By GLENN GUILBEAU | Tiger Rag Featured Columnist
BATON ROUGE – New Mississippi State defensive coordinator Todd Grantham is considered one of the best in the business. He has coached in the NFL and was previously defensive coordinator at Georgia and Louisville. He is known for an aggressive style.
But, on occasion, even he will go to a prevent defense.
Such was the case Saturday during Mississippi State’s 57-21 victory at Louisiana Tech. In one of the strangest phrases ever written on a play-by-play sheet as the game account read:
LA Tech Ball – 3rd and Goal at LA Tech 7-Yard Line
That’s 93 yards away! The previous play notation read:
LA Tech Ball – 2nd and Goal at Miss. State 6-Yard Line
What happened in between was one of the worst plays in Louisiana Tech history. Just six yards away from a touchdown with three plays to score while trailing 57-14 in the fourth quarter, one of the worst snaps in Louisiana Tech history happened. A shotgun snap by center Ethan Reed to quarterback J’Mar Smith went over his head and kept bouncing and rolling.
“Smith is going to have to go all the way back,” an announcer described as Smith appeared ready to recover near midfield. “He didn’t secure it! It’s still loose! … It’s still loose! … Rolling all the way back! … The ball is still loose!”
At this point the ball was accidentally kicked as Mississippi State players tried to run it down. If that impromptu kicker can be identified, LSU coach Ed Orgeron may try to negotiate a quick transfer. It had a nice flight on it.
“It’s inside the 20,” the announcer said. “Who wants the football? It is finally recovered by Louisiana Tech back at the seven.”
Louisiana Tech redshirt freshman wide receiver Cee Jay Powell of Maringouin and Livonia High finally recovered. And after the 87-yard loss, Tech faced a third and 93 with new center Drew Kirkpatrick, who replaced Reed.
What do you call? Senior tailback Boston Scott of Zachary High rushed for 21 yards through Grantham’s deeply situated defense to set up a more manageable fourth and 72 from the Tech 28. Tech did not go for it. What began as an impressive drive ended up netting three yards on nine plays. Tech actually later scored for the 57-21 final.
“I know I’ve never seen an 87-yard loss when you’re going in,” Tech coach Skip Holtz said. “You snap the ball over the head. It gets kicked, booted, punched, dropped.”
Holtz may have been describing what he felt like … not what he saw. His team actually led 9-0 early.
It was truly a scrum, so much so that it reminded Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen of Manchester City’s 5-0 destruction of Liverpool earlier Saturday. He’ll be ready for anything when State (2-0) opens Southeastern Conference play at 6 p.m. Saturday on ESPN2 against No. 11 LSU (2-0) in Starkville, Mississippi.
“Crazy stuff right there,” Mullen said. “I’m like watchin’ it, and I’m like, ‘Just pick it up.’ It was like – honestly! Looked worse than Liverpool this morning. Awful.”
State’s defense improved to 1-0 against Third-And-93 conversion attempts.
And that’s not all. Grantham’s influence got two touchdowns from one defensive player in the same game for the first time since 2009. Defensive tackle Jeffery Simmons, a sophomore from Macon, Mississippi, scored his first touchdown after blocking a punt and recovering it in the end zone for a 10-9 lead in the first quarter.
“That was crazy,” Mullen said. “Wasn’t it? Safe punt, blocks the punt, scores, and he was going crazy. That was pretty exciting to see.
Then in the third quarter, he returned a fumble recovery 90 yards for a touchdown and 50-14 lead.
Statistically, LSU will play one of the best defenses in the nation on Saturday as Grantham’s unit is No. 1 in the SEC and No. 4 nationally in passing yards allowed with 89 a game. State is also No. 2 in the SEC and No. 6 nationally in total defense with 174 yards allowed a game. LSU, by the way, is No. 1 in the SEC and No. 5 in the nation in total defense with 169.5 yards allowed a game.
“We have a young football team, and we drop down, 9-0,” Mullen said. “Todd does a fantastic job. He said, ‘Everybody just calm down.’ You know what I mean? I was really pleased that he did a great job of calming our guys down after an atrocious start. Everybody just calmed down and did their job.”
State’s defense limited Tech to 152 yards rushing and 163 passing while collecting four sacks.
“Now, Mississippi State has a great defensive coordinator,” said Orgeron, whose offensive line allowed two sacks of quarterback Danny Etling to Chattanooga on Saturday. “They’re going to give him some pressure. We’re going to have to protect. He’s going to have to make some plays with his feet. I have a lot of respect for Mississippi State. They’re a hard-nosed football team. It’s a tough crowd down there. We’re going to practice with noise. We’re going to put those speakers right behind us. We might get a couple guys to ring some cowbells or something like that. Dan Mullen is an excellent coach. This is going to be a battle.”
LSU has two straight wins over State, but by a combined five points – 23-20 last year and 21-19 in 2015. State won 34-29 in 2014 in Tiger Stadium.
“The last two years, it came down to the last play,” Orgeron said. “It’s going to be a 60-minute game. Attention to detail is going to pick up.”
LSU’s improving play action passing game will need to stay away from third and long – particularly third and 93.
GUILBEAU POLL: 1. Alabama (2-0), beat Fresno State, 41-10. 2. LSU (2-0), beat Chattanooga, 45-10. 3. Auburn (1-1), lost to No. 3 Clemson, 14-6. 4. Georgia (2-0), won at No. 25 Notre Dame, 20-19. 5. Florida (0-1), game with Northern Colorado canceled due to Hurricane Irma. 6. Tennessee (2-0), beat Indiana State, 42-7. 7. South Carolina (2-0), won at Missouri, 31-13. 8. Missouri (1-1), lost to South Carolina, 31-13. 9. Mississippi State (2-0), won at Louisiana Tech, 57-21. 10. Arkansas (1-1), lost to TCU in Arlington, Texas, 28-7. 11. Texas A&M (1-1), beat Nicholls State, 24-14. 12. Ole Miss (2-0), beat UT Martin, 45-23. 13. Kentucky (2-0), beat Eastern Kentucky, 27-16. 14 Vanderbilt (2-0), beat Alabama A&M, 42-0.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “I’ve been watching LSU since my ninth-grade year in high school, and I’ve never seen ’em take this many shots. We were going to take whatever the defense gave us. And that’s exactly what we did. Throwing the ball that many times in a game, never. Until today.”
… LSU Wide Receiver Stephen Sullivan on deep passing game by Tigers.