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What We Learned About LSU After 21-19 Win Over Mississippi State

Brandon Harris

Brandon Harris

On Saturday LSU squeaked out a 21-19 win on the road against Mississippi State starting the 2015 season off on the right foot. The game was far from pretty but an SEC win is an SEC win.

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Most LSU (1-0) and college football fans have no misconceptions about who LSU is on the field. With head coach Les Miles on the sidelines, the Tigers are a smash-mouth defense with a great secondary and athletes all over the field and road graders up front on offense blowing holes open for the running backs. And that is exactly what LSU did against Mississippi State (1-1).

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New LSU defensive coordinator Kevin Steele had a great opening half for the Tigers, limiting Mississippi State to 109 total yards of offense. Be it depth issues or adjustments made by the Bulldogs after halftime, the tight LSU defense started to slip in the second half. For the game, Mississippi State outgained the Tigers 378 to 337. Bulldogs quarterback Dak Prescott eventually tore LSU apart, passing for 335 yards with one score. The senior also picked up a rushing touchdown.

In the first half Prescott was constantly under duress, as he wound up getting sacked three times. Mississippi State had little choice but to rely on Prescott’s arm after being held to a net 43 yards on the ground. Again, all of that changed in the second half, especially in the fourth quarter when the home team scored 14 unanswered points pulling to within two at 21-19.

The Tigers' defense did crack down on third down conversions, allowing the Bulldogs to convert on just three of 15 attempts. Any LSU fan would have hoped for a created turnover against Mississippi State, especially with Prescott attempting 52 passes, but both sides played clean throughout the contest.

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On offense, LSU exerted its will on the Mississippi State defense, building a 14-0 lead at the end of the first quarter after a pair of touchdown runs from Leonard Fournette. In the third quarter Fournette found the end zone again, this time on an 18-yard burst around the right side pushing LSU’s lead to 21-6.

The good and the bad of LSU’s run game on Saturday was Fournette put up a career-high 159 yards on 28 totes with the three scores. The bad was that Mississippi State only featured three returning starters on defense. The schedule, as things currently stand, favors LSU being able to run over pretty much everyone on the docket but what happens against Alabama, Ole Miss and a potentially tough John Chavis-coached Texas A&M defense in the month of November?

Brandon Harris was efficient, completing 9-of-14 passes for just 71 yards. Harris scrambled five times for 48 yards, edging Darrel Williams as the team’s second-leading rusher for the game. In tighter contests, will LSU be able to call on Harris to carry the Tigers in parts of tough drives with his arm? He found Travin Dural four times but Dural was never able to pick up yards after the catch, finishing with just 15 yards receiving for the game.

In the 1950s having a receiver lead the team with one catch for 23 yards, Colin Jeter, may have been acceptable but in today’s game that kind of production will not lead to an SEC West title.

Because Harris is not a threat with his arm at this stage of his collegiate career, the Tigers only converted four of 13 third down attempts, routinely seeing eight in the box to stop the run.

One thing the final score does not indicate is that LSU had two touchdowns called back due to penalties. Without the penalties the game would have been out of hand. The reality is Mississippi State hindered its own success on the final drive of the game getting a five-yard delay of game penalty. This pushed kicker Devon Bell’s game-winning, filed goal attempt from 47 yards to 52.

In the end, LSU beat Mississippi State for the 15th time in 16 attempts, getting revenge for a 34-29 loss in Death Valley a year ago.

Next week LSU hosts a shaken Auburn team before taking a two-game non-conference break and returning to SEC play on Oct. 10 with a trip to South Carolina.

The keys for the Tigers' potential run at the SEC Wes title are getting Harris confident in the pocket, not wearing down Fournette early in the season, and tightening up the pass defense. Can all of that be accomplished before for what promises to be an exciting game against Auburn?

— Written by Ryan Wright, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and an established media professional with more than two decades' worth of experience. Over the years, Wright has written for numerous sites and publications and he recently started his own recruiting site, Follow him on Twitter @HogManinLA.