By JAMES MORAN | Tiger Rag Associate Editor
It was the comical amount of penalties LSU took.
It was a team failing to match the focused intensity of an opponent feeding off an electric crowd.
It was a bunch of freshmen playing like freshmen in the Southeastern Conference debut.
And yes, it was a rough night at the office for LSU’s coaching staff.
All of those factors played into LSU’s 37-7 humiliation at the hands of Mississippi State in Davis Wade Stadium on Saturday night. All bullet points to be noted in chronicling the anatomy of a train wreck.
Each are legitimate concerns going forward, but none were the root cause of the worst lost LSU has suffered to date in series history.
Regardless of what else happened, State thoroughly manhandled LSU at the point of attack on both sides of the football. And unlike running guys who commit penalties or adjusting game plans, it’s hard to envision how that problem can be fixed with game-week preparations.
“We played an SEC team and we got handled up front on both sides of the front,” said LSU coach Ed Orgeron, who called the loss the wake-up call.
Aside from the lone touchdown drive, an 8-play, all-run feet of strength, the offensive line appeared punch-less in the ground game and overrun in pass protection. State managed to pressure Danny Etling early in often despite LSU frequently holding eligible receivers out of the pass pattern to block.
LSU may not have fared any better if it still had Maea Teuhema, the starting right guard who was suspended indefinitely and left the program early in training camp. Still, Saturday night showed why teams don’t generally start true freshmen offensive linemen in the SEC.
And that’s not to put the unit’s failures squarely at the feet of Ed Ingram and Saahdiq Charles — both have the potential to be fine players down the road — as there’s plenty of blame to go around.
But Teuhema was the fifth linemen to transfer away in a calendar year, leaving LSU with 11 scholarship linemen, and that lack of quality depth got exposed in Starkville.
State sophomore Jeffery Simmons led the charge. He skipped through LSU’s side of the field during early warm-ups jawing at different position groups. Eventually Arden Key jawed back and the two sides game together for a good old fashion pregame shoving match.
He talked the talk, and as reprehensible of a human being as he is, he walked the walk. Simmons made seven tackles and 1.5 sacks in the teeth of State’s smothering defense.
“My whole concern all week was whether or not we could block them,” Orgeron said. “And obviously we didn’t block them … We’re going to face better defensive lines down the road. We’ve got to be ready.”
The night didn’t go much better for LSU’s defensive line.
Playing without Rashard Lawrence, LSU’s defensive ends and outside linebackers repeatedly failed to set the edge as State bounced run after run outside for big gains. Nick Fitzgerald rushed for 88 yards and accounted for two of his four scores on the ground. Aeries Williams chipped in with 146 yards.
Nose tackle Greg Gilmore shifted into Lawrence’s vacated end spot and Ed Alexander took his place in inside. LSU kept it competitive up front until Alexander got hurt, at which point State began to run wild. Once Neil Farrell got ejected for targeting, LSU had just four healthy defensive linemen.
“We’re thin,” Orgeron said. “We’re very, very thin.”
There’s legitimate reason to think this unit can get back on track in the weeks to come — more so than their counterparts on the offensive line, anyway. Lawrence, who wasn’t sporting a walking boot Saturday, will be back at some point, and Key can play his way back into better shape.
But the underlying problem remains: LSU is thinner along the offensive and defensive lines right now than any group in recent memory.
LSU has been trending this way in recent years, but the disparity in talent tended to only show itself when the Tigers faced Alabama. Even with an outdated offensive attack, LSU still ranked among the nation’s most physical teams on both sides of the line in recent years.
Perhaps Mississippi State is primed to challenge the Tide in the SEC West this year and is far better than all of the experts thought. Maybe the Bulldogs are loaded and pounced all over a shorthanded opponent because of all the self-inflicted wounds chronicled above.
LSU better hope so, anyway.
Otherwise the Tigers are in a deep heap of trouble and Saturday’s bludgeoning could be just the start of what’s to come.