STARKVILLE, Miss. — After struggling from the outset of Saturday night’s game with Mississippi State, the LSU offense got things going with a determined drive early in the second quarter.
Powering the ball down the field on their fourth series just after Mississippi State scored the first touchdown, LSU responded nicely with an eight-play, 65-yard drive to tie the game at 7-7.
Every play was a run, with Derrius Guice picking up 50 yards along the way, including a 25-yard dash to the Mississippi State 20, and the Tigers were even able to overcome a holding penalty that took a 20-yard scoring run on a Derrick Dillon reverse off the scoreboard.
But after hard runs of 7 and 10 yards by Darrel Williams, the second of which officially got LSU on the scoreboard, it went south real fast for the Tigers in a 37-7 blowout loss at noisy Davis Wade Stadium.
Penalties, including a huge one that wiped out a perfectly-thrown touchdown pass on the Tigers’ fifth play from scrimmage, and a litany of other miscues proved to be too much for the offense to overcome in LSU’s Southeastern Conference opener.
LSU committed four offensive penalties in the first half, one on wide receiver Stephen Sullivan for pass interference while DJ Chark was gathering in a 67-yard touchdown pass from Danny Etling that cost the Tigers dearly.
Penalties, not turnovers, were a major problem for the second week in a row although LSU managed to survive in a 45-10 rout of Football Championship Subdivision opponent Chattanooga.
“We had good plays and plays that are designed to hit,” Etling said after a ragged night on offense for the Tigers. “They’re huge momentum-killers. You can’t have penalties.
“Coach (Ed) O (Orgeron) did a great job punishing us for the penalties we had last week,” he said. “He brought in the refs to make sure that we had clean practices and all those things. But we went out there, and, unfortunately, didn’t perform the way we should.”
While the penalty on Sullivan hurt, LSU was still in the game after Williams scored at the end of the Tigers’ fourth possession.
“We felt good after that drive,” LSU tight end Foster Moreau said. “We got to the sideline and the guys were all excited. Guys were hyped and we had the momentum. We were psyched.”
The momentum disappeared rather quickly, however.
LSU’s defense gave up a field goal on State’s ensuing possession and the offense started the next series with an illegal block penalty on left guard Garrett Brumfield that put them in a first-and-22 hole.
That flag started a chain of events that would eventually give Mississippi State all the momentum it would need to record its largest margin of victory over LSU in a 111-game series.
LSU had 10 offensive possessions. The Tigers had one touchdown, seven punts and turned the ball over on downs twice.
Etling said the Tigers found themselves in long yardage on first and second downs, which only complicated the problems they were experiencing.
“We kept putting ourselves in first-and-20, first-and-25, second-and-20 and you don’t have a great play call for those,” he said. “All of a sudden, it’s third-and-long. You just try to get out.”
They never could.
On its next four possessions, which covered the final 5:04 of the second quarter and the entire third period, LSU’s offense managed 31 yards on 14 snaps while Mississippi State was piling up 30 unanswered points.
In that time, LSU had one first down and that came courtesy of the State defense on a pass interference call on the second drive of the second half.
Etling had little time to throw, his receivers had trouble getting open and the Tigers running backs had few holes to run through after the Bulldogs defense rose up.
Throw in two dropped passes by Russell Gage and Chark in the second half and a couple sacks, and it was a miserable night for an LSU offense that couldn’t muster much of anything in the final 35 minutes.
LSU picked up just 149 total yards in the first half and finished the game with 270 yards on 58 offensive snaps. The Tigers averaged just 4.7 yards per play.
Etling, who was sacked twice, was just 13-of-29 passing for 134 yards.
Guice had his streak of four consecutive 100-yard rushing games snapped when he picked up 76 yards on 15 carries with that 25-yard blast — which matched his season-long run that he had a week ago against Chattanooga.
After drops by Gage and Chark in the second half, LSU had to call timeout when it appeared wide receiver Drake Davis lined up on the wrong side of the formation late in the third quarter when things continued to go bad.
“You have tough losses,” Etling said. “Tough losses are not fun. The thing you can’t do is play the blame game.”