LSU defenders try to make sense of what went wrong vs. Mississippi State
STARKVILLE, Miss. — In short, the answer was everything.
After LSU’s 37-7 loss to Mississippi State on Saturday night, a trio of shocked, dejected LSU defenders came out of the LSU locker room to face the media and answer one question: What went wrong?
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They all took different paths to their answers. Defensive end Christian LaCouture hid behind cliches and platitudes, arguing that the defense did a lot of good amid all the bad. Nose tackle Greg Gilmore was quick with the spin, arguing that LSU isn’t an undisciplined defense, just an aggressive one.
And linebacker Devin White? Well, White was a little more to the point.
“I feel like we gave them a lot with the penalties,” White said. “I also feel like we were undisciplined. The stuff they beat us with, Coach [Dave] Aranda went over it time after time this week. We were prepared for it. I think a lot of the guys got in the moment, including me as well, and I just don’t think we were disciplined.”
Discipline was an issue for the Tigers on Saturday night. LSU committed 9 penalties for 112 yards, almost twice as many yards as LSU was penalized for in its least-disciplined game of 2016. For LSU’s defense, with those penalties came drastic consequences. Referees ejected senior linebacker Donnie Alexander and freshman defensive end Neil Farrell for targeting Mississippi State quarterback Nick Fitzgerald.
Alexander’s penalty came on a failed third-down attempt that would’ve forced a Bulldogs punt, giving LSU’s offense a chance to score with the score still at 17-7. The targeting extended the otherwise dead drive, leading to Mississippi State points.
Exchanges such as that one further prove the old football cliche that you can’t give your opponent second chances. By those standards, LSU gave Mississippi State third, fourth, fifth and sixth chances Saturday. Heck, maybe even seventh. Mississippi State did score on seven straight drives, after all.
Gilmore said Mississippi State’s advantage came from establishing an outside edge and “getting out-gapped.” White said the Tigers were undisciplined with their eyes and weren’t able to find the indicator, or the player who directs a defender where the ball is going.
LSU's fundamentals/discipline were a big issue last night. Linebackers and safeties consistently attacked the wrong gap. Some examples: pic.twitter.com/SL81U3nU9d
— CFB Chalkboard (@CFBChalkboard) September 17, 2017
When LSU breaks down the film Sunday and Monday, they’ll see these holes and so much more. White said he plans on holding an inside linebackers-only meeting Sunday to break down the film and put the past behind them. LaCouture started that process even earlier, saying LSU tried to move on in the locker room after the game.
“We’ve got to step up,” LaCouture said. “We talked a little bit in there. All I’m going to say is we’ve got to make sure it doesn’t happen again. This is definitely something that leaves a bad taste in your mouth. It’s almost like you want to play another game because it’s just something that you don’t want to have happen.”
If there’s any position group that has anything resembling an excuse for its performance Saturday, it’d be LaCouture, Gilmore and the defensive linemen. Preseason All-SEC defensive end Rashard Lawrence missed the game with an injury, forcing Gilmore from nose to end. Gilmore’s replacement at nose, Ed Alexander, got hurt in the first half, forcing Gilmore back inside and a rotation of Glen Logan and Farrell at right end. Then, of course, Farrell was ejected, leaving LSU with virtually no rotation on the front.
Gilmore said the lack of depth hurt LSU, but he wasn’t willing to say that the team is worse without Lawrence.
“Nothing. There ain’t no drop-off,” Gilmore said. “I play right end. I’m perfectly fine out there. And Ed’s just as good as me.”
There’s only one problem with Gilmore’s theory: There obviously was a drop-off. Something changed between LSU holding BYU to negative-5 rushing yards and allowing 285 to Mississippi State. Sure, Mississippi State is a better team. But BYU rushed for a respectable 68 yards Saturday against a top-15 defense in Wisconsin.
Something was obviously different. Maybe it was the lack of Lawrence. Maybe it was, as Ed Orgeron said after the game, defenders underestimating Fitzgerald after holding him to 13 rushing yards on 13 carries in 2016. Maybe you can chock it up to youth or a lack of discipline or Mississippi State executing or LSU simply being a worse team that anyone thought.
But whatever the problem is, LSU must fix it.
“If I let everybody remorse off this game, it can take us down,” White said. “The ship can sink. And that’s something I don’t want to happen.”