• LSU and Mississippi State scored one touchdown between them, a fitting tuneup for Alabama's visit to Baton Rouge.
By Ross Dellenger
October 20, 2018

BATON ROUGE, La. — LSU and Mississippi State set the game back ages on a rainy Saturday night in Tiger Stadium, and the Tigers won a 19–3 snoozefest that needs little rehashing, but we’ll give you our thoughts anyhow.

Can the Tigers really challenge Alabama?

Get ready for the annual two weeks of hype building up to LSU-Alabama. Both teams are off next week before meeting in Tiger Stadium on Nov. 3, but will their latest matchup live up to its billing? The Tigers didn’t really supply much optimism on that front Saturday. They mustered just 79 yards of offense in an ugly first half, struggled to create running lanes for much of the night (they had just 60 yards rushing through three quarters before finishing with 110), dropped at least four passes and just didn’t look like the top-five team that drubbed Miami to open the season and Georgia a week ago.

LSU has been held up as the team that can finally put up a four-quarter fight against the Crimson Tide and force quarterback Tua Tagovailoa to actually take a snap in the final frame. Saturday night’s performance against Mississippi State gave zero indication of that transpiring. What will help LSU is the atmosphere. CBS is expected to select LSU-Bama for its once-a-year 8 p.m. ET kickoff slot, the eighth consecutive time the network would do that. The environment at Tiger Stadium will rival any in college football. A Tennessee fan threw a cup of ice at Alabama coach Nick Saban as he ran off the field in the Tide’s rout of the Volunteers this weekend. Who knows what’s coming his way on Nov. 3. The vitriol held for LSU’s former coach in Baton Rouge is strong, and he might have the best team of his coaching career this year, rivaling the 2003 Tigers who won the national title. 

What to make of the Bulldogs

A week after quarterback Nick Fitzgerald ran all over Auburn, Mississippi State’s offense crashed back to Earth. Fitzgerald’s legs kept the Bulldogs hanging around until the fourth quarter (he finished with 131 rushing yards), but his arm cost them plenty. He threw two first-quarter interceptions deep in his own territory, started the game 2-for-9 and finished 8-of-24 for 59 yards and four interceptions. It looked as bad as the numbers indicate. The preseason sleeper pick in the SEC West is now 4–3 and 1–3 in the league. First-year coach Joe Moorhead has more tinkering to do before for a team that doesn’t have it so easy the rest of the way. The Bulldogs host Texas A&M, have to travel to Alabama and play at Ole Miss to end the regular season. 

Let’s give credit where it is due, though: LSU is strong defensively. The Tigers have one of the nation’s best safeties in Grant Delpit, who had a big fourth-down sack Saturday, and despite losing their leading edge rusher (K’Lavon Chaisson) for the year in the season opener, they’ve filled the void with guys like Michael Divinity. The junior showed out in the first half, picking off Fitzgerald to set up LSU’s only touchdown, bringing him down twice in goal-to-go situations and deflecting a pass. Linebacker Devin White, the SEC’s leading tackler a year ago, remains a beast in the middle of the field, and the Tigers have a pair of cornerbacks in Greedy Williams and Kristian Fulton who can cover in man-to-man. The weaknesses are few.  

White out

The late drama in this game stemmed from an official’s call that will be ballyhooed in Baton Rouge for the next two weeks. LSU’s All-America middle linebacker White was called for targeting on Fitzgerald with less than six minutes left in Saturday’s blowout. Because the resulting ejection occurred in the second half, White will be suspended for the first half of LSU’s next game: Alabama. So the Tigers will be without arguably their best player in the first half of their biggest game of the year.

Officials upheld the targeting foul after a review, but LSU’s sideline and fans did not agree as the replay ran on repeat inside the stadium, hounding the officials for the remainder of the game. Sophomore Patrick Queen or freshman Micah Baskerville is expected to fill in for White, but there’s no perfect substitute for the projected first-round draft pick that sets the tone for Dave Aranda’s unit.

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