The LSU Tigers really missed Derek Stingley against Mississippi State. Stingley might be the Tigers’ best player in 2020. He might also be a lot more important than anyone could have suspected.
Mike Leach is a creative and aggressive coach, but even the most pessimistic or alarmist LSU fan probably wasn’t expecting Stanford transfer K.J. Costello to walk into Tiger Stadium and light up the home team for over 600 yards of passing offense. It’s back to the drawing board for Ed Orgeron and his team, which have the meat of the SEC schedule ahead of them and need to get reorganized this weekend for Vanderbilt. Let’s look at the game keys, which aren’t hard to arrive at after the past weekend the Tigers had to endure:
1 – More than Stingley
Yes, not having Stingley really hurt against Mississippi State, and yes, having Stingley back will certainly help this weekend. Orgeron and the coaching staff are optimistic Stingley will play. Yet, no team should be so entirely dependent on one player. The loss couldn’t be traced to just one man; not when a team racks up over 600 passing yards. That’s a full-unit breakdown in the secondary, also a reflection of Mike Leach’s ability to get the matchups he wanted on a regular basis.
LSU, as everyone knows, produced a record-setting NFL draft class with 14 players selected, five in the first round and 10 on the first two days (encompassing the first three rounds). That level of attrition means a lot of newcomers had to fill the shoes of important players, so a certain degree of difficulty was always going to be involved in the transition. No one, however, could have expected the transition to be that difficult on the defensive side of the ball. The LSU back seven has a lot of game film to study. That session of examining game tape couldn’t have been very fun, but now begins the process of learning from mistakes and forming a defense which can make adjustments under new coordinator Bo Pelini. Stingley might be back, but everyone else on the LSU roster who played – and failed – against Mississippi State has a lot of work to do against Vanderbilt.
2 – Third downs
This is one of the areas where LSU allowed the MSU game to slip away. Mississippi State converted 8 of 16 third downs, while LSU was just 5 of 17. The Bulldogs were better on high-leverage plays, and it mattered. We have addressed the need for the back seven to grow into its roles and responsibilities. The offense has to be a lot better than 5 of 17, which is under 30 percent. One key point to make is that this 2020 LSU offense is not going to be a Joe Burrow laser light show. Burrow was uniquely gifted and had the ability to make LSU’s offense a juggernaut. Brennan doesn’t have to try to be the hero for LSU. He needs to move the chains and enable the Tigers’ defense to rest more. LSU lost the time of possession battle against LSU. In this game against Vanderbilt and for the rest of the season, the Tigers need to have the ball more than their opponents do – that’s not an ironclad requirement for victory in all cases, but LSU will need to control the ball against its toughest opponents, such as Alabama and Florida. Might as well establish a good habit now, rather than later.
3 – Run the ball
Flowing from the need to control the ball is the need to run the ball better. LSU ran for just 80 yards on 38 carries against Mississippi State. That didn’t put Myles Brennan in position to succeed, and it also enabled MSU to win the time of possession battle. LSU has to be able to mash the ball more this year. Again, this won’t be a year in which Burrow-style pyrotechnics are possible, at least not on the same scale as 2019. This is a different offense with different personnel (and no Joe Brady to coach the passing game, since he is in the NFL now with the Carolina Panthers). LSU has to develop a new identity, and that has to start on the ground.
Saturday‘s game kicks off at 6:30 PM CT (7:30 PM ET). Watch on the SEC Network.