It wasn't the finish LSU would've loved in a mostly well executed gameplan against Mississippi State, but there's plenty to like about what the Tigers were able to do on Saturday.
Here were three takeaways from the Tigers' win and why this was an encouraging performance as SEC play heats up.
LSU Defense Stays Disciplined in Approach
When running the 3-2-6 defensive scheme LSU rolled out against Mississippi State, it's difficult to stay patient. It's a strategy that coach Ed Orgeron said has been in the works since the week after last year's game against the Bulldogs. With the five and six-yard dink and dunk strategy, it can be hard for defensive players to stay aggressive in the gameplan.
But in three quarters of the Tigers win over the Bulldogs, the defense ran the gameplan to near perfection. The numbers are not indicative as to how well this group played, particularly in the secondary and at linebacker coming up and making the necessary tackles.
"All week the coaches were harping on 'don't take the cheese,' let them throw the checkdown and live to see another play," linebacker Damone Clark said. "I'm just proud of the way we played but there's always room for improvement and we know what we gotta work on."
The way the unit finished, allowing three touchdowns on the last three drives, was a constant theme for Orgeron in his postgame press conference. That needs to be cleaned up if this team hopes to have sustained success in the SEC this season.
A big part in capitalizing on the gameplan was tackling and the effort out of the back half of the defense was exquisite in helping set the tone and let the Bulldogs know they weren't going to kill them downfield with big throws.
"Our plan was to let them throw the football in front of us and for the most part we did that," Orgeron said. "I knew there wasn't going to be enough points, enough yardage if they kept throwing the ball short. We made it tough sledding for them to score. Give the players the credit especially our linebackers, our corners, our DBs, that's a new scheme."
Max Johnson Continues Historic Start Under Center
For much of the first half, the LSU offense couldn't find its footing. The offensive line struggled up front and there was no real rhythm to what the Tigers were running. But the explosive nature of this offense couldn't be held back and Johnson was a big reason for the Tigers' success in the second half.
His 280 yards and four touchdowns continued a remarkable streak of six straight games to open his career with at least three touchdown passes. On Saturday he became the first quarterback since Rohan Davey to toss for three touchdowns of over 40 yards in the same game. This is a pass heavy offense whose identity will always come down to getting its athletes in space.
"I think coach [Jake] Peetz dialed up some really good plays, whether they were playing in zero coverage or man coverage," Johnson said. "We were able to capitalize and Kayshon made some big plays for us."
That first touchdown, where Johnson stepped up in the pocket and delivered a bullet to Boutte was exactly the kind of throw that makes him so exciting to watch develop over the course of the season.
Johnson continues to seem more and more comfortable under center and in the pocket. There's the occasional misfire or bad decision but taking the bad with the really good is something this team will just have to live with. Because he's showing signs of being a difference making kind of player.
Disappointing Finish on Both Sides of Ball Needs to Be Corrected
As great as the first three quarters were for the purple and gold, the fourth was a bit of a letdown on both sides of the ball. Conservative play on offense and defense down the stretch helped the Bulldogs weasel their way back into the game.
It's something that Orgeron and the players acknowledged after the game as something that can't become a norm in conference play when building a lead.
"I don't know what plays were being called but we executed them to what was called," Johnson said. "I think we should've taken more time off the clock.
On its one critical drive in the middle of the fourth quarter, LSU went three and out and Mississippi State went on a subsequent five minute drive that cut a once 18 point lead in the fourth to just three. If LSU can jump out to big leads in future games, having some more consistency to close the game out will be required.