Somewhere in my attic, amid the holiday decorations and a copy of an old Rand McNally road atlas, there is a maroon cowbell my wife and I got as a wedding present 30 years ago.
LSU quarterback Joe Burrow had one growing up as well. His dad, Jimmy, once played at both State and Ole Miss before ending up as a standout defensive back at Nebraska, and his parents live in Amory, Mississippi. A place where cowbells always make a fine wedding gift or toy for a child, I’m sure.
A lot of non-Mississippi State folks find themselves holding their heads Quasimodo style (The bells! The bells!), but personally, give me cowbells over that whistling abomination from Vanderbilt. The bells and an NBA arena-worthy sound system can make Davis Wade Stadium a surprisingly ear-splitting place to play, despite the fact it is one of the Southeastern Conference’s smaller venues (61,337).
It is into this scene that the 6-0 LSU Tigers go, carrying a significant amount of baggage. Positive baggage, it must be said, but baggage nonetheless:
• LSU is No. 2 in this week’s AP poll, throwing its College Football Playoff aspirations into sharper relief than at any moment this season
• People are suddenly talking up Joe Burrow’s Heisman Trophy contender status to the point where voters at ESPN say he is currently the favorite.
• The schedule is ratcheting up to full song, coming off a 42-28 win over Florida and with a home game next week against Auburn followed by the showdown of all showdowns against Alabama on Nov. 9.
It looks like your classic trap game, especially when you consider how much Mississippi State watered down its scare factor after losing 20-10 last week at Tennessee, one of the SECs worst teams. In one pratfall, the Bulldogs (3-3, 1-2) went from The Blair Witch Project to Casper the Friendly Ghost.
If you’ve followed LSU football for a long time like I have (I already told you about the 30-year old cowbell in the attic) you remember the Tigers trapesing across the state line to get their balloons burst by inferior Mississippi State teams. Back-to-back trips especially, like 1982 when John Bond and Dana Moore toppled unbeaten LSU a week after beating Alabama for the first time in 12 years. Or in 1984 when last-place State shocked the Tigers 16-14 and cost them at least a share of the SEC championship (it was later vacated by Florida over recruiting violations).
There are three reasons LSU won’t let that happen this time. Three rings of the bell, if you will, that will have the Tigers notching another “W” in the win column:
Clanga! Tigers have long memories
People who say LSU could fall victim to a trap-game upset Saturday in Starkville are forgetting this very important score: State 37, LSU 7. The Bulldogs embarrassed the Tigers at Davis Wade two years ago, and there are still plenty of LSU coaches and players on the team who remember that debacle all too well.
Count coach Ed Orgeron among that number.
“Here is what I will remind them,” Coach O said this week. “I will remind them that we walked into a hornet's nest two years ago and I didn't have them ready. That was one of the loudest stadiums we had played in all year. Not only the cowbells, but the music, the fans were into it. Obviously, they played lights out.
“With Mississippi State, they're going to pick one game a year that there's a target on. Always seems to be LSU. They're going to play their best game. We're going to expect their best football game.”
Clanga! Clanga! LSU is simply the better team
Except for a few key numbers — turnovers gained, time of possession and rushing offense — this game is a statistical mismatch.
- Scoring offense: LSU 1st; MSU 11th
- Total offense: LSU 1st; MSU 12th
- Passing: LSU 1st; MSU 14th
- First downs: LSU 1st; MSU 9th
- 3rd-down conversions: LSU 1st; MSU 11th
- Scoring defense: LSU 6th; MSU 11th
- Rushing defense: LSU 2nd; MSU 11th
- Sacks allowed: LSU 4th; MSU 14th
- Passing yards allowed: LSU 8th; MSU 10th
The Bulldogs had a better chance last year in Tiger Stadium, empowered by a defense led by three future NFL first-round picks: tackle Jeffery Simmons, end Montez Sweat and strong safety Jonathan Abraham. But LSU rendered Nick Fitzgerald and the Joe Moorhead offense one dimensional in a suffocating 19-3 victory.
Perhaps State’s freshman quarterback, Garrett Shrader, gives the Bulldogs’ offense a bit more diversity, along with running back Kylin Hill who is well on pace for a 1,200-yard season. But LSU’s top three receivers — Justin Jefferson, Ja’Marr Chase and the still injured Terrace Marshall — all average more yards per game than does State’s top receiver, Osirus Mitchell. Offensively, it’s hard to see the Bulldogs keeping pace.
Clanga! Clanga! Clanga! The Tigers aren’t entirely thrilled with themselves
LSU’s win over Florida convinced a lot of poll voters and national media that the Tigers were deserving of a No. 1 ranking — or at least a spot in the top two. But after giving up four 75-yard touchdown drives in a span of five possessions to the Gators, LSU players weren’t popping champagne corks.
Burrow told his teammates they were good, but that merely good was not good enough. Defensive end Breiden Fehoko said a lot of LSU’s defensive players were left with a feeling like they’d lost the game.
“That's not how we want to play football at LSU,” Orgeron said. “We want to play great defense. That's not acceptable. It's not what we want to do. Our defensive staff, we had a meeting (Monday) morning. We're looking at things we're doing structurally, technique-wise.”
Orgeron is sounding the alarm because he is convinced, wisely so, that the Tigers will have a game where the offense isn’t simply able to overwhelm the other team. Maybe it’s this week at State. It certainly could be next Saturday against Auburn. But like Clemson in its 21-20 victory at middling North Carolina three weeks ago, every contender is going to have a close call along the way.
“We’ve got to get better,” Coach O said.
That kind of attitude doesn’t make LSU sound like a team that’s just looking for a walk over against Mississippi State. And that doesn’t bode well for the Bulldogs.