BY WALTER ANARUK
NFL DRAFT BIBLE
In the first SEC match-up of the 2007 NCAA football season, the score belies what happened in the game. The Louisiana St. Tigers topped the Mississippi State Bulldogs 45-0. While the Tigers did finally take control midway through the third quarter, Mississippi State’s defense played exceptionally well for most of the game. If not for the poor job of protecting the football by the MSU offense, LSU might not have scored a touchdown the entire first half. It took four interceptions from Mississippi State quarterback Michael Henig for the Tigers to squeeze out two touchdowns before halftime.
The LSU offense looks nothing like the top scoring unit it was last season. Some of that can probably be attributed to the loss of offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher. Nevertheless, a SEC team ranked second in the country needs to be able to run the ball. Quarterback Matt Flynn was the leading rusher at the half with 29 yards on four carries. While he did not get many passing attempts, his passing efficiency was solid (seven of ten for 67 yards at the half).
Part of the LSU scoring problems came from inspired play by the Bulldogs defense. However, penalties put the Tigers offense in long yardage situations way too often. There were far too many false starts, including one from wide receiver Early Doucet. While crowd noise can claim a few of the penalties, wide receivers should be watching the snap rather than listening for the snap count and chronic false starts indicate a lack of mental focus. LSU’s offense cannot continue to make those kinds of mental errors – not if they are going to win the SEC this season.
Mississippi State’s defense played with tremendous heart. The unit took excellent pursuit angles and employed solid gap control to neutralize the Tigers’ team speed. Late in the second quarter, the Bulldogs switched from a 4-3 alignment to a 3-4 and 3-5 look and became very aggressive. At one point, the defense forced LSU into a 3rd and 28, pushing their heels to the goal line, nearly earning a safety.
However, Mississippi State’s offense looked sluggish against LSU’s lightning quick defense. LSU defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey repeatedly shed double teams and disrupted the running and passing games. Henig was 5-of-10 for 37 yards with four interceptions by the half, adding two more picks by the end of the game. Mississippi State’s running backs combined for 30 yards by halftime – only one yard more than Flynn had.
The most obvious and glaring problem for Mississippi State was their offense’s utter failure to capitalize on the play of their defense. Henig made poor decisions with the football. He could easily have had six interceptions by halftime. On two other errant passes, there were defenders in the vicinity and not a Bulldog receiver in sight.
State’s running back Anthony Dixon is 6’1”, 240 pounds and is touted as the Bulldogs thumper. However, Dixon is not fast enough to turn the corner on the LSU defense. Dixon was hyped before the season for his speed and size. However, he runs with a poor pad level neutralizing the advantage his size should have given him on LSU’s smaller, faster defenders. Dixon runs upright, which allowed LSU’s defenders to bring the contact to him instead of vice versa. He outweighs every linebacker on the LSU roster, however his technique does nothing to levy his size advantage.
Mississippi State linebacker/defensive end Titus Brown was both an assent and a liability. Brown’s speed and explosiveness enabled him to blow by defenders into the backfield where he earned a sack and numerous quarterback hurries. However, Brown’s eagerness to get up field, resulted in some LSU opportunities.
Here is an example: Early in the game, Brown pushed up into the backfield where he was supposed to play containment. But trying to pursue and make a play, Brown pinched inside allowing a long run to break outside of his containment. Brown was excellent most of the game but has to stay in position when it is not his turn to attack.
By the end of the third quarter, LSU wore the Mississippi State defense down. The Bulldog’s stop unit played with tremendous fire all game long but their offensive woes kept the tiring defense on the field too much. LSU alternated a punishing running game between the tackles featuring big back Jacob Hester, with a speed game employing a running back by platoon approach to attack the edges.
After a quick strike at the start of the third quarter, LSU rolled up 21 more points to finish off the Dawgs. Flynn finished the game 12-of-19 for 128 yards and two touchdowns. Doucet hauled in nine passes for 78 yards and a touchdown, while safety Craig Steltz had a career day, hauling in three of the six interceptions.
The Bayou Bengals may look exceptional in the box score, but Mississippi State’s unranked defense gave the Tigers a much tougher game than the stats illustrate. To keep their lofty ranking, LSU must find their offensive stride. Their defense and special teams look fast and aggressive. However, without the slew of Mississippi State turnovers to help the LSU offense, the scoreboard might have told quite a different story.
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