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Breaking Down the Box Score: Mississippi State

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A catastrophe in black and white.

How do I know this pic is from the first half?
How do I know this pic is from the first half?
Derick E.Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

The other guys here like to breakdown the film in their post mortem, but I still like to first reach for the box score. There's no place to hide in the cruel, cold ledger of the numbers. This is what happened, and there's no escaping it. The record endures.

Seeing as this week we've got a light game against a relative patsy, the time gives us even more time to dwell on the worst loss of the Les Miles era. This was a home loss at night to an unranked team. Additionally, it was the program's first loss to Mississippi State since 1999. Yes, the final margin was only five points, but this was an utter domination for most of the night. There were no external excuses like Tennessee 2005 or even a hostile environment like last year's Ole Miss game. LSU lost to an unranked team at home at night for the first time in Miles' tenure.

Now, maybe State is terribly under-ranked, and I think you can make a good case they should have been at least in the top 25, but this is a team that struggled against UAB and lacked a quality win against a top tier SEC program under Mullen. State isn't 2011 Alabama.

Fournette: 7 carries for 38 yards

Lost in everyone bitching about I-formations and starting too many possessions with a run play is that LSU largely abandoned its best rushing weapon. Fournette had only 7 carries in the game, and not one in the second half. The rushing totals he put up in the first are usually the kind of numbers you see for a guy who had a 100-yard game. Start off strong, but eventually wear them down in the second half. It's obvious why LSU abandoned the run, but it's not like LSU was in a 24-point hole at the start of the second half. It's simply inexcusable play-calling for your star running back, who had a decent frist half, to not touch the ball in the second.

Mississippi State Third-Down Conversions: 5 of 14

Throw in a failed 4th down conversion near the end of the game, and State wasn't terribly effective on 3rd down. They didn't really sustain drives, something we'll get into in just a bit. 35.7% on third downs is not great, but it's not awful either. What's interesting here is that State built their first half lead, by and large, without any third down conversions. The Bulldogs converted their first third down of the game, by scoring a touchdown on a fade route on third-and-seven. After that? State failed on every third down for the remainder of the half. State went 1 of 5 on 3rd down conversions in the first half, which helped LSU stay in the game.

After that opening fumble of the second half got LSU within a touchdown, the crowd got back in the game. State immediately faced a third-and-10 on their own 25 yard line. They converted it. Three plays later, State faced another third down, and not only did they convert, they scored another touchdown. On State's next drive, following an LSU three-and-out, State faced 3rd and 7 on their first set of downs. Dak Prescott completed a 74-yard pass to Jameon Lewis for a touchdown. State only converted five third down opportunities in the game, but they converted three in a row to start the second half.

It's not just how many you convert, it's when you convert. State was clinging to a seven-point lead and a dormant crowd was coming alive. Just over five minutes of game clock later, State had a 31-10 lead and the rout was on. It's probably a completely different game if LSU gets a stop on any of those third down plays, particularly on that first drive.

State would only convert one more third down in the game, on their epic 16-play, 88-yard drive that started on their own 1 yard line with 5:16 left in the third. That 16 play drive only had ONE first-down conversion, a third-and-9 from the MSU 2. Again, it's not how many, it's when. State saved their conversions for the most critical plays.

6 plays, 5 plays, 5 plays, 5 plays, 5 plays, 4 plays

Those are the length of State's drives in the first half. State wasn't controlling the ball with long, methodical drives, they were gashing LSU with huge plays. Their first drive went for 51 yards, keyed by a 25-yard play. Their next touchdown drive went 98 yards in five plays. The middle three plays went for 26, 23, and 44 yards, respectively. State's 5-play, 73-yard drive only included two plays that went for positive yardage, the opening 66-yard rush by Josh Robinson, and then another 7-yard rush. State's other three drives in the half went for a combined 31 yards on 12 plays.

