The recap of last week’s Mississippi State – Arizona game began, “It wasn’t pretty!” This week’s game recap of the LSU game begins, it was downright ugly. The Tigers were in town for both teams’ SEC opener. The pregame fanfare included SEC Nation, Marty and McGee, and The Paul Finebaum Show on the State campus. Starkville was on an impressive display with cowbells as the soundtrack. But at the end of the day all that faded for MSU fans. The Bulldogs were blown out by the Bayou Bengals 41-14.
The game had created a buzz that attracted national attention too, as a potential barn-burner. The legendary coach, prognosticator, and co-host of College Gameday, Lee Corso, picked the Bulldogs to win the contest. Former Alabama, Saints, and Panthers’ safety, Roman Harper also picked the Dawgs. Now co-host of SEC Nation, Harper actually wore a maroon suit during the show.
However, from the opening kickoff until the final cowbell, Mississippi State suffered on both sides of the ball. Whatever holes were seen in the 14th-ranked Tigers’ previous performance had been plugged.
The Daniels-Nabers Air Show
LSU quarterback Jayden Daniels and wide receiver Malik Nabers caused the most turmoil for the Dawgs. Nabers had an amazing 13 receptions for 239 of the total 367 yards in the air. He was also responsible for two touchdowns.
Daniels completed 30 of 34 passing attempts for a record-breaking 88.2%. That’s the highest completion percentage by a Tiger since JaMarcus Russell in 2006. Daniels was also the leading rusher with 15 runs for 64 yards and two rushing touchdowns.
The Dawgs are probably wanting to avoid quarterbacks named Jayden. Last week’s game featured a running attack from Arizona quarterback Jayden de Laura.
In the post-game press conference, LSU head coach Brian Kelly had this to say. “Daniels and Nabers hooking up to the level that we’ve always wanted to see, we saw that and that’s certainly fun,” Kelly said. “If that continues to show itself, we’re a pretty good football team. Defensively, there were many questions. It’s just a matter of getting a lot of young players and new players together. It’s just a matter of time.”
Where Were the Bulldogs?
Quarterback Will Rogers probably had the worst day of his career. He went 11 of 28 in passing, or 39%, for 103 yards. That’s the lowest of his career. Perhaps the transition from Mike Leach’s Air Raid to offensive coordinator Kevin Barbay’s pro-style offense is problematic for the senior.
In his post-game press conference Bulldog head coach Zach Arnett said this about Rogers’ performance. “He missed some throws that he needs to be able to complete if they’re there,” Arnett said. “He was not getting a whole lot of help in protection, so we didn’t hold up to their pass rush early on.” To that end, Rogers was sacked four times.
State came into the game with the second-leading running game in the SEC. In the first half, they had a negative 12 yards rushing. In the end, they only totaled 94 yards to LSU’s 163.
State’s secondary was almost nonexistent. Nabers seemed impossible to cover, but there was no adjustment as in double coverage. The defensive backs were a question mark coming into the season, and that continues to be the case. There is no definitive starter at the last corner position. It keeps rotating between Esaias Furdge and DeCarlos Nicholson. Nabers burned both of them multiple times.
The Fans Get Restless
As the frustration mounted, the MSU fan base started chanting “We want Mike.” They were calling for Mike Wright. He’s the Vanderbilt transfer who created excitement in the season opener against Southeastern Louisiana. Wright had a total of 95 yards back then running the wildcat formation. However, he hasn’t been given the opportunities the fans believe he should. Arnett chimed in about that. “We’re not spending a lot of time paying attention to chants from the student section.” That being said, Wright did come in late in the fourth quarter to throw a 4-yard touchdown pass to Antonio Harmon. However, it was too little, too late.
Conspicuously absent from the last two games was Creed Whittemore. He had an impressive 33-yard touchdown running a wheel route in the season opener.
Believe it or not, there were some bright spots for the Bulldogs. Woody Marks took in his 200th reception making him the leading pass receiver in the MSU program. In fact, since he came to Starkville in 2020, he has had a reception in all 39 games in which he has played.
Tulu Griffin had a couple of bright spots too. He is responsible for the Dawg’s first score toward the end of the first half. This was Griffin’s first rushing touchdown. He also showed his talent returning kickoffs. On three returns, he posted 102 yards.
On defense, the duo of Jett Johnson and Bookie Watson continue to impress. Johnson outdid his performance last week with 14 tackles, three solo. Watson followed suit with 13 tackles, one solo. Still, the LSU offense racked up 530 total yards to State’s 201.
Safety Shawn Preston Jr. made what most saw as a tremendous tackle on Daniels. Commentator Jesse Palmer called it textbook. However, he was cited for targeting and ejected from the game. This means he has to miss the first half of the South Carolina game. Arnett says he is sending in the video of the play in an effort to get it overturned. If that happens, Preston will be able to play.
Keep Moving Forward
Rogers has been called the most prolific passer the SEC has seen. However, in the LSU game, he was anything but prolific. He almost seemed lost against the Tigers in Barbay’s offense. Against the Bayou Bengals, MSU passed 29 times and ran the ball 21. Still, Barbay has not achieved a happy balance. There is a stable of running backs to augment the stellar play of Marks, that have not been tapped. Whittemore, Seth Davis, and Jeffery Pittman are just a few who could make an amazing running game.
If the Dawgs are going to compete from hereon in the SEC, something needs to happen. Otherwise, they will live up to the preseason predictions of finishing last in the SEC West.
Arnett has now suffered his first loss as a head coach, and it was done in bone-chilling fashion. As usual, he is taking the blame, but challenging his organization as well. “I’ve done a very poor job of my evaluation of where we’re at as a football team. We have to decide how we want to respond to this. You’ve got two ways you can respond to a like this. We’re either gonna do the hard things and get better, or we’re not, and losing like this becomes commonplace.”
State’s next game is Arnett’s first road game against South Carolina. Considering how tough the Gamecocks played number one Georgia, the Dawgs had better be up to the challenge. If not, the disappointment felt with the loss to LSU might become commonplace.