium Saturday night.
“It’s a disappointing loss, but it was a heck of a football game,” said Tech head coach Skip Holtz. “To LSU and Coach (Ed) Orgeron, I give them an awful lot of credit. When this game was in doubt at 24-21, they did the things they needed to do to win the game. They’re a talented team. But I can’t be more proud of the players and coaches in our locker room and how they competed in this football game.”
Tech trailed 24-0 midway through the second quarter as a pair of Bulldog turnovers deep in their own territory led to two easy Tigers scores and the big first half deficit.
However, the Bulldogs answered.
Smith, who passed for 330 yards and three scores in the game, led Tech on three scoring drives of over 70 yards each – one in the second, third and fourth quarters. Smith’s 42-yard strike to Adrian Hardy with 12:57 to play in the fourth quarter pulled the Bulldogs to within 24-21.
“It was a hard fought battle,” said LSU coach Ed Orgeron. “Give Louisiana Tech some credit. They had an excellent game plan, especially on offense. Their line protected well. Their receivers made some plays. Their quarterback played fantastic. We got up 24 and could have put them away, but they didn’t. They kept fighting.”
Hardy, whose second quarter fumble led to an LSU touchdown, posted a career night for Tech, recording career highs in receptions (10), yards (181) and touchdowns (2).
The Bulldogs defense – which had shut the Tigers out for over a 30-minute span from midway through the second quarter to midway through the fourth quarter – couldn’t get a much-needed stop after the TD. LSU drove 70 yards on 12 plays and pushed the advantage back to two scores on a 2-yard TD run by Nick Brossette, his third of the game.
Tech’s defense forced LSU into three third-down plays on the scoring drive, but the Bulldogs were unable to get a stop – including a costly defensive pass interference penalty in the end zone on a third down and eight play.
Instant replay then cost the Bulldogs on the ensuing possession. Smith completed a third down and 10 pass to Teddy Veal for an apparent first down, before replay over-ruled the spot. On a fourth down and a half yard for the Bulldogs with just under seven minutes to play, Smith attempted a quarterback sneak, but LSU’s defense stacked the box and stopped Smith short.
“I’m upset with myself on the fourth down call I made,” said Holtz. “Not the decision to go for it, but the call. I should have called a timeout. It was a dumb call. I want to put our players in a position to succeed, and I don’t think I gave our guys the best chance to do that (on that play).”
Following the turnover on downs, LSU methodically drove 46 yards on seven plays capped by Clyde Edwards-Helaire’s second rushing touchdown of the night, a one-yard plunge sealing the victory for the Tigers.
A pair of Brossette 1-yard TD runs – one with 9:20 to play in the first quarter and the second with 14:57 to play in the second quarter – gave LSU an early 14-0 lead. Cole Tracy’s 24-yard field goal upped the LSU lead to 17-0 with 9:17 to play.
LSU then capitalized on an interception on a pass that popped out of the hands of Rashid Bonnette, off the hands of offensive lineman Ethan Reed and into the arms of Tigers safety Ed Paris on the Bulldogs 29-yard line. One play later, Edwards-Helaire ran off left tackle and down the sideline for a score and a 24-0 advantage.
“The two early turnovers hurt as we spotted them 14 points,” said Holtz. “We knew even at halftime there was a lot of time to play. I loved the way we fought back. Look at a guy like Adrian Hardy, who had an early fumble and the way he came back and competed. Our offensive line competed. I thought our defense did some good things. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough today.”
Tech’s offense finally found a rhythm. Smith led an 11-play, 76-yard drive and hit Hardy for a 20-yard touchdown that pulled the Bulldogs to within 24-7. Smith hit Javonte Woodard for a 33-yard gain on a third down and eight early in the drive before finding Hardy on for the first of his three passing scores on the night.
The Bulldog defense did their part late in the second quarter, including LSU’s first turnover of the year when Jaylon Ferguson sacked Joe Burrow, forcing a fumble that was recovered by Keonatye Garner with 35 seconds to play in the half.
Tech had an opportunity to cut into the deficit but Bailey Hale’s 49-yard field goal attempt hit the left goal post as time expired in the first half.
Smith and the Bulldog offense picked up early in the third quarter. Tech marched 75 yards on 13 plays driving the ball down to the LSU 1-yard line. On a fourth down and goal play, Holtz bypassed on the chip shot field goal and put the ball in Smith’s hands once again. Smith rolled out to his right and found Bobby Holly who powered through LSU defenders for the score. Tech trailed 24-14.
The Tech defense continued to battle, forcing LSU to punt on each of its next two possessions. Tech drew to within 24-21 early in the fourth quarter as Smith split two LSU defenders with a strike to Hardy in the end zone.
Smith completed 27-of-50 passes for 330 yards and three touchdowns, despite Bulldog receivers dropping numerous passes during the game.
“I thought our best chance as an offense was to spread the field,” said Holtz. “I thought J’Mar was in control. The way he was seeing the field. The poise he had in the pocket. We had a lot of drops tonight. His percentage won’t show the poise he played with. Even his interception hit the receiver in the hands. You can’t put that on him. He threw it 50 times against this defense and never really put the ball in jeopardy.”
Tech outgained LSU 417-409 in total yards with the Bulldogs doing most of their damage through the air and the Tigers rushing for 218 yards on the night. Tech was 9-of-18 on third down conversions in the game, but only 1-of-3 on fourth down conversions.
The Bulldogs open Conference USA action next Saturday when they travel to Denton to face North Texas.