Thomas' Take: Grading MSU

Scouting Analyst Jason Thomas gives his grades on LSU's performance against Mississippi State. Did the Tigers make improvement or did they regress? Go inside to get Thomas' Take on the 30-26 victory on Saturday.

As an LSU fan there are two distinctly different impressions that you can take away from Saturday’s game in Starkville.


You can choose to say that the Tigers have no identity on offense, that they play with little or no passion, and that they were lucky to pull out a win against what was supposed to be an overmatched Bulldog squad.


Or you can say that LSU went into a hostile environment and created four turnovers on defense, had a 93-yard punt return for a touchdown, finally connected on two deep balls on offense, and gutted out a win on a rain soaked field.


Good teams find ways to win ugly. Maybe you want more. Maybe you deserve it.


After watching the game, I felt as if the Tiger were a lost bunch, and dark days were ahead.


After watching a lot of other so-called national powerhouses turn in absolute dud performances, I’m not so sure. LSU has to play better, but they went on the road in the SEC and found a way to win. That says a lot about the character of this team.


By this time next week, fans and critics alike will know for sure what to expect from the rest of the season. Win or lose next Saturday, LSU absolutely has to play with more consistency on offense, and has to play with more intensity on defense.


Are they biding their time? Have they been approaching the early season games with a calm and businesslike approach, and will they ratchet up the intensity on Saturday? Can they flip a switch on and off?


Conventional football wisdom suggests that they can’t, but all you have to do is watch last year’s Alabama game to see an LSU team play with great pride and passion. The nucleus of that team, however, is still somewhere in Baton Rouge, evidently hiding out.



Jordan Jefferson continues to improve. Six games into his college career the upside is still very high for this young man. While he struggles sometimes throwing the ball, he is clearly poised, and is exactly what you want from a field general.


He is a leader and remarkably poised for a kid with six starts to his credit, and the youngest starting quarterback in the SEC. By the way, he’s won five of those starts.


Jordan Jefferson moved to 5-1 as a starter

Jefferson connected on two deep balls against Mississippi State. He connected early on a 39-yard pass to Terrance Tolliver which led to the Tigers first touchdown on offense. That drive ended with a beautiful pass to Brandon LaFell in the back corner of the end zone. Jefferson was being pressured from the left side, and while backing up and throwing off his back foot, he was able to anticipate LaFell breaking open and complete an extremely difficult throw. Some say that the pass was intended for Richard Dickson, but from this angle the pass was put where either LaFell would get it or no one would.


On the first drive of the second half, Jefferson hooked up with LaFell again for a 58-yard touchdown strike which at the time gave LSU a decisive 23-14 edge. It’s interesting to note that both deep balls were completed on a traditional drop back pass. Jefferson may be able to throw the deep ball in a better rhythm while dropping back, as opposed to throwing from a sedentary position in the shotgun.


Jefferson finished the day completing 15-of-28 passes for 233 yards and two touchdowns. It was a career day for the young signal caller, and another example of his growth and maturity as a player. It’s also interesting to note that he was able to play that well with no support from the running game, and constant pressure. He also carried the ball seven times for 25 yards.


Russell Shepard saw limited action in the first half with four carries for 26 yards. Maybe he should’ve played more?  He was the best rushing option for the Tigers on this day.


Grade B+


Running Backs

It’s really hard to come down on these two guys, because how successful they are depends on how well the line plays. At the end of the day, you have to cite the statistics and they are not pretty.


Charles Scott rushed the ball six times for 15 yards. He also fumbled on a fullback dive on a third down play early in the game. It wasn’t a bad fumble in the sense that he was hit hard while spinning and had his back to the defender. It is only his second fumble as a Tiger, and it was recovered by LSU.


Keiland Williams did not have much success either. Williams carried the ball nine times for 25 yards. Unlike previous contests, Williams was unable to run on the edges. Collectively it was a humbling experience for two pretty good professional prospects.


Neither back caught a pass. Trindon Holliday carried once but got nothing.


Some may not agree with this grade, but the O-line will receive the brunt on this one.


Grade C


Wide Receivers

The two stud receivers showed up big in their first SEC road game.


Brandon LaFell reeled in six grabs for a gaudy total of 101 yards and two touchdowns. It seems that Jefferson and LaFell are now on the same page.


On the other side of the formation, Terrance Tolliver had a good game as well. Tolliver caught four passes for a respectable 60 yards. On the 39-yard reception, Tolliver did a good job of getting position on the defender and using his body to go up and make the grab.


Richard Dickson had two catches for 14 yards, and R.J. Jackson had one grab for 40 yards. Together the wide receivers and tight ends accounted for all 15 LSU completions.


Week in and week out the wide outs are the most consistent bunch on the offensive side of the ball. With a wet ball and horrible field conditions, this group played very well.


Grade A


Offensive Line

The offensive line as mentioned previously was unable to open up any holes for the running backs, or seal the edges. They also allowed two sacks, and were under fire for much of the game.


In defense of the line, it needs to be pointed out that not only did the Bulldogs have eight men in the box, on many plays they literally had essentially eight men at the line of scrimmage. Last time I checked, there were only five offensive linemen, and maybe a tight end, depending on the formation.


A few screen plays or some more deep throws may have backed the defense off a little. However, after taking a 23-14 lead the Tigers got the ball back with a chance to really put the game away. In previous years, LSU would’ve lined up in the I-formation and run the football. On this possession they went three and out.


This unit does not seem to be gelling at all, and it is the reason that many fans are concerned about the upcoming schedule. It should be a failing grade, but play calling did not help when the Bulldogs stacked the box with eight and sometimes nine defenders.


