Before the season’s start — hell, before last weekend — I wasn’t expecting LSU-MSU to have a big impact on shaping the 2017 SEC season. Instead, the decisive margin of victory has led to Orgeron’s coaching (and his ballyhooed coordinators, for that matter) coming into question again and Mississippi State being hailed as a potential power.
For obvious reasons, I decided to give the replay a watch.
The first thing that jumped out at me is how undisciplined LSU looked. Dumb penalties (two for targeting on the quarterback long after the pass had been thrown), guys out of position all night, effort that tailed off as the game wore on are all things I’ve not been used to seeing out of a LSU team. Miles may have run boring offenses, but I don’t recall seeing that level of sloppiness out of his teams, at least not very often. (LSU during his run was 11-1 against Mississippi State.)
Matt Hinton details the breakdowns:
Maybe it wasn’t a single moment but a slow, tedious accumulation of them. Most obviously there were the penalties: Nine of them, for 112 yards, and more consequential in the moment than in the box score. The offense had a long touchdown pass negated by a penalty on the first series and a second score wiped off the board later in the first half. The defense needlessly extended a Mississippi State drive in the third quarter, on a roughing-the-passer penalty that turned an apparent three-and-out into an MSU field goal. Minutes later, another LSU defender was flagged and ejected for targeting, jumpstarting a drive that ended with an MSU touchdown.
Beyond the flags there was all-purpose dysfunction: Missed assignments, dropped passes, lethargic coverage, a critical third-down throw that bounced off the face of an open receiver. A full third of LSU’s total offense, including the vast majority of its passing yards, came on two late, futile drives in the fourth quarter that yielded zero points.
The penalty that wiped out the early touchdown was a bad call that normally would lead to hypothetical thinking about how that might have changed the game, but based on the level of play LSU brought, I’m not sure it would have made much of a difference. The Tigers looked like a team that thought it would beat a lesser SEC opponent based on talent alone, only to find it had no way to answer when reality intruded.
The big question left unanswered for LSU is whether that game was a one-off, or the harbinger of a longer season than Tiger fans anticipated. There’s plenty of talent, to be sure, which makes you think LSU’s still good for eight wins, but does Orgeron strike you as the kind of guy who can right the ship?
That all being said, it’s wise not to minimize the MSU side of the equation. Dan Mullen had his team ready to go. Read the first two points Bill Connelly raised in his post-game analysis and it’s pretty obvious that the Bulldogs were ready for what LSU threw at them; the meltdown on the Tigers’ side is simply what made the margin of victory so large.
So Mississippi State rolls into Athens, its players full of confidence in themselves and their coach’s game plan. What should we take away from their rout of LSU?
- Going back to the And The Valley Shook! post, the feeling there was that youth wasn’t served. (“… on Saturday, we asked boys to be men as we stepped into league play and they failed spectacularly with your routine freshman penalties, missed assignments and generally getting pushed around.”) This season, LSU has played more true freshmen than any team in the country. Guess who’s third in that category?
- Some of that pushing around was the result of LSU being thin on the defensive line, something, again, I’m not accustomed to seeing. There were a couple of injuries and an ejection. On top of that, it was Arden Key’s first game back in months and it wasn’t reasonable to expect that he was in top condition. That won’t be a problem for Georgia, or, at least it isn’t a problem going in.
- But, yeah, I’m not gonna deny that Jeffery Simmons versus the interior of Georgia’s offensive line gives me pause. Simmons isn’t quite as quick as Trent Thompson, but he’s strong as an ox, very fluid and possesses great instincts for running down a play. He’s going to be a big problem.
- Which, of course, leads me to the topic of Todd Grantham. The MSU defense looks very much like what you’d expect from something he’s directing: fast to the ball, extremely aggressive at the line of scrimmage and hopeful that his defensive backs can hold their own. (I will give him credit for one thing Saturday night. There wasn’t much confusion among his players when plays were being signaled in.) I have no doubt that he will do everything in his power to make Jake Fromm beat his defense, but there’s no reason to believe that a Georgia team can’t handle a Grantham defense. (If a temporary offensive coordinator can do it, Jim Chaney had better damn well do it.)
- Yes, Darius Guice only rushed for 76 yards, but a lot of that was due to LSU being in catch up mode for the second half. He did average five yards a carry, although the Bulldogs never let him break out for a huge run. Grantham’s defense didn’t take the LSU passing game seriously when it mattered, and that paid off. That is something to think will carry over to their Georgia game plan.
- MSU’s offense is all about Nick Fitzgerald. Let me just say here that I love Nick Fitzgerald’s game. The reason I do is that he plays totally within himself and the offensive game plan. His patience is as impressive as his straight ahead speed. He will take what is given on a play without trying to force something risky. The result Saturday night was steady nibbling broken up by big plays when the Bulldogs caught the Tiger defense napping. That’s the big lesson for Georgia’s defense. If they can’t maintain the edge as they did against Notre Dame, another team that wanted to run the ball, they will get eaten alive.
- Fitzgerald’s a decent passer and he’s got some receivers, but what makes MSU’s passing game go is the threat of the run. That’s where Smart and Tucker have to make their stand.
- Mississippi State’s special teams looked pretty decent, despite starting a true freshman place kicker. It will be interesting to see if Georgia’s impressive start limiting opponents’ punt returns survives Donald Gray.
Let me know if you have anything to add.