LSU 19 ... Mississippi State 6
- LSU 19 ... at Mississippi
It’s a question that always comes up in the college football recruiting world. What if you gave Wisconsin a slew of four and five-star high school talents?
Wisconsin likes to say it recruits to a certain type of player, but of course it would love to get the superstar prospects that LSU brings in. This year, it appears that Les Miles, a Michigan man, has tapped into his inner Big Ten to create a team that combines the toughness of the Badgers with the defensive backs and next-level defensive lineman of a typical LSU power, and the results have been phenomenal.
LSU has its share of speedsters and athletes – as does Wisconsin – but so far, it destroyed Oregon and Mississippi State by being bullies on the offensive line, hard-nosed on the defensive front, mistake-free on offense – save for one bad throw from Jarrett Lee against MSU – and brutally effective and efficient. Unlike any of the recent SEC champions to win the national title, this LSU team isn’t just going to win on talent and it’s not going to win on some sort of spread scheme; it’s going to win on intimidation, attitude, and toughness.
And Jarrett Lee.
Wisconsin’s style of play only works at a high level when it has an effective, heady quarterback who can take advantage of beaten up defenses that spend all game long worrying about stopping the run. LSU so far has gotten that kind of play out of Lee, who completed 21-of-27 passes for 213 yards and a touchdown with a pick in Starkville a week after making news by not screwing up against Oregon. It’s been proven in the past that LSU doesn’t need a Cam Newton or a Tim Tebow to win a national title, and Lee just might be the type of Matt Mauck game manager who complements the rest of the team perfectly.
Spencer Ware and Michael Ford punished the MSU defense, while the O line took a page out of the Badger playbook and used the combination of pressure and time to make the Bulldogs break. Sure, stopping tough running games isn’t that hard in the first quarter, but midway through the third, the tackles start to get a little slipperier to make, and that’s when LSU took control on Thursday night.
The comparisons to Wisconsin, though, stop – at least this year – with an LSU secondary that lost the best defensive back in college football and got even better. Patrick Peterson might have been special, but at LSU, he’s replaceable, partly because the defensive line helps the cause by generating pressure, and partly because the school brings in special players for the secondary.
Like Wisconsin, though, it’s hard to get respect with this style of play, and it already started with the broadcast, the postgame analysis, and from Miles himself. Winning Big Ten-style isn’t always pretty. What LSU did to Mississippi State doesn’t look like Oregon running up and down the field for 72 points and 400 yards rushing, and it isn’t awe inspiring like Oklahoma winging the ball around the yard. But with the right personnel, this style is far more effective and far more consistent over the course of a long season, and now, more than just because of the talent, there’s going to be a fear factor when it comes to playing LSU.
More than ever, and quite literally, Miles really does have a damn strong football team.
It’s the line play, stupid.
He who owns the line of scrimmage, usually owns the scoreboard. It’s an old adage that LSU proved once again in Starkville Thursday night. Football is still a relatively simple game, even as playbooks expand and terminology changes. Tackle, block, execute. Few do it better than Les Miles’ Tigers. Yeah, you can label it winning ugly, especially after scoring just a single touchdown and sputtering in the red zone. LSU prefers to call 19-6 SEC road wins a success story.
The Bengals win games as if it’s the 1950s, and Billy Cannon is still in Baton Rouge. In front of a frenetic Mississippi State crowd, they yielded less than 200 yards and just a pair of field goals. The overmatched Bulldogs line had no chance on this evening. How good was LSU up front? It got 5.5 combined stops for loss from tackles Bennie Logan and rookie sensation Anthony Johnson, who weren’t even listed as starters at kickoff. On offense, the line did just enough to control the clock and spring RB Spencer Ware for more than 100 yards.
This LSU team doesn’t do sexy. It’s not even in the Tigers’ vernacular. What they do is win in an old-school manner, owning the line of scrimmage long enough to wear out their opponents. It’s a time-tested formula that Miles’ kids are going to leverage until someone can figure it out.
By Matt Zemek
It doesn’t seem possible that Jarrett Lee hit 21 of his first 26 passes… not when LSU scored just 16 points over the course of those 26 passes. Nevertheless, the point is plain: A team with a dominating, decapitating, fire-breathing defense just needs its quarterback to be a custodian of the offense and a loving, protecting shepherd of the football. Lee has been that man through three games, and his defense has done the rest. LSU is going to sweat a number of times this season – it will not land early knockout punches against competent offensive teams – but as long as Lee doesn’t throw untimely picks, the Bayou Bengals’ defense will give them a profound degree of leverage on almost every autumnal Saturday.
