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Mississippi State 37, LSU 7: Post-Game Review

Analysis: that was bad.

NCAA Football: Louisiana State at Mississippi State Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

LSU fans have enjoyed a hyperbolic level of discourse for most of my experience writing about Tiger football.

But it’s not hyperbole to call what happened Saturday a generational loss. Losing to State by 30 hasn’t happened in my lifetime, or my parents’ lifetime. In fact, it’s never happened in all 111 years of the series.

LSU appeared to be completely unprepared, unmotivated and uninterested in playing an SEC football game on Saturday, and Mississippi State beat them from pillar to post. During the game we saw a lot of back-and-forth on twitter on analogizing this game to other losses, like the 41-7 pasting by Auburn in 2014. But to me, that doesn’t quite hold up. If you remember, Auburn raced out to a 31-7 lead in the first-half of that one, and by the second quarter that game was, for all intents and purposes, over.

This one was 17-7 at half, and it felt like LSU just needed one big play to really get things going. Unfortunately, a targeting penalty proved to be the spark that allowed State to score on the first possession in the third quarter. The Tigers went three-and-out and the route was on.

This reminds me much more of LSU’s 31-0 loss to Alabama in 2002. Some may remember it as the Sprint-Draw Game, where Bama rolled up something like 200 yards rushing with one play over and over and over again, in a dull beating that lasted all 60 minutes. This didn’t involve just one play, but it did involve State landing punch after punch while the Tigers alternated between just standing there and taking them and actively leaning into the punches.

The most disturbing thing I could say about this game is that it looked so much like Orgeron’s Ole Miss teams. Undisciplined and unprepared and quickly unglued in the face of adversity. They looked like a completely different team from the final eight games of 2016, and they looked like a team that may not win many more games this season. Turning this around will be about both coaches and players — Orgeron and his staff have to find the right buttons to push for this group, and the players themselves have to decide exactly how good they want to be.

LSU will be able to win these next two just on physical mismatches with Syracuse and Troy. But what will ultimately matter is how the Tigers grow through this moment show that improvement on the field before the trip to Florida in October.

It’s one thing for a young team to have a bumpy road. It’s another for the entire car to look like it got shifted into reverse. We’ll find out which of these are the case, one way or another.

Bullets will be a bit abbreviated, because there just isn’t all that much to break down on something this ugly:

  • In my game preview on Friday, and the ability to consistently stay on schedule and on gameplan would determine which offense had the most success. LSU averaged 4.7 yards per play on first down. Mississippi State averaged 5.9.
  • Mississippi State’s average yardage needed on third down was 5.6, LSU’s 7 even. State finished 7 of 13 on third down, LSU 3 of 13. Schedule matters.
  • There’s no defending the penalties at this point, but I will, however, stand by that three of the major ones in the first half were complete and total bullshit — worst of all, the offensive pass-interference call that negated D.J. Chark’s 70-yard touchdown. Chark and Stephen Sullivan ran a post/wheel route combination off play-action and the play worked exactly as it should be. Sullivan’s route took him in the path of the safety trying to cover Chark, and he was wide open. It was NOT, however, a pick. Sullivan didn’t block the defensive back nor did he initiate the contact. You will see worse examples uncalled on a quarterly basis in almost any other football game. The league should apologize for this mistake, and the referee that threw the flag should be disciplined. (I’m going to ride on this for every egregious call this season and I don’t give a damn what anybody thinks about it.)
  • That said, there’s no excuse for the palpable deflation we saw on LSU’s sideline when that play came back. If this team never thought it would face adversity from an external factor besides the other team, they’re sadly mistaken.
  • Not that it matters, but the DPI on John Battle and the cut-block call on Garrett Brumfield were total jokes. State spent most of this game cutting on the edge of every single wide running play.
  • The two targeting calls in the second half were 100-percent appropriate. Donnie Alexander came into this season with big expectations of a strong senior season. To date, he’s been suspended for a game and committed several boneheaded penalties in the two games since. I’m hesitant to say “never” with the thin depth in this front seven, but I don’t know that he’ll get back in this lineup once his first-half suspension ends next week. That targeting penalty negated a three-and-out to start the third quarter and, arguably, was the point at which this game completely got away from LSU. It was inexcusable.
  • That’s not to downplay Neil Farrell’s equally dumb penalty later on in the second half, but by that point the wheels were well off of this thing. There’s no magic fix for penalties. Every team has referees in practice and those referees are instructed to call it like a game. It’s almost like free-throws in basketball — you can make 100 in a row in practice, but that doesn’t matter once the lights are on.
  • Back to the line of scrimmage. State’s cut-blocks worked largely because there was little pursuit. There was little pursuit because State’s offensive line absolutely dominated LSU’s wounded front and consistently got blockers to the second level. It was easy to see the staff was concerned about the absence of Rashard Lawrence when they shuffled Greg Gilmore out to end and put Ed Alexander in the starting lineup. Give Gilmore and Christian LaCouture credit for hustling through the end of this thing, but the simple fact is they just got pushed around at the point of attack.
  • One player who absolutely deserves to be singled out for not only his play, but his effort and intensity through the increasing futility, is Devin White. He fought through blocks and ran plays down through all four quarters. Finished with 11 tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss. Right now, he’s the best player on this defense, until Lawrence returns and Arden Key gets up to speed.
  • I didn’t chart Key’s total snaps, but he definitely played a lot. All things considered, 3 tackles and a half-a-sack isn’t a bad stat line, and shows just what kind of talent he is. But this defense is going to need him to create more of a presence in the pass-rush.
  • When you don’t have a pass-rush, you see a lot of late-breaking sideline routes and crossing routes coming open. Good defensive backs can’t cover forever.
  • Speaking of defensive backs, after the first drive or so State’s completely blanketed LSU’s receivers with tight, physical coverage. As much as any other, this looked like a group that was just playing in a complete fog once Chark’s touchdown was called back. They just looked like players who couldn’t comprehend what was happening to them, as Russell Gage misplayed a basic out-route that led to a three-and-out, and Chark dropped a potential big play on a skinny post.

I think I’ll just leave things there. Danny Etling didn’t play well, but he’s never going to be able to carry a team when everything else goes to crap like this. Play-calling wasn’t great, but nothing works when a line can’t block and receivers can’t get open.

This was the rare loss that is 100 percent as bad as it seemed. Time will tell if it’s a sign of things to come, or a teachable moment.