On a Saturday night in the middle of October, Florida and LSU, both ranked in the top ten of both major polls, slugged it out as would be expected of two heavyweights. The enormous media presence confirmed the importance of the contest in terms of the Southeastern Conference race. The contest also factored in the pursuit of the national championship. In the first half, Death Valley roared despite Florida having scored a few touchdowns while LSU missed a field goal from a reasonable distance.
Consternation swept over the home crowd in Tiger Stadium when the Gators scored a touchdown early in the third quarter and held the lead. Those clad in blue and orange cheered boastfully as they did the Gator Chomp. Little did they know that score would be their only one in the second half.
LSU’s defense picked off a pass in the fourth quarter that proved to be a crucial play. The Tigers’ offense responded by driving to the endzone only a handful of plays later. In total, the Purple and Gold outscored the Gators in the second half, 21-7, to “secure the victory” as Les Miles likes to phrase it.
Déjà Vu For LSU 12 Years Later?
LSU’s winning performance on that epic Saturday night showdown catapulted the Tigers toward the summit of the media’s and coaches’ polls. It confirmed that the Bayou Bengals were seriously contending for the national championship. They just needed to brush aside a team which they had historically dominated. Then, they would host Auburn, another ranked foe who could provide a challenge. Sure, LSU would have to hit the road before facing the Tigers from the Plains two weeks later. However, that trip appeared as just a minor speed bump. Dreams of playing for the national championship in the Superdome, less than a hundred miles from their campus, seemed like a definite possibility, not just an unrealistic fantasy.
Flashback To An Ambush
The preceding description sounds exactly like the current situation in which LSU finds itself. However, the Fighting Tigers were in the same position back in 2007. Sandwiched in between home dates against Florida and Auburn in 2007, they had to travel to Commonwealth Stadium. In the land of blue grass, horse racing, and college basketball, the Tigers had an early match-up. LSU had been dominating their series against Kentucky, leading 38-15-1 overall and 16-10 in Lexington at that point. Despite the Wildcats’ ranking as the 17th team in the Associated Press Top 25 Poll, the game appeared as a breather before another brutal brawl in Baton Rouge. After all, LSU had won the last four meetings and had shut out the Wildcats in Tiger Stadium in the previous season, 49-0.
The Tigers played as though they were still groggy from celebrating the victory over the Gators. After trailing 7-0 at the end of the first quarter, their offense awakened to score 17 points in the second. However, the Tigers’ defense allowed the Wildcats to respond with a touchdown 64 seconds before halftime.
Out of the locker rooms, LSU appeared ready to snuff out the Wildcats’ attempt at a shocker. Two drives resulted in 10 points and a lead of 27-14. Once again, the Wildcats responded with a touchdown shortly before the end of a quarter. Kentucky remained within contention of snatching away a victory.
During the fourth quarter, Kentucky made field goals on two consecutive possessions. Meanwhile, LSU missed one on the last play of regulation. In the first overtime period, both teams rushed for touchdowns. In the second, both connected on field goal attempts. After the Wildcats completed a touchdown pass in the third overtime period, LSU failed to convert on fourth down, leading to the stunning upset.
Back To The Present
Mississippi State has given opponents a lot of reasons to overlook its team. The Bulldogs lost three defensive players who were chosen in the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft. They have suffered due to that trio’s absence, allowing more than 163.7 rushing yards and more than two touchdowns on the ground on average per game. The mediocrity on defense has contributed to their 3-3 record overall and 1-2 tally in SEC match-ups.
The Bulldogs’ offense has also struggled, especially throwing the ball. They have been held under 200 yards through the air in four of their six games. Part of those challenges lie in that MSU has shuffled between two quarterbacks, freshman Garrett Shrader and injured graduate transfer Tommy Stevens. Shrader has appeared in every contest after the season opener though he had double-digit passing attempts and over 100 passing yards in a game only twice. Those occurred in his only start (versus Kentucky) and in relief duty at Auburn. Coach Joe Moorhead named Shrader as the starter against LSU earlier this week.
Little in the series history between LSU and Mississippi State would force the Tigers to take the Bulldogs seriously. LSU leads the all-time series, 72-37-3. For games when LSU entered ranked in one or more of the polls while MSU was not, LSU has a record of 30-6. When these two programs have faced each in Starkville, LSU holds a 15-6-1 advantage. From 1992 through 2016, LSU won 23 times while Mississippi State won only twice. During that span of 25 annual meetings, the Tigers held the Bulldogs to a single-digit score on ten occasions, including three shutouts.
Ed Orgeron and his assistants do have some bulletin board material to focus their players on the next opponent. The last time that LSU traveled to Stark Vegas, the Bulldogs dominated the Tigers, 37-7. That was Mississippi State’s largest margin of victory in this series which began in 1902. After a scoreless first quarter, LSU tied the score with its only points early in the second quarter. The Bulldogs replied by adding a field goal and touchdown in the final six minutes of the first half. MSU blew open the game in the second half by scoring on four straight possessions, alternating field goals and touchdowns. Many of the current Tigers endured that humiliation two years ago.
Is this LSU squad ready to justify its status as the second highest ranked team in the media’s poll and third highest in the coaches’ poll, including some first place votes in both? Will Coach O repeatedly hammer that memory into the forefront of his players’ minds and prevent a mental letdown? Can these Bayou Bengals handle the adulation from their fans and the media without stumbling as their predecessors did twelve years ago?