This doesn't make it any better, of course, but the problem was not a defense that was getting beat consistently. The problem was a defense that when it got beat, it got beat big time. State had five plays gain a total of 188 yards in the first half. They would gain 65 yards on the remaining 25 plays of the half. Those were five extremely costly plays, and only on one drive to State string together big plays.

The second half was more of the same, with one extreme outlier that I've already mentioned: State's 16-play, 88-yard field goal drive spanning 5:27, eating up the last third of the third quarter.  That drive was actually LSU's worst defensive effort, as State gobbled yards at a consistent pace: 2, 0, 12, 5, 6, 2, 10, 11, 8, 5, 21, 11, 5, 1, 0, FG. Ten of fifteen plays went for at least 5 yards. That's getting crushed.

But those two previous drives which opened the game up were just like the first half: 6 plays for 75 yards and 3 plays for 77 yards. The drives were keyed by 56 and 74 yard scoring plays. 130 yards came on 2 plays, the other 7 plays on those drives gained 22 yards. All told, Mississippi State gained 318 yards in just seven plays, all leading to scores.

LSU: 0 punt return yards

A mark of LSU teams under Les Miles has been the ability to make big plays on special teams to turn the tide in big games. Let's give a lot of credit here to Devon Bell, who punted six times for a 40.5 yard average. His kicks were long and high, making them completely unreturnable for Tre White. Every time he made the catch, there was a Bulldog, usually two or three, right in his face. White called for five fair catches in the game, and never had an opportunity to give the team a spark with a return. Bell deserves a lot of credit for that.

0 rushing yards

That's how many yards State gained from players not named Prescott or Robinson. State had 302 yards rushing, and every single one of those yards could be accounted for by just two players. Who says you need depth? To be fair, the other backs did combine for 24 yards on 8 carries, but all of that was wiped out on the -24 TEAM rush for snapping the ball over Prescott's head. If you assign those yards to Prescott, the rest of the team accounted for 24 yards for an average of 3.0 yards per carry.

8 plays, 8 plays, 7 plays, 8 plays

LSU's first two drives of the game stalled out on three and out, but LSU's next four drives were a combined 31 plays. This stretch of play started with LSU only down 7-0, so these drives came when it still could have significantly impacted the game. These four drives accounted for 31 plays, 13:28 of game clock, 159 combined yards, and 3 points.

While State was marching up and down the field with relative ease on the back of big play after big play, LSU slowly and methodically grinded out yards but virtually no points. Every drive was difficult, and outside of one big play for 44 yards to set up the fourth and goal, reliant on LSU winning almost every play. Very few offenses are good enough to win every play, and LSU is certainly not in that class. But LSU kept digging its own hole by continually calling up pass plays on second down which set up third long. On second-and-7 or more, LSU called a pass play or a QB run seven out of eight times. The one run was a first down, by the way. The pass plays? They worked three times. The other half lead to third-and-long, and LSU went 1-4 on third-and-7 or more on those four drives.

Third-and-long was set up by second-and-long, and an inability to get anywhere near that 5-yard average.

188 passing yards

LSU finished with 341 yards passing on the game. 188 of those yards were compiled by someone other than our starting quarterback. Harris finished with 140 yards passing, and Terrence Magee had 44 yards passing on one attempt. Jennings went 13 for 26 for 157 yards and was sacked three times. He was officially credited with 11 rushes for 6 yards. He finished was dismal 4.41 ATVSQBPI. Without his deep ball to Travin Dural, he doesn't add much to the offense. If we're going to discount Harris' fourth quarter numbers, which I think we should, we should do the same for Jennings' fourth quarter. Through three quarters, he was 10 of 20 for 99 yards and two sacks. His ATVSQBPI through three was 3.73. He went 3 of 6 for 58 yards in the final frame, getting sacked once. Propped up by a 49 yard gainer, he had an ATVSQBPI of 7.29 in the fourth.

I'll say it again. Harris may not be the Answer, but I'm virtually certain that Jennings isn't either. He had a terrible game.