All eyes were on the LSU defense in Starkville and the Tigers responded with a well executed gameplan en route to a 28-25 SEC opening win over Mississippi State. LSU's bend but don't break strategy worked well for three quarters before bottoming out in the fourth.
With no Derek Stingley in this one, the question became which member of the secondary would step up and have a big day? The answer very quickly became Cordale Flott, who forced two turnovers on Mississippi State drives that crossed the 50 in the first quarter.
A forced fumble and an interception from Flott set the tone defensively as the Tigers came out and sat back defensively and took advantage of the opportunities that came its way. The defensive gameplan was executed to perfection in the first half as the Tigers gave up small chunks but kept everything in front of them by dropping eight players in coverage.
Mississippi State controlled the time of possession but wasn't able to force the ball downfield, instead settling for dinks and dunks down the field that resulted in punts or turnovers with the exception of one drive. That bend but don't break mentality lasted into the second half as the Tigers allowed some successful Bulldog drives but never the big play, leading to a missed field goal in the third quarter.
One busted coverage towards the end of the third quarter resulted in a Bulldogs touchdown and Mississippi State was able to extend that momentum into two more touchdown drives in the fourth, souring LSU's defensive effort a bit. The defense became almost too conservative down the stretch and allowed a few explosive plays that helped the Bulldogs get within striking distance.
Mississippi State would convert on 12-of-18 third downs for the afternoon to further drives and did surrender 486 yards of offense, though those numbers are a bit deceiving to the overall effort by the group.
The LSU offense on the other hand was a different story. Coming in there wasn't a whole lot of buzz around how this offense would continue to evolve after a positive performance a week ago. But this group struggled right from the start and if not for that opening fumble setting up a touchdown, the Tigers would've been held scoreless in the opening half.
The Tigers accumulated just 113 yards of total offense with immense struggles up front on the offensive line. Quarterback Max Johnson was under pressure and outside of one 18-yard run, the running backs couldn't get into a rhythm.
Tempo was the reason for success a week ago and the Tigers really came out flat on offense, needing a major second half spark of energy. Two plays into the third quarter the offense found its spark on a beautifully delivered ball from Johnson to Kayshon Boutte on a play action slant route for a 66-yard touchdown.
The score created some separation and really got the offense going in the second half. Boutte recorded four catches for 85 yards and two touchdowns in the game, bringing his season total to eight on just 24 receptions.
Johnson extended his streak of six straight games with three touchdown passes or more to start his career, an LSU record for a quarterback. The sophomore finished with 280 yards through the air and four touchdowns, capped off by a back foot throw to Kole Taylor who ran it 41 yards for the game sealing score in the fourth quarter.
There was plenty to like from LSU's performance against the Bulldogs in a must win situation. But the schedule only gets tougher from here, starting with a date against top 25 Auburn in Baton Rouge next week.