COLUMN: State delivers reality check to LSU

2014 was never supposed to be LSU's year. Now, after Mississippi State sent a physical message, the Tigers are more aware of that than ever.

So maybe this time the sky is falling.

Not on the LSU program at large, or on many of the talented young players thrust into critical roles for the first time. But on the 2014 edition of Tiger football.

What was seen Saturday night in Death Valley was a 60-minute quieting process (55 minutes, really), administered by a Mississippi State team that morphed from longtime little brother into big brother in front of a nationally televised audience.

And LSU was complicit. On both sides of the ball. From the opening gun until Brandon Harris breathed life into a stinker late.

The thing is, and the reason I say it’s okay to go into Chicken Little mode this time, is that the overriding problems can’t be corrected with a little coaching. LSU’s weren’t minor mistakes of alignment or technique. They were issues of personnel, specifically not being as good or ready as the guys in maroon and white lined up across from them.

Mississippi State did to LSU what LSU usually does to Mississippi State. The Bulldogs were more physical at the point of attack, on both sides of the trenches. They chopped one leg out from underneath the Tigers early, and leaned and leaned and leaned until the home team hit the deck, at least before Harris nearly resurrected a ballgame LSU had no business being in.

LSU, which hadn’t lost in Baton Rouge to a team not ranked No. 1 in the country since November 2008, conceded 570 yards of offense to Mississippi State, including 302 yards on the ground. Dan Mullen’s Bulldogs broke off runs off 66 and 56 yards, and the visitors embarked on scoring drives of 98, 88 and 77 yards.

How’s that situation going to get much better in-season?

Brick Haley has who he has at defensive tackle, and it’s not going to change. The Tigers are really only three-deep at the position, and one of those is a true freshman while the other two were reserves until the start of the 2014 season. And for those screaming for Kendell Beckwith to fill the gap at middle linebacker, he got his turn and the very first play for State was Josh Robinson’s 66-yard stroll right up the gut.

As for LSU’s other line, the offensive front – which played musical chairs to get Ethan Pocic in for Fehoko Fanaika, only to abandon ship on the move in the second half – let up three sacks and cleared the way for only 89 yards rushing on 36 carries. That’s a measly 2.5 yards per carry for a backfield that is dripping with former four- and five-star talents.

So the same question applies: How does that get appreciably better when the personnel remains the same? And if the personnel changes, it’ll mean LSU is going away from returning starters like Vadal Alexander or Elliott Porter or Jerald Hawkins. Is that even a good thing?

Here’s the kicker, too. The schedule doesn’t get any easier. In fact it gets much harder, and less familiar considering this young LSU team hasn’t even played in a true road game yet.

While every team should be allowed a chance to grow, I’m here to tell you this team has certain problems that aren’t going to go away this fall.

Harris may win the starting quarterback job. The offensive line may slowly catch on to Jeff Grimes’ system. Trey Lealaimatafao may become an option at defensive tackle.

But even these hypotheticals aren’t cure-alls. They’re temporary plugs in a dam that’s not going to hold in 2014. We thought we had an idea of it preseason. Now we officially know it, courtesy of one of Dan Mullen’s better teams in Starkville.

So hunker down, LSU fans. I believe the Tigers are on notice going forward for every game they play aside from New Mexico State and Kentucky. They won’t lose them all (I don’t think), but several more in the “L” column feels more of a certainty than a possibility at this point.

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