STARKVILLE, Miss. — Joe Burrow sensed the sluggishness first thing Saturday morning.
The LSU quarterback said he could tell teammates weren't quite as locked in as they had been, didn't have the same fire in a Tigers team that rose to No. 2 in the country by winning its second top 10 game over Florida last week.
The mood spilled into LSU's first three offensive drives against Mississippi State that afternoon, when the Bulldogs stonewalled the Tigers thrice within their 10 yard line, forcing a record-setting offense to settle for field goals each time.
It was enough for Mississippi State's first touchdown of the game to offer the illusion of closeness, enough for the Davis Wade Stadium to echo with fans ringing cowbells, enough for people to wonder if LSU's offense was indeed fallible.
STARKVILLE, Miss. — Chauncey Rivers. Remember the name. Because the Mississippi State defensive end may have slowed down Joe Burrow for one pl…
Even after LSU pulled away, after Burrow threw a 60-yard touchdown to a wide open Race McMath that set LSU toward a 36-13 win, the Heisman candidate stepped into an interview with the CBS broadcast and said: "If we play like that next week against Auburn, we're gonna lose."
It's the second straight week that LSU has not played up to its quarterback's impeccably high standards.
After LSU's 42-28 win over Florida, Burrow addressed the locker room and told them not to "let good enough get in the way of greatness."
It's a much different message than a year ago — a season when LSU exceeded expectations with an "Us vs. The World" mentality.
"Last year, we always felt like we were the underdogs, man," LSU safety JaCoby Stevens said.
Joe Burrow didn't need 13 or 14 games to supplant two huge names in LSU's record books. He barely needed half of that.
LSU was a 10-point underdog when the team took a 2-0 record into Auburn, stunning the nation when former placekicker Cole Tracy kicked the 42-yard game-winning field goal as time expired.
This year, LSU will almost certainly be the favorites when Auburn comes to Tiger Stadium on Saturday, and Burrow knows his offense will need more than just field goals against those Tigers.
"I think we're gonna have to execute better in the red zone next week," Burrow said. "We're not going to get as many chances as we did next week."
Auburn has the 13th-ranked red zone defense in the nation, holding opponents to just a 70% scoring clip when teams reach within the 20.
Stevens said he looked up at the jumbotron at Mississippi State and saw how Auburn throttled Arkansas 51-10 on Saturday.
"Hopefully, we can come out and try and dominate this game," Stevens said. "Hopefully, we don't have to win the game by a last-second field goal."
Auburn will be another test for the LSU offensive line, a unit that didn't surrender a sack to a talented Florida defensive front, although the Gators were battered with a few injuries.
Auburn's defensive line is at full strength, bruising opposing backfields with possible first-round NFL draft pick defensive tackle Derrick Brown, plus edge rushers Marlon Davidson and Big Kat Bryant.
The Auburn rush is tied for No. 28 in the nation with 20 total sacks, and tied for No. 19 with 54 total tackles for loss.
Burrow faced immense pressure against Mississippi State, which sacked the 6-foot-4, 216-pound senior three times with creative blitz packages.
Mississippi State was sending delayed blitzes, Burrow said, where defenders were reading LSU's backfield. If the Tigers running back stayed back to block, the Bulldogs would blitz.
Burrow said LSU started sending the running backs out in routes late in the first half, and the pressure "calmed down a little bit" from then on.
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LSU coach Ed Orgeron also noticed the offensive line was getting overloaded on the edges. Left tackle Dare Rosenthal, a redshirt freshman, was starting in place of regular starter Saahdiq Charles, who has missed four games with what Orgeron has called "coach's decisions."
Burrow was sacked from the blind side in the second quarter, and he appeared to land on right tackle Austin Deculus. The 6-foot-7, 322-pound junior left the game for a series and returned after being checked on by trainers.
"I think we were getting beat one-on-one on the tackles, which we hadn't gotten beat in a while," LSU coach Ed Orgeron said. "They were running some pressures ... We just weren't clicking on offense like we usually were."
It's not an assessment anyone would make by looking at the box scores, which showed Burrow passing 25-of-32 for 327 yards and four touchdowns to four separate receivers.
And the LSU defense, which entered the weekend ranked No. 70 nationally with just eight total turnovers, forced three in a takeaway frenzy. The Tigers scored a touchdown and a field goal off two of those turnovers — extra possessions that helped lift the team ahead.
"The offense is not going to play great, on fire, every week," Orgeron said. "You just can't expect that. There's going to be a time when it's gonna be rainy and you're gonna be on the road, and offense is not playing well. That's why you've gotta play great defense."
And with No. 11 Auburn and No. 1 Alabama, it's worth asking the question: Is LSU at full strength yet?
"I think we're getting there," Cushenberry said. "In my opinion, we're just getting started. You've seen the flashes of what we can be. I feel like this week, we're about to get it rolling."