LSU Tigers vs. Mississippi State: Tigers nearly run out of Death Valley


Stat of the game: 2-13.

That was LSU’s third down efficiency. The final stat sheet made the game look competitive, but since LSU could never convert a third down, the Tigers never had a chance to make a dent on the scoreboard.

Make no mistake, the score is not remotely close to an accurate representation as to what occurred on the field Saturday night in front of 102,321 in Tiger Stadium. The Mississippi State offense (while only converting 5-14 on third down) was a big play machine, led by Dak Prescott. Prescott ran for 105 while also throwing for 268 in a thorough dismantling of the LSU defense.

The Bulldogs racked up over 500 yards of offense on an LSU defense that looked its age for the first time this year and looked out of place. When LSU was in position, the secondary gave good coverage, but too many Bulldog receivers ran wide open routes with nary a white jersey around.

The interior defensive line was nonexistent. On one particular Josh Robinson run, there wasn’t a single defender between the hashes for LSU as Robinson galloped along. State’s line thoroughly dominated the 3-DT rotation used by LSU for most of the game, running for over 300 yards.

Much like 2013, these LSU Tigers has little depth they can rely on inside. John Chavis obviously has little faith in anyone behind Christian LaCouture, Quentin Thomas, and Davon Godchaux. Others like Lewis Neal didn’t enter the game until late, when it was becoming painfully obvious the Tigers wouldn’t be coming back in this one.

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This was Anthony Jennings worst outing to date. Here’s his stat line: 13-26, 157 yards, 6 yards per pass, no touchdowns or interceptions. No turnovers is a good thing, but that’s not a stat line that will win an SEC game when you can’t run the ball (which I’ll get to in a minute). In a nutshell, Jennings just looked lost at times. Numerous errant throws to no one and passes off the mark that receivers couldn’t make plays on.

Perhaps his biggest mistake was holding onto the ball too long, which he’s done all season. When your offensive line is struggling to hold the defense back, holding on to the ball is a death sentence. When LSU went to single read looks to help Jennings, the coverage was just good enough and the passes just off enough to be unsuccessful.

This offensive line is bad. Jeff Grimes continues to tinker, as I saw Ethan Pocic get the start at RG, but it still isn’t creating any holes in the running game. Some of that is because of the nonexistent passing game letting defenses load the box, but this line should be having more success than they are. Leonard Fournette was LSU’s leading rusher with a meager 38 yards on seven carries.

Sep 20, 2014; Baton Rouge, LA, USA; LSU Tigers running back Leonard Fournette (7) runs back a kickoff against the Mississippi State Bulldogs during the third quarter of a game at Tiger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

I thought Fournette should have gotten the ball more in this game. LSU got behind early and was forced out of their game some, but I saw Fournette continue to see the holes better and was making good plays. No reason why he shouldn’t have gotten more carries in the first half.

All in all, it was a well-rounded awful performance by the offense. Problems at every level combined to utterly ground LSU when they had the ball and allowed the Bulldog defense to tee off on the LSU ground game.

The only position group that had a decent day was the receivers, who despite a couple drops of their own, made the most of their opportunities. Travin Dural and Malachi Dupre had good days at the office, with Dupre hauling in another beautiful TD toss from Brandon Harris.

Speaking of Brandon Harris, if there was one ray of light, it was his play at the end of the game. I don’t care that State was in a prevent-style defense, what he was able to do Jennings hasn’t shown he has the ability to. Yes, Harris nearly fumbled the ball in the end zone on the first snap, but his talent advantage is obvious.

I’m not ready to say Harris should get the start, but I’d be willing to give him the lion’s share of snaps against New Mexico State next weekend.

His grasp on the playbook might not be what Jennings’ is, but right now if Jennings can’t complete passes it doesn’t matter what he knows. It’s obvious Harris is the better passer right now, even in his limited state. His 140 yards in the final two minutes was only 17 less than Jennings could manage, arguably when State had fewer pass defenders on the field (in the prevent, MSU was only rushing 3 linemen).

If this season is going to have more growing pains–and it will–then Harris should still be in the mix. It’s becoming more obvious each week that he is the future of this offense. Relegating him to just the backup for the sake of having a single starter is not worth it if Anthony Jennings can’t get a passing game going against a team that was shredded by UAB two weeks prior.

LSU has a lot of work to do and every issue won’t get fixed quickly. The offensive line is the major concern, as there’s been little improvement thus far. The defensive line needs more bodies they can rely on. The secondary and linebackers must be in position at all times. I’d wager that the line problems are bigger than quarterback play (but not by much).

The Tigers get one more tuneup before the meat of the schedule begins. It’s time for them to buckle down, because it gets no easier from this point.

*As an aside, MSU center Dillon Day is one of the dirtiest players I’ve seen in a while. Day jumped directly on Davon Godchaux, causing him to come out of the game, then later tried to stomp on another Tiger player. Later, Day was given an unsportsmanlike penalty for a late hit. He should be reprimanded and suspended by the conference.