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Behind the Box Score: Mississippi St.

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A slow-motion butt-kicking

NCAA Football: Mississippi State at Louisiana State
Just guessing, but this probably ended up as an interception.
Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s not be coy: this was a huge win for LSU.

I know we tend to be dismissive of Mississippi State, as winning 14 in a row and 21 of 22 tends to breed a sense of overconfidence. But in the past five seasons, State has been one of LSU’s toughest opponents, winning two of four, including a 37-7 ass kicking last year.

State profiled as possibly a better version of Florida, a team that beat LSU already this year. The Bulldogs boast perhaps the best front seven in the conference, and they also have a powerful and effective run game. The game plan was simple: make the game as ugly as possible, get to the quarterback repeatedly, and then hope the LSU defense would wilt under the relentless hammering of the running game.

It was a worrisome strategy because it had already worked on LSU this season, and LSU had every reason to be looking ahead on the schedule. But this was sneakily one of the biggest games of the year. 4-4 in the SEC was still very much on the table, and LSU’s great start could easily crash against the rocks of the second half the schedule.

That was not to be. LSU gutted out a tough win in the ugliest ways possible. But this is exactly the kind of game LSU needed to play: the Tigers faced down that awesome front seven, the terrible weather, and a brutal, hard-hitting game. In the end, it was State who wore down, not LSU. The Tigers instead got stronger as the game went on, and slowly but methodically put this game away.

4-4. Cole Tracy’s field goal attempts. Tracy’s kicking was technically the margin of victory, but he was about as close to being the MVP as a kicker can be. He dominated this game not just because of his freakish accuracy, but because Orgeron could manage the offense by relying on his leg. Playing for field goals isn’t glamorous, but this was a game in which every point mattered, and LSU simply slowly distanced themselves with four consecutive field goal drives.

4. Nick Fitzgerald interceptions. To win this game, State needed mediocre production from its quarterback. Sound familiar? Though he did deliver 131 yards on 23 carries, Fitzgerald was a dismal liability with his arm, going 8-24 for 59 yards. He threw a pick on the game’s first possession, setting up a short field for LSU’s first touchdown. He threw a pick on the team’s final two drives, dooming any chance of comeback. He was awful.

2.5. LSU’s average yards per rush. Let’s give the Bulldogs defense credit, they absolutely bottled up the LSU offense. While we’d expect this to start with their pass rush, they were particularly effective against the run. Nick Brossette and Clyde Edwards-Helaire combined for 33 carries for just 103 yards. Brossett’s longest carry was for 12 yards, CEH’s was 11. There was nowhere to go.

2/14. Mississippi St’s third down conversion rate. State came into the game with a 44.7% 3rd down rate, but they simply could not keep the chains moving against LSU. State went 1 of 9 in the first half, hurting them even more because that was when LSU could not move the football at all. State failed to take advantage of LSU’s first half offensive struggles, and by the time they moved the football, it was too late.

260. Mississippi St offensive yards. State won the yardage matchup 260-239, but 112 of those yards came on the final two drives of the game, when LSU was protecting a 19-3 lead and cared more about the clock than the yardage gained. It was a nice bit of stat padding which made the statsheet look closer than it actually was.

21-110. LSU plays and yards in the third quarter. It’s become the theme of the season: LSU has played poorly in the third quarter, letting teams off of the mat, and turning blowouts into competitive contests. The Tigers went into the half up just 10-3, expecting the ball to start the next half. And for the first time all year, they shut the door in the third. LSU had two full drives in the quarter, one for 10-55 and the other 9-44. Both resulted in field goals and burned a total of 7:40 of clock. The third drive of the quarter started with 2 runs for 11 yards before the end of the frame. LSU finished the drive in the fourth, closing out on a 10-play, 51-yard field goal drive which ate 5:13 of clock. LSU’s first three possessions of the second half scored nine points, but also drained 12:53 of the game. LSU finished with just 239 yards on the game, 150 of which came on those three drives.

16-28-1. Joe Burrow’s line. Burrow threw for just 129 yards and was sacked twice. This was his first real clunker of a game. Ironic, because he improved his completion percentage. Receivers dropped a ton of balls, particularly early, but to Burrow’s credit, he never lost faith in anyone. His 16 completions would end up going to 8 different targets. He looked awful early, but Burrow never panicked, and he found his form late in the first quarter, guiding the team to a field goal right before the end of the half. He would continue that momentum in the third. It wasn’t pretty, but it was a gutty performance.

5-53. LSU penalty yardage. 45 yards of it came on one play. 30 of it was for the silliness of two players being happy and having the temerity to show it. But the big penalty wasn’t about the yardage, but the resulting first half suspension for Devin White for the next game. Maybe you’ve heard about it.