BATON ROUGE, La. – Since the turn of the century under the guidance of Nick Saban, Les Miles and the last 11-plus months of Ed Orgeron, LSU Tigers football has provided a plethora of “wow!” moments.
Saturday produced another one and it was different for all the wrong reasons.
Mississippi State 37, LSU 7. Let that marinate for a minute.
As much as the Tigers have been a dominant program in the SEC the past 17 seasons, there have been some glaring losses. But there were almost always some factors attached, tangible or intangible, and the bulk of any lopsided losses in this current era have come against teams that were just better than LSU.
Was that the case Saturday? Maybe with the benefit of hindsight, it’s fair to say that the Bulldogs (3-0) were the better team. More experienced on defense, one of the best quarterbacks in the SEC, a coach who has been through several seasons – all that added up can explain a lot about a loss.
But 30 points better? The most lopsided win over the Tigers for the Bulldogs in 111 meetings?
A couple of things are going to happen in the aftermath, as sure as God made little green apples:
- There will be some blame pointed at officials, especially for the phantom offensive pass interference call that wiped out an LSU touchdown and maybe for the two targeting infractions and ensuing ejections.
There is some credence for the complaints about the PI flag. It was a weak call on a receiver who appeared to simply be running a route and got caught up in the wash. Maybe an early touchdown changes the complexion somewhat, but it’s hard to think Mississippi State’s offense wouldn’t have answered considering how often the Bulldogs did the rest of the night.
As for the targeting calls, both were 100 percent correct. Both were totally unnecessary as well and not only cost the Tigers yards and two players but seemed to galvanize the Bulldogs.
- Danny Etling will be the target of misguided slings and arrows.
Part of that is because he is A) The starting quarterback; and B) Not a dynamic quarterback, which makes him easier to blame.
Etling’s numbers weren’t good: 13-for-29 for 137 yards. What those stats don’t reflect are a handful of drops, when receivers had to make plays, and a handful of other passes turned loose under pressure because the Tigers’ offensive line struggled with State’s pass rush.
While Etling could’ve been better, pinning an awful offensive night on him is equivalent to plucking down low-hanging fruit that has gone bad.
To be blunt, LSU offensive coordinator Matt Canada had a really bad night with what he called and, perhaps most glaring, what he steered away from.
The Tigers’ lone fruitful drive was fueled by grinding away at the Bulldogs on the ground with Derrius Guice and Darrel Williams, with a timely jet sweep to Derrick Dillon (and most of that was wiped out by one of the 9 penalties LSU drew for 112 yards).
On a night when the Tigers managed only 270 yards from scrimmage, 75 came on the ground on that series. Instead of sticking to what was working, Canada was erratic with his play-calling and the offense suffered. With the game still up for grabs, LSU scrounged out only 19 yards on 15 snaps on the four drives after the TD.
What Saturday needs to be for Canada is a live-and-learn experience. Now that he has coached against an SEC defense with a much higher level of talent than he has seen before, Canada should be more in tune with how to punch and counterpunch.
- Rumblings about whether Orgeron is the right man will begin.
Only thing that needs to be said about that is: Don’t do it.
This was one game in a 12-game marathon. It was an ugly loss for sure, but the calendar still reads September. A season can change a lot over nine weeks and Orgeron and his coaches deserve the benefit of the doubt to see if they can use this as an effective teaching tool.
What Saturday should show in bold, underlined and capital letters is that wins in the SEC are hard to get in any venue against any opponent.
LSU didn’t appear to be well-prepared as the Bulldogs and the Tigers let their emotional guard down once things began to snowball. Those are signs of a young team, and in this case one playing on the road in the SEC for the first time.
So there should be some level of understanding why and how things went so badly.
That just doesn’t make an unexpected thumping any easier to digest for LSU fans, players or the coaches now in charge of overseeing the recovery process.