STARKVILLE, Miss. — The bells tolled for LSU here Saturday night.
And it is an ominous sound for a season in which Southeastern Conference play — and the Tigers' many, many road games — has only just begun.
All of LSU’s fragility was on display against Mississippi State. The killing penalties. The talented but young players counted on to fill key positions. The lack of depth on the lines. The new offense into which LSU doesn’t look like it’s taken root yet, with a completely ineffective passing game after the first play (more on that later).
Can't see the video below? Click here.
All of that conspired to leave the Tigers on the short end of a shocking 37-7 score. It was a truly embarrassing display for what was now humorously ranked as the nation’s No. 12 team, and leaves LSU searching for many answers with seven SEC games left. Four of those games are on the road against teams as formidable (Ole Miss, Tennessee) or more (Florida, Alabama) than Mississippi State.
STARKVILLE, Miss. — Greg Gilmore is prepared to say it, ready to step into the LSU team room…
If you’re an LSU player or coach, what do you say after a game like that? Probably many of the same things LSU fans were no doubt saying.
“I got in the locker room and told them I was embarrassed,” linebacker Devin White said. We gave up 30-something points. We’ve got to be more disciplined.”
“I feel we never quit, but I’m embarrassed by the lack of discipline we had as a unit,” quarterback Danny Etling said. “But I’m more mad.”
“Maybe we’re not as good in some spots as we thought we were,” LSU coach Ed Orgeron said.
A sour tone was set for LSU from the start when Etling executed a textbook play-action pass and hit a wide-open DJ Chark for a 67-yard touchdown pass on the Tigers’ first drive. It was erased by a controversial pick play penalty on LSU receiver Stephen Sullivan.
Things really never got better for LSU. The penalties and the empty possessions mounted, and so did the score.
This was LSU’s worst margin of defeat ever against Mississippi State. Watching Bulldogs dual-threat quarterback Nick Fitzgerald operate Dan Mullen’s offense was like watching former State quarterback John Bond weave and pass his way by LSU to four straight wins from 1980-83.
Of course, it wasn’t just what Fitzgerald did. The Tigers had an equal hand in their demise. For the third straight game they scuttled themselves with a string of crucial, and as Orgeron said on radio at halftime, “stupid penalties.”
Even after what you figure what was another chewing out by Coach O at halftime, it continued. Donnie Alexander was ejected for targeting on Fitzgerald. Freshman defensive lineman Neil Farrell reprised Alexander’s ejection later in the quarter.
The Tigers, who were penalized 10 and 11 times respectively in their first two games, were flagged nine times for 112 yards Saturday. That’s 30 penalties in three games. Orgeron suggested after the game he may make his team run miles of sprints as punishments for the bumper crop of yellow flags.
“We need to be punished,” White said.
Were it only penalties, and the lack of discipline they imply, that troubled LSU. But the Tigers also got shoved around on both the offensive and defensive lines. Receivers turned into pass-dropping pumpkins once again, effectively snuffing out any slim hopes LSU had of mounting a comeback.
The Tigers defense, short-handed, spent and ultimately disheartened as the game wore on, was one thing. It was by far the worst performance by a Dave Aranda defense to date.
But what of Matt Canada’s supposedly new-fangled offense? LSU employed more shifting and motion than in its first two games, games in which you figured the Tigers were trying to keep things under wraps as much as possible with their biggest test coming here Saturday.
Test failed. Big fat “F.” Maybe the whole thing should have been left under wraps. What LSU did certainly didn’t seem to fool the Bulldogs.
I still believe this will be a better team in November than it is in September. But how many losses might the Tigers and their fractured confidence be saddled with by that point? If LSU’s performance against Mississippi State is a barometer, a team the Tigers were 23-2 against since 1992, this is a loss that has the potential to set LSU back years. Until recently, LSU rarely, if ever, lost to State, and never this badly.
Davis Wade Stadium’s cowbells were evil music in the Tigers’ ears. Changing the tune could be a monumental task.