You can’t blame Mississippi State’s offense for trying.
That is, after all, what the Bulldogs were supposed to do.
Problem was, when the State offense got into a groove on back-to-back first-half drives, it served an unwanted purpose.
It woke up an LSU defense that doesn’t exactly respond well to being backed into a corner.
After those two drives – when the Bulldogs ran 27 plays, but only scratched out 111 yards and three points – the Tigers clamped down and barely let State’s offense breathe en route to a 19-6 victory that helped LSU leapfrog Alabama again and climb to No. 2 in the Associated Press poll released Sunday.
The biggest thorn on those two series: MSU converted 4-of-6 third downs, averaging 11 yards a play.
“It made us go back and readjust ourselves as a defense,” defensive end Sam Montgomery said.
Added coordinator John Chavis, who after the game didn’t seem in a jovial mood, “We made some mistakes there and made some adjustments and the guys got back in sync.”
Back in sync and back in control.
After those two series, State’s offense managed only three more points and generated more than 25 yards on only one of its final eight possessions – the final one after falling behind 19-6 with 2:48 to play.
Bulldogs’ quarterback Chris Relf paid the biggest price, getting knocked around like a piñata after a productive beginning.
On the first three State series of the game, Relf carried the ball 11 times for 20 yards (six for 28 on the two long drives) and he was sharp in a short passing game, connecting on 9-of-11 throws for 77 yards.
Once the Tigers adjusted to the Bulldogs’ game plan, Relf was neutralized and finished his night early after hitting only two of his last seven six throws for 19 more yards and losing 10 yards on five more rushing attempts.
“They got too many yards on one drive running that quarterback counter,” defensive tackle Michael Brockers said. “We all turned it up, the d-line especially.
“I felt like we shot ourselves in the foot, knocking ourselves out of our gaps, so we just had to adjust. We did that and we came out and dominated in the second half.”
That second half? The Bulldogs took 28 offensive snaps, managed only 85 yards and five first downs and held the ball for only 8:09, compared to LSU’s 31 for 182 yards and 21:51.
In other words, in the Tigers’ defense pulled about-face from those two series when the State offense had them on their heels.
Improvement, yes, but also plenty of room for more progress moving forward.
“We made a bunch of mistakes for one thing, but they played with great effort and great attitude,” Chavis said of his defense.
“This group has a chance to get better and we can do that. We’ve got to eliminate mistakes and keep playing hard.”
LSU defense by the numbers
Scoring defense – 12 points per game (3rd in the SEC)
Total defense – 207.7 yards per game (2nd)
Rushing defense – 47.7 yards per game (2nd)
Yards per rush – 1.6 per carry (2nd)
Pass defense – 160 yards per game (3rd)
TD passes – 1 (tied for 1st)
Sacks – 5 (tied for 3rd)
First downs allowed – 12.3 per game (2nd)