LSU's 31-13 win over Mississippi State last Saturday won't go down in the football annals under the "how-to" category. Excluding a banner moment on special teams, the Tigers put themselves in a series of precarious situations and surrendered their early lead because of one.
But after regaining its advantage, LSU enjoyed a dominant outing despite using a mostly one-dimensional attack against the Bulldogs. Quarterback Matt Mauck had just nine passing yards in the first half and finished the game with 52, but the Tigers still kept a comfortable distance ahead of Mississippi State.
Even if the scoreboard didn't reflect it until Mauck's 36-yard touchdown pass to Devery Henderson in the third quarter, LSU was clearly the better team from the point in the second quarter when place kicker Brent Smith missed a 47-yard field goal that would have expanded a 10-7 MSU lead.
After the kick, the Tigers elected to scrap their balanced offensive game plan in favor of a smash-mouth running attack that was aimed at beating the Bulldogs at their own physical game. Domanick Davis became the focal point of the LSU offense and gained 57 yards on seven consecutive carries. After LaBrandon Toefield spelled him for two plays, Davis came back in for a 5-yard touchdown run that capped a ten-play, 70-yard drive.
It gave LSU a 14-10 lead and, other than the scoring pass to Henderson, signaled the shift to a slow-but-sure ground assault from the Tigers.
"I know it's not an exciting game to watch," said LSU coach Nick Saban, "but I'd rather watch those dull games. Like I told Skip (Bertman), it's like walking 15 and still winning. It's better to walk 15 and win than strike out 26 and lose."
The Tigers' 15-walk performance, which translates to three turnovers and sub-par passing against Mississippi State, was good enough to beat the struggling Bulldogs. The visitors from Starkville advanced past the 50-yard line three times in the second half and came produced a field goal and two interceptions.
But what happens the next time LSU issues too many bases on balls when the opposition is tougher than Mississippi State? The Southeastern Conference can put Randy Johnson on the mound and bring Barry Bonds to the plate on any given Saturday. Chances are the Tigers would be shut out and knocked out of the park.
This isn't to say there weren't any positives from the Tigers' win in their SEC opener. For starters, LSU players recognize and admit their weaknesses.
"I would have liked to have thrown the ball a little more and a little bit better, but I'm not concerned," said Mauck. "I know we have the skill and the people to be able to do it. Just today, it didn't really get done."
The Tigers also found the up side when they let chances slip through their fingers. A prime example was the athletic interception and return from Randall Gay in the first quarter. After snaring the ball from an MSU receiver Gay snaked through traffic and brought it back to the Bulldogs' 32, but a holding penalty negated the turnover.
"I just wanted to go out and make another play," said Gay. "That's how I look at it. I'm going to have plenty of opportunities to go out and do it again."
Perhaps no other Tiger reaps the benefits of positive thinking more than Davis, who after having his second long punt return for a touchdown waived off due to a penalty against The Citadel, looked forward to his next chance.
"I'm real excited," Davis said following a 35-10 win on Sept. 7. "I'm still returning them. That's two for 80-something yards that got called back, but I did it. Everybody's seen it."
Davis' patience was rewarded against Mississippi State with a flag-free return, but the Pollyanna perspective of the Tigers may not be enough to beat the likes of Florida, Auburn and the remaining SEC challengers on their schedule.
But for now, a positive outlook from a young, transitional team that has overcome most of its setbacks is an encouraging sign for Tiger fans.