I’ll probably do the top 25 tomorrow. Had LSU continued on the road to what should have been an easy win after being up 21-6, I wouldn’t have seen the need for a post-game blog for this game.
Not to gloat—far from it after the end of this game—but this was LSU’s 8th win in a row and 12th win in 13 tries in Starkville. For more about the series history, please see the blog I have just updated.
As I’ve said all offseason, the defensive problem I worry about is depth on the secondary, not the line. This is what the spring game made loud and clear when both quarterbacks could just throw the ball up against the second team, and it was almost always caught, often by a wide-open receiver.
The secondary did all right for most of this game, but as I expected, those cracks showed up in the late third and throughout the fourth quarter. I don’t care how many returning starters there are: when there isn’t much offensive production, all you need is one player in the secondary to be a step or two out of place on a couple of plays to lose the game.
Also, De’Runnya Wilson can catch some passes when a defender isn’t out of place at all. Dak Prescott generally didn’t have enough time to get it to a receiver, but I think that’s the difference between Chavis and Haley last year and Steele and Orgeron this year. LSU will face more experienced offensive lines, but despite that, I was still impressed by the combination of sealing the running lanes and creating a pass rush.
Unlike a lot of LSU fans, I was skeptical of Brandon Harris all of a sudden being a good quarterback, and I’m still skeptical. He did look better in this game than he did during the spring game against the first-team defense, but this is a defense that only had four returning starters and wasn’t even that great last year. He had a good completion percentage, a couple of good runs, and didn’t throw the ball into danger; but 71 passing yards is a joke.
There has to be a credible passing threat on second and third downs to keep the defense off balance. This passing threat also needs to exist with an 8-point lead or a 2-point lead when keeping possession is that much more important. One or two completed passes in each of the last two or three drives could have allowed the Tigers to keep a double-digit until the game ended.
Oddly enough, LSU did have a first-down pass when they were up 15 (second play of the drive after a Bulldog penalty) but did not have another on first or second down. Les said himself after the game, “If you become one-dimensional, you become very easy to stop.”
The Tigers had their own penalty troubles. LSU had two touchdowns called back (I think one was on an eventual touchdown drive though), and they had another play late in the game that would have given them the ball inside the 20 when instead they failed to score in the final 21 minutes of the game. The Tigers were penalized for 95 yards, but there were another 100 or more yards of plays that were taken off the board.
I also think LSU could have gone for it on fourth down late at midfield. They had two chances to do so, once with the ball at the Mississippi St. 43. I don’t think a 25-yard punt (what actually happened) or even a 35-yard punt is better than having a chance at a first down to control the end of the game. LSU had a first and 14 after a hold that called back that play I mentioned that put them inside the 20. I can’t disagree more with responding to the situation with the predictable run, run, pass, punt.
Now that I have my griping out of the way, I do want to put this in perspective.
It is important to remember that this was LSU’s first game. Mississippi St. had already had an opportunity to screw up the beginning of a game and come back to win last week, and this week was their home opener after a very good season (especially by their standards) last year. So their fans seemed even more enthusiastic than normal.
You can have games like this in September though. Ohio St. of course lost to unranked Virginia Tech at home last season. The Hokies were actually 34th in the AP preseason poll, whereas Mississippi St. was ranked going into this game. Florida St. had several games last season that could have been losses but ended up winning its conference undefeated before losing in the playoff.
Alabama, another playoff team last year, started out with a shaky game against a West Virginia team that ended up with six losses. It was a 3-point lead at halftime and the Mountainers were within a touchdown until about 8 minutes left in the game.
In fact, as I mention in the rivalry blog, in 1958 LSU only beat Mississippi St. (who went 3-6 that season) by a single point. That is still the only season in which the Tigers went undefeated including a bowl game. (In 1936 and 2011, LSU went undefeated before the bowl game; and LSU had a few previous undefeated seasons in which there was no such a thing as a bowl game.)
The fact that the game was close like this may have been more of a wake-up call. If Mississippi St. never rallied and LSU won 24-13 or something like that, maybe we think, “OK, well, we’re home for the next game, no problem.”
Speaking of which, Auburn comes to town next week. I know they barely beat Jacksonville St., but I have a feeling we didn’t see the best Auburn team in that game. So there will be two teams who know they need to make big improvements or their seasons could unravel in a hurry.