BR.mississippistatelsu.092620 2167 bf.jpg

LSU coach Ed Orgeron fires up his players on the sideline during the second half against Mississippi State at Davis Wade Stadium on Saturday Sept. 25, 2021, in Starkville, Miss. LSU won 28-25.

STARKVILLE, Miss. — It was this kind of Saturday for LSU:

The Tigers broke big play after big play in an exhibition not seen in 22 years.

And Ed Orgeron tried to break his headset flinging it to the ground after a busted coverage.

The Tigers executed an unusual defensive scheme with patience and determination.

And that same scheme nearly cost LSU the game late when 88 plays in, the Tigers had no more keys left to press.

LSU was fingernail close to dominating a Southeastern Conference opponent on the road, up 18 points with just over 11 minutes to play.

And LSU also was a successful Mississippi State onside kick away from perhaps suffering the humiliation of a program-shaking collapse.

When it was over, and the shadows started to stretch across the manicured expanse of Davis Wade Stadium’s field, the LSU Tigers were in the corner of the south end zone in front of their band, gratefully celebrating a hard-fought 28-25 victory.

LSU is now 3-1 overall and 1-0 in the SEC, which ultimately are the only things that matter. But was it a victory that inspired confidence that LSU is ready to win the big games ahead?

Pressed for an answer, the answer must be no. Not based on the way this game turned out.

First, the here and now. This was a game LSU, and Orgeron, just had to have. With five nationally ranked SEC West opponents ahead on the schedule — starting with Auburn next Saturday night in Death Valley — and a trip to always tough-as-a-$3-steak Kentucky, this was arguably the “easiest” game on LSU’s conference slate. Still, it was hardly an easy “W” with the memory of State’s passing attack barbecuing the Tigers for an SEC record 623 yards passing last year in the back of everyone's mind.

Despite that, LSU came through. The defense was better, the offense was opportunistic and Orgeron — the south Louisiana man who always seems to win when his back is to the bayou — did it again.

“Good team win,” Orgeron said.

LSU sports news in your inbox

If you're a Tiger fan you won't want to miss this newsletter. Sign up today.

Later, he added, “I wish we would have finished better.”

LSU started well, and in the middle of the game the Tigers were beating the Bulldogs with superior skill. A 28-10 lead with 11:32 remaining seemed to seal the lid on State’s hopes of victory.

But LSU still can’t truly impose its will on the opposition because it can’t effectively run the ball. And it has trouble keeping quarterback Max Johnson upright. He was sacked twice and hurried four times while the Tigers’ netted just 63 yards rushing on 27 carries.

“It is not satisfying,” LSU radio color analyst and former All-American Doug Moreau said afterward. “LSU had an opportunity to control this game and did not do it.”

It’s ultimately not a satisfying win in that LSU could not impose its will on an inferior opponent. LSU — by definition a 4-3, but more accurately a 4-2-5 defense — was wedded to the 3-2-6 scheme it uncorked on the Bulldogs. Designed to keep State receivers from ripping off big gains, it worked for the most part. The Bulldogs’ biggest play was a 29-yard Will Rogers to Makai Polk touchdown pass that led to the demise of Orgeron’s headset. Overall though, State’s “Air Raid” offense was forced into an endless procession of short, surgical strikes.

On the flip side, how does LSU — a team with reams more talent than State, even without injured All-American cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. — have to resort to a gimmick defense to subdue the Bulldogs? A passing grade for innovation, but not for just old-fashioned smothering the opposition.

It might have been different had Mississippi State not been so committed to a program of self-destruction Saturday. The Bulldogs fumbled on a promising game-opening drive that Damone Clark returned to the State 30, setting up LSU’s first touchdown. LSU turned a punt into a touchdown when the Bulldogs’ Rodney Groce committed a personal foul by leaping over a blocker, setting up Johnson’s 41-yard touchdown pass to Kole “The Flying Shoe” Taylor. That made Johnson the first LSU quarterback with three touchdown passes of 40-plus yards since Rohan Davey in 1999 against Arkansas. And State coach Mike Leach burned his last timeout with 1:53 left to try to overturn the ruling on the Bulldogs’ failed onside kick attempt, though he could not argue he saw anything legitimate that was likely to overturn the call.

Had Leach kept the timeout in his pocket, State had a fair shot to stop LSU’s one-handed offense and get the ball back with at least a chance to tie the game against the Tigers’ exhausted defense. Instead, Johnson was able to take a knee three times and run out the clock.

Victory formations will be dearly prized possessions in LSU’s weeks to come. The next six weeks are a meat grinder with Auburn (admittedly looking mighty vulnerable after its game Saturday with Georgia State), at Kentucky, Florida, at Ole Miss and Alabama, and surprising Arkansas at home.

It’s great for LSU to come home with an SEC road win.

But the road isn’t relenting.

Email Scott Rabalais at srabalais@theadvocate.com

Tags