STARKVILLE, Miss. — Let’s call it like it is: LSU played like a flawed, inexperienced, undisciplined football team Saturday against Mississippi State.
Now only one question remains: Is LSU a flawed, inexperienced, undisciplined football team or did the Tigers just get outplayed, outcoached and outwitted by Mississippi State? If you base your opinions exclusively off LSU’s 37-7 loss to Mississippi State Saturday night, the answer is probably yes on both fronts.
The Tigers aren’t the national contender they played like through the first two weeks of the season. Not yet, at least. The season is still young and the Tigers have a long time to grow individually and as a team. But there’s no sense in sugarcoating the truth: The existing LSU Tigers have a long way to go before they can compete with the likes of Alabama and Florida atop the SEC this season.
Mississippi State amplified the Tigers’ flaws from the first two weeks of the season — penalties, lack of big plays, etc. — and exposed a lot of new ones such as interior blocking, depth on the defensive front and general malaise when playing with a deficit.
There’s no sense in looking for any positives from LSU’s loss. Dan Mullen’s Bulldogs outplayed LSU in every phase. But for argument’s sake, let’s grade out LSU’s performance, position by position:
It’s hard to be too rough on Danny Etling. Heck, he was sacked twice, hurried 6 times and had 6 more passes broken up with at least 2 major drops. But that doesn’t change the fact that Etling’s biggest flaw cropped up against against Mississippi State: When Etling is facing a good pass rush, he isn’t a good quarterback.
Etling didn’t play bad enough to justify a benching or a move to a two-quarterback system with Myles Brennan. But he didn’t play well either. That has to be a major concern of offensive coordinator Matt Canada’s as LSU gets deeper into its SEC schedule.
Running backs: C-plus
The backs were fine. Derrius Guice averaged 5.1 yards per carry. Darrel Williams averaged 5.8 and scored a touchdown. The pair combined for more than 100 yards. That’s about as average of a performance as they come.
But when you’re a team like LSU that’s used to leaning on your running backs in wins and losses, Guice and Williams’ virtual disappearances in the second half are disconcerting. Guice rushed 5 times for 10 yards in the second half, with no carries or receptions in the fourth quarter, and Williams only touched the ball 3 times in the second half, all in the fourth quarter when the Tigers were already down by four scores.
LSU was losing, sure. But Guice and Williams disappeared from the game plan. With how talented those guys are, that’s unacceptable.
Wide receivers: D
Given that they had two touchdowns called back by penalties, a D might be a little harsh for the LSU receivers. Until you consider that both penalties were also called on receivers.
No receiver had more than 3 catches. Williams, a running back, led the Tigers in receiving yards, and he didn’t catch a pass until the fourth quarter. When you add in D.J. Chark’s 2 holding penalties and Stephen Sullivan’s game-changing offensive pass interference that negated a Chark touchdown in the first quarter, it was a dismal night for LSU’s receivers. One they won’t soon want to remember.
Offensive line: F
Two sacks. Four tackles for loss. Six quarterback hurries. Limited to 4.7 yards per play and a 3 for 13 showing on third downs.
It’s hard not to blame the offensive line for the Tigers nonexistent offense Saturday night. Because the big men up front are probably the men who deserve the most blame. Mississippi State’s defensive linemen, led by Jeffery Simmons’ 7 tackles, 1.5 sacks and 2 QB hurries, made LSU’s offensive linemen look silly. All night.
Defensive line: Incomplete
The defensive line didn’t play well Saturday, but it’s hard to blame the players for that. Regular starter Rashard Lawrence missed the game with an injury, replacement starter Ed Alexander re-aggravated an injury and didn’t play in the second half and replacement Neil Farrell was ejected from the game for a targeting penalty.
Healthy starters Christian LaCouture and Greg Gilmore combined to make 18 tackles with 0.5 sacks and 2 quarterback hurries. But Mississippi State’s offensive line bullied LSU’s front seven to the tune of 5.9 yards per carry and 2 touchdowns and only allowed quarterback Nick Fitzgerald to be sacked once.
It wasn’t a pretty showing for LSU’s front. But because of injuries and penalties, it’s hard to be too harsh on the unit as a whole.
Devin White had a good game. The sophomore linebacker came away with 11 tackles and 1.5 TFLs. But beyond White? Ouch.
Donnie Alexander got ejected for targeting. K’Lavon Chaisson committed a costly illegal hands to the face penalty. Corey Thompson got beat in coverage a couple times. And in his first game of the season, Arden Key was largely a non-factor, recording three tackles and half a sack.
White can’t carry LSU’s whole linebacking corps. Chances are, he won’t have to against teams with less impressive offenses than Mississippi State. But that’s not much of a silver lining as LSU gets ready for SEC play.
Defensive backs: D
Fitzgerald went 15 for 23 for 180 yards and 2 touchdowns with zero turnovers. Quarterbacks aren’t supposed to be able to do that against LSU’s vaunted secondary.
Sure, Greedy Williams got his requisite pass breakup. But Mississippi State had wide open receivers all night. No one was anywhere within 15 yards of Mississippi State’s Keith Mixon on his 45-yard touchdown catch. LSU’s secondary is still good. But it had a bad, bad game Saturday.
LSU coaches: F
All week, Ed Orgeron preached fixing the penalties. 21 penalties in two games were unacceptable. So LSU followed that up with 9 more penalties for 112 yards. More than half of those either negated touchdowns, ended LSU drives or extended Mississippi State drives.
On top of that, coordinators Matt Canada and Dave Aranda didn’t seem to have any answers or adjustments to stop Mississippi State from controlling the game. Mississippi State held the ball for 35:55 compared to LSU’s 24:05, earned nearly twice as many first downs as LSU and, of course, reached the red zone six times as often as LSU did.
Top to bottom, LSU was outplayed. But it was also outcoached. From discipline to game plan, LSU didn’t seem to have any edges over Mississippi State. And it showed on the scoreboard.