By JAMES MORAN | Tiger Rag Associate Editor
STARKVILLE, Miss. — LSU is going to have to take a long, hard look in the mirror on ‘Tell the Truth’ Monday.
The truth that awaits Ed Orgeron and his Tigers is a simple one: they have an awfully tall mountain to climb before anyone needs to be talking about dethroning Alabama or competing for championships.
Mississippi State embarrassed LSU 37-7 in the Southeastern Conference opener for both sides, thoroughly dominating all three phases of the game in front of a raucous sellout crowd at Davis Wade Stadium on Saturday night.
It’ll go down among the most lopsided losses in the history of the LSU-State rivalry and one of LSU’s worst performances in recent memory.
The Tigers had won 23 of the previous 25 meetings, including eight in a row in Starkville. LSU hadn’t lose to State by more than two touchdowns since 1983. LSU had only lost by 30+ points four times dating back to 2000.
None of that mattered on Saturday night.
“It’s on us,” Orgeron said. “Put it on me. We’ve got to get better. Maybe we weren’t as good as we thought we were in spots.”
LSU (2-1, 0-1 SEC) lost the battle in the trenches on both sides of the ball, its supposedly revamped passing game couldn’t get off the ground and it traded in the five-yard procedural fouls that had plagued them for two games for boneheaded personal fouls. Nine flags cost LSU 112 yards and got two scores called back.
“Penalties,” Orgeron responded, asked what went wrong. “Drives kept alive by penalties. Big plays negated by penalties. We were out of sync today. We didn’t play well. We didn’t handle the crowd well. We didn’t have a lot of energy. They took it to us.”
Mississippi State (3-0, 1-0 SEC) scored 30 unanswered points and posted at least a field goal on seven straight possessions during a stretch that spanned the second quarter to the fourth.
Quarterback Nick Fitzgerald announced his Heisman Trophy candidacy to a national audience with 266 total yards of offense and four touchdowns. LSU managed just 270 yards of total offense on the night, a chunk of which came in garbage time.
Things were going alright for the visitors until they weren’t.
Penalties made for an all-around disjoined start. Offensive pass interference erased what would’ve been a 67-yard touchdown from Danny Etling to DJ Chark. Defenses dominated early as the two sides went a combined 2-for-8 on third downs in the opening 15 minutes.
Mississippi State broke through early in the second quarter. LSU lost contain on a stretch run and Aeris Williams busted it outside for a 28-yard gain. Three plays later Fitzgerald leaped over the pile for a 3-yard touchdown.
Stagnant to that point, LSU answered back with a show of brute force. LSU ran the ball on eight consecutive plays and Darrel Williams capped off the 65-yard scoring march with a 10-yard touchdown romp.
But State dominated from that point on, dominating the point of attack on both sides of the ball and ceasing control of the game for good. The Bulldogs, aided by a pair of 15-yard penalties assessed to LSU, drove right down the field before settling for a chip shot field goal.
LSU went three-and-out on the ensuing drive and allowed State to manhandle a seemingly gassed defense before the half. Fitzgerald engineered a methodical 10-play, 54-yard touchdown drive capped by his second touchdown run just seven seconds before halftime.
“I just feel like we weren’t dialed in; we weren’t disciplined,” linebacker Devin White said. “At the end of the day we’ve got to execute, and we didn’t execute well.”
The Tigers continued to shoot themselves in the foot after the intermission. LSU would’ve forced a three-and-out, but linebacker Donnie Alexander was called for roughing the passer on third down and ejected for targeting. State turned the mistake into a 45-yard field goal.
Defensive end Neil Farrell got the gate for targeting one drive later following an LSU punt. Fitzgerald hit a wide open — as in there wasn’t a defender in within 20 yards — Keith Mixon for a 45-yard touchdown and the rout was on. Fitzgerald later faked the run and dropped a dime between two defenders for his second touchdown pass of the game.
“Everything we want can still be out there for us,” Etling said. “But we have to play better. We have to put down on the mistakes. We knew they were a good team. I don’t feel like we took them lightly. We didn’t execute.”
It only got uglier from there, and if LSU doesn’t make some drastic changes in the coming week, it could get even worse.