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Behind the Box Score: LSU v Mississippi State

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Ummm... maybe we should be talking about the defense?

So which is the real defense? The 1st three quarter or the one in the 4th?
So which is the real defense? The 1st three quarter or the one in the 4th?
Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

Before we move on to Auburn Hate Week*, let's spend one last day looking back at opening game of the season with one of our semi-regular deep dives in the box score. I can't break down game film like Billy or Paul, but I can look at numbers, and try and glean some meaning from the statistical record.

*OK, one thing. How awesome was that Jacksonville St game? Not just because Auburn was taken to the limit by a FCS team, and not just because the only reason Auburn escaped with a win was JSU's inexplicably poor decision making, but because it was beautiful seeing all of the college football world unite in its mutual hatred of Auburn. There was none of that stupid "SEC! SEC!" BS, and instead it was millions of fans of all stripes coming together and in one voice saying, "We hate Auburn and hope they lose." It brought a tear to my eye.

Here are the numbers which mattered most this weekend:

1. The number of pass attempts by Brandon Harris in the fourth quarter. We've belabored the point, but it still bears repeating one last time: LSU had 17 offensive plays in the fourth quarter, and only one of them was a pass play. Then again, nine of those 17 plays came on 42-yard drive which drained 4:46 of clock. The only pass play of the drive was an incompletion on third down which forced the punt.

12. The number of carries by a running back not named Leonard Fournette. One of the hallmarks of Les Miles' offensive playcalling over the years is spreading the carries out amongst a stable of backs to keep the bell cow fresh. Fournette had 28 carries, Williams had 12, and no other back showed up on the stat sheet. That's a huge philosophical departure for Miles, and speaks to how highly he values Fournette. He's the first guy he's ever been willing to give a huge portion of the carries.

17. Combined punts. Let's not do that again. To give some credit to the teams, part of that was a function of neither team turning the ball over. Yet with 17 combined punts, each team only had a single return, which they combined for 23 yards. That's a lot of fair catches. Keehn only averaged 39.0 yards per punt, but he did boom a 58-yarder and five of his nine punts were downed inside the 20. I know people were unhappy with his performance, but that's a good night for a punter. One huge one, over half of his punts downed inside the 20, no touchbacks, and only one return. What more do we really want?

34-52-335. Yes, Dak Prescott threw for over 300 yards. It also took him over 50 pass attempts to do it. Nearly 250 of those yards came on drives which ended in the fourth quarter, which we'll get to in second. LSU bottled up Prescott for nearly three quarters, and he had a brilliant fourth to key the comeback which ultimately fell just short. Sounds pretty familiar.

9-40. Mississippi State's best drive prior to their final drives. State had four drives which ended in the fourth quarter (one started in the third). Those drives resulted in two touchdowns and a field goal attempt. They combined for 36 plays and 249 yards, all but 8 yards of that coming via the air. State only had 129 yards of offense in the rest of the game. One of the biggest issues which has dogged LSU the past two seasons has been late game defense, and for all of the well-earned plaudits Steele earned this weekend, that same issue reared its ugly head again. Yes, LSU should have thrown the ball a bit more, but this distracts us from the real issue: the defense again had a letdown late in a game. Despite State's huge yardage edge in the fourth quarter, the offense did its job and kept the defense stretch, holding on to the ball for 9:23 of the final period.

5. The number of double-digit yardage plays wiped out by penalty. This includes two touchdowns by Travin Dural, who has to feel particularly cursed this morning. It's not just that LSU had 55 yards in penalties on these plays, but that the penalties erased nearly 200 yards of offense. The box score looks completely different without those mistakes. Yes, some of the calls were questionable, but some were not, particularly the holding call on Diarse which wiped out Dural's long TD run and the chop block on Clapp which eliminated a 16-yard first down run by Harris. LSU spent too much time beating itself.

1-0. Most importantly, LSU starts the season at 1-0 in conference play, particularly after last year's disastrous 0-2 start. LSU now has a home game against a suddenly vulnerable Auburn squad with a chance to completely reverse its record from last season. Looking ahead, LSU then has two games against South Carolina and Florida, neither of whom have covered themselves in glory. This could very well be LSU's tough SEC opponent until November. LSU will be favored in every game until then, and probably the 6 points against Auburn will be the closest spread in any of those games. The door is wide open for LSU to start the season 7-0 and in fact, LSU will be heavily favored to do so.