Grade D-


Defensive Line

You have to start with the goal line stand. When it mattered most, the Tigers were able to step up and stop the Bulldogs on three straight running plays from the one-yard line. Without the stone job on fourth and goal from the one, LSU fans wouldn’t just be dissatisfied, they’d be in full panic mode.


The line actually had several plays where they were able to stop Anthony Dixon for no gain or a gain of one. In fact, at the end of the half, Dixon had eight carries for 21 yards with two short touchdown runs. 

LSU's defensive line came up big when it needed to the most against MSU

Of course, by the end of the game he had 27 carries for 107 yards, and basically four yards a carry.


Maybe the defense got tired? It’s certainly understandable after being on the field twice as long as the offense in the second half. The flight to Starkville was delayed, it was an early game, and there wasn’t much time for the teams to warm up.


If those sound like excuses, it’s because they are.


The defensive line for LSU has to play with more intensity similar to what they showed in goal line stands against the Bulldogs and against ULL.


Drake Nevis led the line with six tackles, three solo and three assists. He also had a fumble recovery.


Rahim Alem recorded four solo tackles with one tackle for a loss, one forced fumble and two quarterback hurries. On a peculiar play, Alem was called for pass interference which led to the Bulldogs first touchdown.


On the play in question, Alem was responsible for picking up the back in pass coverage. That’s a pretty tall order for a defensive end.


Al Woods had a solid game with five tackles, three solo and two assists with one and half tackles for a loss. He also broke up one pass.


For the second straight week, the LSU defense did not record a sack. 


Grade C



Perry Riley played his best game of the young season recording 11 tackles with seven solo, and four assists.


Kelvin Sheppard chipped in with seven tackles, with five solo and two assists.


Harry Coleman had a statistically dull game recoding just four tackles, but he did play a part in LSU’s first score as he got a hand on the pass that Patrick Peterson took to the house.


The linebackers were certainly part of the problem when Mississippi State got rolling towards the end of the game.


As a unit, the linebackers were able to knock down one pass.


Grade C+


Defensive Backs

This unit is getting better and better. Patrick Peterson started the game with a 37-yard interception return for a touchdown. It was a heads up play and a good reaction to a deflected pass.


Peterson was flagged after scoring the touchdown, and that gave MSU better field position on the ensuing drive that ended with a touchdown. The penalty is understandable for a true sophomore making a huge play for his team, but he has to play smarter. More importantly, these rules for celebration are sucking the wind out of college football when they’re called for a player pointing at his team’s band. Peterson also recorded three tackles with two solo and one assist.


Chad Jones had the plays of the game with a 93-yard punt return for a touchdown, and when he batted down a third down pass play on the goal line stand. He also recorded seven tackles with four solos and three assists. Jones continues to get more comfortable with his responsibilities in the new defense.


Since most teams already are throwing away from Peterson, Chris Hawkins gets plenty of action. Hawkins recorded seven tackles and also had one interception, and broke up two passes as well. This is just another example of the forgotten impact player on the LSU defense. He is a pretty solid performer week in and week out.


Brandon Taylor had a good game. He had one interception and broke up one pass, but did have a play where he was out of position and misplayed a ball in the air that resulted in a big play for MSU.


It was a pretty solid effort all around for the defensive backs, but errors in judgment by Taylor and Karnell Hatcher kept MSU in the game.


By now, Tiger fans may be screaming about the one long touchdown pass to the tight end where Hatcher got beat. It was a big play for the Bulldogs, but the design of the play was brilliant, and young defenders are going to make mistakes.


Grade B+


Special Teams

What you have here is a case of the good, the bad, and the ugly.


The good is the 93-yard punt return for Jones. Holliday also had a few solid kick returns as well. LSU will need big plays from the special teams unit, and this was their best game so far in terms of returning. There were also no muffed punts.


Maybe because of his 93-yard return on the previous punt, Jones did make a poor decision fielding a ball inside the 5-yard line and it cost the Tigers dearly in field position. Maybe the Bulldogs down it anyway, but at least force them to make a play. That’s a ball Jones shouldn’t have fielded.


Then you have the bad. There was a mishandled snap on an extra point try which almost lost the game. There was another mishandled ball on a field goal that was essentially an extra point as well.


On the field goal attempt, Jasper let the poor snap throw off his timing and pulled the ball wide left. In the future, he’ll learn to be more patient on such a short attempt. He could’ve reset and kicked the ball if he hadn’t panicked.


On both plays the ball should’ve been fielded and placed.


The ugly is the second erratic snap in three games for the LSU punt team. Protecting a 13-7 lead, the Tigers were forced to punt from their own 28-yard line. Alex Russian’s snap sailed high for Derek Helton and he couldn’t make the play, and ultimately led to a first and goal from the one for Mississippi State. They would score on the next play.


This happened before in the game against Vanderbilt. Tiger fans criticized me for questioning the play, considering the wet field and the conditions.


That is a fair criticism, but Mississippi State had no trouble executing an exchange between deep snapper and punter. Maybe a dry field and a dry football make these problems go away. Maybe not. The LSU coaches weren’t too happy, though, and Russian took a seat.


Also, on the play in particular, it makes sense for Helton to take a safety, as opposed to trying to pick it up and make a play. 


LSU does such a good job of not turning the ball over, and that keeps them in a lot of football games. They can’t afford turnovers in the kicking game as they move forward.


Jones’ return prevents this grade from being much lower.


Grade C+

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