September 15, 2011
LSU 19, Mississippi State 6.
If Alabama's defense is a boa constrictor, slowly sucking the life out of opposing offenses, LSU's is more like a goon that throws the offense into a burlap sack and starts beating it with a stick. It is not a subtle business. But it is very, very effective.
On the first possession of the game, the Tigers stuffed a Mississippi State run on first down, sacked quarterback Chris Relf on second down and forced a punt on 3rd-and-21. It was downhill for the Bulldogs from there: For the game, LSU sacked Relf three times, recorded a dozen more tackles for loss, forced two turnovers and held the same MSU offense that racked up 531 total yards last week at Auburn to 189 yards on just 12 first downs — and that's including 63 yards and three first downs on a meaningless drive that killed the final three minutes of garbage time in the fourth quarter.
Before that drive, Mississippi State netted six yards of total offense on its first six possessions of the second half. Yes: Six. Before that drive, the Bulldogs didn't have a play over the first 58½ minutes that gained more than 18 yards. For the second time in three weeks, the Tigers took one of the most well-oiled spread offenses in the country and left it lying scattered in little pieces all over the field.
On the other side of the wreckage, the only question for the LSU offense was whether it could resist squandering the margin of error provided by the defense by either turning the ball over or else retreating so far into its shell that it found itself in the same rut occupied by Mississippi State. The answer was yes and yes: The Tigers' only turnover was a fourth quarter interception in MSU territory that cost them little in terms of field position, and though they seemed content for a while to slug it out in a battle of the feet (the game featured 10 punts and five field goals), they quietly, methodically carved out a productive night for all of the most important names on the depth chart. Quarterback Jarrett Lee was efficient, connecting on 22 of 28 passes for 218 yards and a touchdown; tailback Spencer Ware ran like a pallet of bricks that had grown legs and dreadlocks en route to his second 100-yard night in three weeks. Reuben Randle went over 100 yards receiving for the second week in a row on a career-high seven catches. The Tigers went on three different scoring drives that covered at least 70 yards (one for a touchdown, two for field goals) and held the ball for a full 12 minutes longer in time of possession.
By the end, the real question about the offense turned out to be less about overcoming its limitations than whether its limitations even matter opposite this defense, save for not fouling things up with turnovers and kicking the occasional field goal. The Tigers were fast, violent and frighteningly deep, looking for all the world like the kind of defense that's going to keep every game within reach — and suddenly, for the first time in a long time, looking like an offense that might have the tools to take it.
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