It wasn't pretty and at times, it was even frustrating. But by the end of the night, LSU had clawed out a fairly dominant 19-6 win over Mississippi State.
LSU looked like a team that wasn't at all excited to be playing a particularly motivated State team on Thursday night. The offense was fairly lethargic, and the defense repeatedly lost focus. The less said about third and long, the better.
But when Reuben Randle caught a touchdown pass with twelve minutes left in the game, the game was virtually out of reach. State wouldn't show signs of life again until their final drive, when the game really was out of reach.
The defense, as usual, was impressive. State rushed for 49 yards on 34 carries. This is a team that wants to beat you on the ground, but they just couldn't get it going save one impressive first half drive. The passing offense wasn't much better, as Chris Relf didn't even manage 100 yards passing before getting pulled because Dan Mullen doesn't realize Tyler Russell is Relf's backup.
The big concern on defense is the linebacking corps. The secondary is still awesome, and the safeties stepped up tonight to make some big hits, as if they were getting sick of the corners getting all of the pub. Then again, Mo Claiborne did have two picks. The defensive line dominated the line of scrimmage so much so that I thought Sam Montgomery was lining up in State's backfield. But the LB's? Quiet.
On offense, this may have been Jarrett Lee's best start of his LSU career. He put in a nice, workmanlike performance in which he took advantage of a defense selling out for the run. Described in a word, he was efficient.
However, let's not pretend he was Bert Jones out there. Lee went 21/27 for 213 yards with a TD and an INT (ATVSQBPI of 7.00). That is exactly the kind of performance LSU needs from its quarterback. He didn't get overly ambitious, and Lee threw a lot of short passes for a modest gain. Lee didn't play for the big gain and as a result, never really got a big gain. He just completed a high percentage of, well, high-percentage passes.
In the end, LSU's lines won this game. By the fourth quarter, LSU's superior depth just worse State out. Holes got a little bit bigger, and that's all Spencer Ware needed to put the game away.
It wasn't a statement win. There's still plenty of concerns - the less said about the kicking game, the better - but it was the kind of game that reveals LSU's quality. LSU won a game by playing nowhere remotely near its best game. The team seemed bored, like they didn't want to be playing a game on a Thursday night. But, as the game wore on, LSU slowly enforced its will and when you looked up at the scoreboard, suddenly it seemed the game was completely out of reach.
This was the classic "Bill Parcells win". You got a win, but the coach still has plenty of things to yell at his team about. LSU can't afford to sleepwalk through the season because there's too many tough teams on the schedule. Conversely, you can't ride the emotional roller coaster every week or you will crash.
Last year's Tigers got by on that roller coaster. They lived and died by emotion. This year's team is better. They can get a big win, on the road against a top 25 team, without needed to dip into that tank of emotional fuel. This win wasn't as impressive as Oregon, but it was just as revealing of LSU's overall quality. Maybe even moreso.
It was just so ugly, you might have missed the beauty in it.