It’s already a sure bet that LSU-Alabama will be the headcracking, hellfire-filled defensive showcase of the year, a brutally overwhelming physical endurance test of massive proportions. As long as Lee can get out of the way, LSU will have a shot. If Lee can remain the efficient quarterback he’s been so far this season, the Tigers’ chances of winning the SEC West – the portal to everything else on their list of goals – will increase exponentially.
For Mississippi State, the problem with this game was… well… the opposing defense with yellow helmets. The Bulldogs can’t be disappointed about dropping this game. A brave effort against a top-five opponent should not be cause for sadness. This game’s lamentation for MSU is that it magnified the failure at Auburn the week before. If the Bulldogs had shown Thursday night’s flinty defense against Auburn, this two-Tiger trip through the middle of September would have produced a split.
Now, MSU is 1-2, and the heat on Dan Mullen to produce a season worthy of his team’s talents has suddenly increased. The benching of quarterback Chris Relf was not one of Mullen’s better moments as Mississippi State’s coach, to put it mildly. Yet, that move had no bearing on the final outcome… not with LSU’s defense sitting on the other side of the line of scrimmage. The key for Mississippi State is to maintain this level of competitive grit… and to not allow these two SEC West losses to hijack the rest of the season.
By Russ Mitchell
Follow me on Twitter @russmitchellcfb
Entering the game, MSU's Rushing Attack was ranked #1 in the SEC. 34 runs later and the wheels have officially come off the cart for the Bulldogs.
1.5 yards per carry. That's all Mullen & Co were able to muster. That's terrible in its own right, but it was more than that.
Brandon Marcello of The Clarion-Ledger reminds us that with a little more than five minutes to go in the game, the Bulldogs had been held to six yards of offense in the second half.
Perhaps most troubling was the last few minutes, when MSU did not use any timeouts; instead they appeared willing to let the clock expire and just get off the field.
There are a lot of seniors on this team - including some important ones in
Chris Relf and Vick Ballard. We can understand the loss, but we expected a lot more fight from the Bulldogs.
After watching this LSU defense simply brutalize MSU, one thing stands out for certain - if you're a
quarterback on the LSU schedule, good luck, brother.
By: Barrett Sallee
Follow me on Twitter: @BarrettSallee
Three games into the season, it’s clear that Dan Mullen and the
Mississippi State Bulldogs are not ready for prime time.
The Bulldogs entered this season as a dark horse to contend for the SEC West crown. With two losses in their first three games, they are now essentially eliminated from division title contention considering the strength that lives in the SEC West. Mullen is now 0-10 vs. SEC West opponents not named Ole Miss, and five of those losses have been by 20 or more points. That shouldn’t impress anyone.
Critics will point to Mullen benching quarterback Chris Relf as a sign that he panicked and isn’t ready to handle the kind of pressure that comes with big-time SEC football. I disagree with that assessment. Relf was struggling so bad to move the football in the second half that Kentucky was probably laughing at the futility displayed by the Bulldog offense. A change needed to be made, even though, in hindsight, it didn’t work out.
Mississippi State’s problem against LSU was much deeper than the quarterback. The Bulldogs just don’t have the personnel to match up with the fast, physical SEC defenses that Mullen had while he was the offensive coordinator at Florida. That was apparent on Thursday night.
For LSU, this is another notch in the belt. A road win in the SEC is always something to be cherished, especially when you get some answers to key questions in the process. We know LSU is going to live and die with defense, but it was the offense that showed signs of life - at least compared to the standard that former offensive coordinator Gary Crowton set for the Tigers last season.
Running back Spencer Ware was a monster between the tackles. If not for one of the best running back groups in SEC history this year, Ware would already be a star in this conference. Quarterback Jarrett Lee - he of pick six fame - was remarkably consistent through the air save for one bad decision on an interception in the fourth quarter. LSU fans had to enjoy seeing Lee connect with wide receiver Rueben Randle early, and then hit him in the corner for the game’s only touchdown to put it away in the fourth quarter.
With a defense like LSU has, all it needs is a little bit of offense to maintain its status as a legitimate national title contender. The Tigers have enough this season.