Mississippi State has not beaten LSU in a decade, a winning streak that was – literally – inches from being broken this past weekend.
Under dark skies and on a rain-soaked field, the Tigers and Bulldogs went down to the wire. In the end, big plays – from a 93-yard punt return for a score to a goal-line stand – kept LSU out of harms way to move their record to 4-0.
“The weather did not cooperate, and we had a four-hour delay at the airport, but our players did the job,” Miles said. “The mark of a team is turnover margin, and while we fumbled on third and short, our defense got three picks and forced a fumble. Then there was the goal line stand; that was just a great effort by a number of men.”
Despite Jordan Jefferson best game, statistically, as a starter, the story offensively was that the Tigers managed just 30 rushing yards on 31 carries. Two weeks removed from giving up nearly 400 yards on the ground to Auburn, MSU decided from the start that LSU would have to win the game through the air.
“MSU put everyone they could in the box,” Miles said. “They said throw it, and we did. Our quarterback is handling those situations extremely well. Teams that choose to load the box and allow us to throw, they will have to pay a terrible price. We should have protected Jefferson better and thrown for more.”
Yet, when the Tigers needed to run it, they were unable to – an unsettling trend that has made its way into the LSU play calls.
With veteran talent at tailback, questions have arisen about the offensive line’s ability to create room up front, which could warrant other guys seeing action in their place. On Monday, Miles set the record straight.
“Those are the best players we have,” he said. “I can tell you that I am critical, and there are ways that we can improve. Our line is performing, but not at the level they or I want.”
Russell Shepard, who finished with a team high 26 yards on four carries, was effective in the first half but went without a touch in the second.
“Shepard got in the game for a short series, and we wanted to get him back in the second half,” Miles said. “But, we wanted to be in two-back and we wanted to throw the football, and that is not something we could do with Shepard in the game.”
The time of possession, which saw MSU hold the ball on offense for over 21 of the 30 minutes of the second half, worked against LSU thanks in large part to their inability to convert third downs on offense and stop them on defense.
“We want the time of possession to be an advantage for us, but when Peterson scores on the interception, Jones takes the punt return for a score and we have miscues in the kicking game it really limits your possessions,” Miles said. “We are fortunate to stay ahead in the turnover margin, but we need to be able to keep the ball more.
“It depends on down and distance, but the defense has got to get off the field,” he added. “If it is third and short, we would like it to be 50-50 in terms of conversions by the opposing offense. If it is third and greater, then we want to bring that down to 35- or 40-percent.”
On special teams, the heavy rain brought a little bit of everything LSU’s way. Punter Derek Helton had a snap go over his head, he was downed at the one-yard line on the same play and had two bobbled snaps during the hold on an extra point and field goal attempt. When he did get his punts off, he did so with efficiency.
“His net was 39 yards, and he hit some timely punts with great hang time,” Miles said. “But, we had 11 points given to our opponents on special teams miscues – all on snaps. We have to execute well, and we can’t go into a big game with the opportunity to make plays and have something so fundamental break down.”
Thanks to Jones, it was not all sour for Joe Robinson’s unit.
“The return from Jones was a great decision,” Miles said. “He cleanly fielded it and returned it, and Charles Alexander was at midfield driving them away and Patrick Peterson was behind him directing traffic. It was a great effort by a number of guys, and it certainly was timely.”
Headed into game preparation for their weekend showdown with Georgia in Athens, the talk from the Tiger headman continued down the path of coach-speak.
“We met this morning and reviewed the fact that we played four games and have four victories, and that is where we want to be,” Miles said. “We still want to improve and get better, but there were still some good things.”