By JAMES MORAN | Tiger Rag Associate Editor
STARKVILLE, Miss. — DJ Chark streaked open down the right sideline and Danny Etling hit him in stride for what appeared to be a 67-yard touchdown strike on the opening drive — and then it wasn’t.
Wide receiver Stephen Sullivan was called for a controversial offensive pass interference foul, erasing the long score and setting the tone for a long night of more blatant infractions to come.
“I think we were able to put it behind us,” Etling said later. “The problem was we kept having more penalties.”
LSU committed more penalties (9) than it managed points (7) in a humiliating 37-7 defeat at the hands of Mississippi State in Starkville on Saturday night to begin Southeastern Conference play with a wet fart of a performance.
“It just kills you,” Etling said. “It costs you a game. And not just to get beat, but to get beat like we did out there.”
The problems were numerous — wholly uninspiring play along both lines of scrimmage, an out-of-sync passing game and poor tackling among them — but the mounting pile of laundry stick out like a big yellow thumb among them.
It’s not a one-off, a fluke or the simple manifestation of a young team playing in front of a hostile crowd for the first time. Rather the boiling over of a disturbing underlying trend that LSU vowed to clean up after committing 21 penalties during routs of BYU and UT-Chattanooga.
If anything, the problem seems to be intensifying.
LSU has now been penalized 30 times for 272 yards this season. At that pace, LSU would shatter its own program record for penalties in a season, which was set at 880 yards in 2007.
Flags negated two touchdowns Saturday and got a pair of defenders ejected for targeting fouls. Senior linebacker Donnie Alexander and freshman defensive end Neil Farrell will have to sit out the first half against Syracuse next week as penance.
LSU coach Ed Orgeron has harped on eliminating those penalties for weeks. He has referees at practice every day to chart every flag and explain every infraction to the guilty part in hopes they won’t repeat it.
“Everything that’s happened, it’s not like we weren’t coached on it,” linebacker Devin White added. “We want to make sure we do everything right in practice, but it has to carry over into the game and we just shot ourselves in the foot.”
Clearly that message hasn’t gotten through, so now it might be time to consider more extreme measures.
So what now?
“We have to run,” Orgeron said. “Maybe we have to limit playing time. Each player is going to run for the amount of penalties that they have, and if that doesn’t work, the whole team is going to run. We have to coach it better. We’ve worked on it. We’ve filmed it. But those guys have to believe that it’s wrong because it beat us tonight.”
What more can be done? It depends who you ask.
Phrased another way: there doesn’t appear to be one answer.
“I don’t know if running came make you not do what you do,” White said. “It’s just having everybody buying in and just listening to do what they’ve got to do. At the end of the day, we’ve got great players, so we don’t need to cheat at all with penalties.”
“Mental discipline,” defensive end Christian LaCouture said. “For us, we’ve got to make sure when those refs come to practice … we’ve got to bring it from practice to the game. We’ll show up, but for us it’s all about mental discipline.”
At the rate LSU is going, they’re going to have to figure something out to keep their bullet-riddled feet from spiraling into a defeat-riddled season.