The LSU defense wobbled on the first drive, allowing the Bulldogs to drive down the field and into scoring position. The feeling turned when the defense forced a fumble, and Damone Clark returned the ball into State territory. The offense moved in fits and spurts, but the Tigers found the end zone.
It set the tone for the rest of the game: LSU narrowly avoiding disaster and things working out better than they possibly could have expected.
Early the fourth quarter, I was staring at a blank page. LSU was up by 11, but I didn’t want to jinx it by writing the “We won” column. After taking a 21-3 lead, State immediately responded with a touchdown on their own with LSU’s first major coverage bust of the game.
One drive later, LSU was facing 3rd and long, needing the conversion to keep the momentum from swinging entirely in State’s favor. Max Johnson’s pass fell incomplete, well overthrown of the receiver. Then came what subtly might have been the biggest play of the game.
A State rusher attempted to jump over a blocker, resulting in a 15-yard penalty. It was only the Bulldogs’ second penalty of the game, and it turned fourth down into 1st and 10. Two players later, two Bulldog defenders collided, leaving Kole Taylor’s path to the end zone absolutely unimpeded. The game wasn’t precisely over at that point, but it was close to it.
Was it a dominant win? Sort of. LSU never trailed, and after a touchdown on the opening play of the second half, never let the Bulldogs within two scores until the final two minutes. On the flip side, many of the problems which have dogged LSU this season were still readily apparent.
The Tigers simply cannot run the football. Tyrion Davis-Price led the team in rushing with just 51 yards on 13 carries. And while Corey Kiner showed some flashes, he only added 14 yards to the total. LSU ended the game with 66 yards rushing, and that’s with nursing a lead.
The offensive line? Still a huge question mark, and not one that improved when it appeared Austin Deculus left the game with an injury.
The defense kept State off the scoreboard for most of the day, but they also allowed State to march up and down the field with near impunity. LSU forced just one three and out in the entire game. LSU allowed five drives of 60 yards or more (including the last three drives of the game), and another three of 30+ yards. Sure, the red zone defense was terrific, but that’s not what you really want to count on.
Mississippi St. amassed 486 total yards on the game. More notably, Will Rogers completed 47 of 62 attempts. Sure, they kept it underneath, and he finished with 371 yards, but that’s a lot of success to concede. Furthermore, the Bulldogs kept drives alive by converting 12 of 18 3rd downs. That’s a killer.
There’s also the matter of a killer instinct. LSU went up 21-3, and spent the rest of the game watching that lead slowly whittle down. They should have been resting starters in the final two minutes, not sweating out a desperation drive. Sure, it was desperation, but the fact State was still in it was because LSU could not deliver the knockout blow.
Did it matter? Not really. Not when you have Kayshon Boutte. He was his usual amazing self, opening up the scoring in each half, with touchdowns on the opening possessions of both the first and second half. He is so clearly the best player on the field that it is nearly impossible to notice when he isn’t out there making plays.
It also helped that Mike Leach doomed any chance of a comeback with one of the most inexplicably stupid challenges on the kickoff, ensuring that LSU did not have to give the ball back to his team and give them one last chance to score.
LSU beat a bad team. That, in and of itself, is progress when compared to last year, as we will not re-live last season’s trauma. LSU looked like the better, more talented team, which they are. Now, they need to take this effort from the first three quarters, and beat a good team. Because they are coming.