1) Mississippi State’s offensive line continues to struggle against tough defensive fronts.
Mississippi State’s quarterbacks were sacked 5 times. Mississippi State only ran for 56 yards on 32 carries. That’s less than ideal. That’s subpar. Yeah, the Bulldogs found themselves in a position to win the game at the end, but they won’t be given many chances to come away with a victory if they can’t move the ball on the ground.
An important note here is that LSU’s defensive front is going to give most teams nightmares. Even the best offensive lines in the nation would have a hard time handling what the Bayou Bengals could throw at them. But the Bulldogs will still have to face tough front sevens from Auburn, Texas A&M, Arkansas, Alabama, and Ole Miss. The offensive line must do better to give Mississippi State any hope at coming away with a win in any of those games.
2) The coaching staff can indeed make crucial adjustments for the second half.
The first half was abysmal. Nothing went right for the Bulldogs there. The second half, though not phenomenal (until the last five minutes of the game), was considerably better. And a lot of that has to do with halftime adjustments.
For the most part in the third quarter, Ashton Shumpert and Aeris Williams were the primary running backs. The move paid off. Shumpert and Williams proved that they could be catalysts for the offense and provide a much needed spark. Shumpert was able to bowl through defenders while running up the middle and Williams did the same receiving the ball out of the backfield. Add in the fact that they’re better at blocking due to their size, and the decision to get the duo more involved was an important one.
And it can’t go without noting that the defense was decidedly better in the second half. After a first half where Leonard Fournette and Danny Etling were able to move down the field at will, they were met with a bit more resistance in the second half. Fournette had two touchdowns and 90 yards in the first half on 16 carries. He had 57 yards on 12 carries in the second half. While that’s not a huge improvement, the best that most teams can hope to do against Fournette is slow him down, even if it’s only a little bit. And the defense did that, giving MSU a chance to fight back into the game.
3) Neither quarterback looks like a world beater, but the Bulldogs still have two decent options there.
Nick Fitzgerald’s first road start in the SEC probably didn’t go anywhere near how he wanted it to go. The redshirt sophomore quarterback was sacked four times. He completed a mere 50% of his passes for 120 yards. And his ability to move on the ground was hampered as well as he ran the ball 13 times for 13 yards.
To his credit, Fitzgerald had some solid moments as well, but those will be overlooked because of a few inaccurate passes and pressure caused by LSU’s swarming defense. Fitzgerald looked like a young quarterback in over his head. Much like Dak Prescott once looked like a young quarterback in over his head.
And though he didn’t have much time on the field, Damian Williams appeared to be in complete control of the offense while he was on the field. But he entered with LSU playing a very bland brand of defense. And his ceiling still isn’t as high as Fitzgerald’s projects to be.
There’s no way to know if Williams could have produced at the level he did for an entire game or if he would have struggled much like Fitzgerald did. Regardless, he looked sharp and should Mississippi State need to make a quarterback change in the future, having Williams on the roster will be important.
4) Piggybacking off of that, Nick Fitzgerald can’t be the key facilitator for the offense just yet.
Nick Fitzgerald seemed rattled at times. That’s disconcerting. But the Bulldogs are asking a lot of the young quarterback. Fitzgerald doesn’t have much experience, and he’s being thrown to the wolves as he’s asked to be the primary source of offense against some of the toughest defenses in the nation.
It was unreasonable to expect Fitzgerald to be able to go into Death Valley and have the same sort of success there that he did against South Carolina. That wasn’t fair to him. But he’s still talented, and he has plenty of time to develop his throwing game. A road trip up to Massachusetts this weekend will give him another chance to sharpen his skills and a bye week following that will allow him to rest up before heading into an incredibly important stretch in October.
5) The defensive front struggled against one of the best offensive lines in the SEC
I guess the first point and this point could have been put together under “Mississippi State lost the battle in the trenches on both sides of the ball against a superior team” but that’d be one very long section. But yeah, Mississippi State’s defensive front was pushed around like they were nothing by LSU’s offensive line.
To win in the SEC, a team needs to be able to win at the line of scrimmage. And Mississippi State hasn’t proven that they can do that just yet. Sure, the Bulldogs faced off against Leonard Fournette and LSU, and they won’t have to do that every week. But there are other road grading offensive lines that’ll pave the way for powerful running backs up ahead.
Compounding the problem here isn’t just that they struggled against the run, but that they also failed to disrupt Danny Etling, a not so great quarterback. If Danny Etling is capable of completing just under 66% of his passes for 215 yards and a touchdown against you, then you’re going to be in trouble when you face better passing attacks. And with a weak secondary, Mississippi State’s front seven must get more pressure on opposing quarterbacks.