In the aftermath of a rocky first half, No. 10 LSU opened the throttle against Mississippi State in the second half and drove the Tigers (5-1, 2-1 SEC) to a 59-26 win over the Bulldogs (2-3, 0-2 SEC).
If you were looking for improvement in the LSU defense, you were no doubt disappointed. Instead of the blown assignments seen against the Bulldogs of Georgia, there was sloppy tackling against the Bulldogs of Mississippi State. And, there was not one sign of the Tigers having found a leader or an instinctive big playmaker.
During the first half, Mississippi State piled up 23 points, just one off of the 24 Georgia had at the break the week before. The defense gave up an alarming average of nine yards every snap.
"You have to make a determination that you are willing to do hard things for the length and time of the game to win it," said head coach Les Miles.
The re-emerging running game was not really a surprise because of the competition and LSU's re-commitment, including Kenny Hilliard's three touchdowns, more than the junior from Patterson had in his previous 14 games combined, and the homerun blow provided by running back Jeremy Hill's 69-yard strike when the home team was threatening to hand Miles back-to-back losses for only the second time since he arrived at LSU.
"We just got it going," said Hill. "And, I was so happy we got out momentum back that we had in a few other games this season."
Hill didn't say anything many people weren't thinking, at least for most of the game.
"We went in at halftime and said, ‘You know what, it stops here,'" said Anthony "Freak" Johnson. "So, we came out and played our tails off."
The defense, which ranks last in the league in tackles for loss, just 21, is not nearly on pace for the 91 it had a year ago. Any kind of push up the middle or pressure from the edge would help a secondary reeling from the absence of experience and questionable communication, which cornerback Tre'Davious White can confirm.
An errant throw by Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott turned into an interception for White, sparking 31 unanswered points, precisely as the Tigers were playing more and more of their young guys.
"Me and Ego Ferguson can't play 70, 80 plays a game. I'm happy Christian LaCouture and Quinton Thomas came in and gave us great minutes," said Johnson.
Overshadowed by all of the concern over a defense that's been the staple of this program was the near flawless performance of Zach Mettenberger and the passing game.
"You're only as good as your next game and that's really the mindset that all of us have on offense," said Mettenberger. "It's something that Coach Cam's preached. We've done a lot of great things so far this season on offense, where we want to continue to get better. We're four completions away from having no balls dropped on the ground, which is something you always want to have."
And, while bookends Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry keep playing their super hero roles, Mettenberger's confidence is off the charts. Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron is clearly humbled when it comes to taking credit for shaping Mettenberger into the tougher, more competitive leader he's become.
"I think he's had that," said Cameron. "I've met his mom and his dad. I think they're tough people. I think they're tough-minded people. I think all our experiences make us tougher. Obviously, he's had some things that he's had to work through that have made him tougher. I take no credit for that. It starts at the top. If you're an LSU Tiger, you're tough or you're not going to be here long."
While the defense will continue to suffer some growing pains, especially without Craig Loston in the secondary, now there's concern for the offense. Jarvis Landry, one of the key receivers the Tigers count on, actually limped to the bus after the game wearing a walking boot.
The Tigers have a big opponent this week, as they face No. 17 Florida in Tiger Stadium. The Gators are known for their defense.
Kickoff is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. The game will air on CBS.
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