BATON ROUGE, La. — Just three games into his first full season in his “dream job” as LSU coach, Ed Orgeron finds himself having to explain a historically lopsided loss to his fellow Louisiana natives.
He’s also trying to maintain the belief in the future of his regime, having been in the coaching business long enough to know how things can spin out of control when players’ confidence wanes.
Mississippi State “played as good as they can play and we played as bad as we can play,” Orgeron said on what he likes to call, “Tell-the-truth Monday.” It’s a day in which coaches and players are expected to speak candidly about what went right and wrong in the previous game.
“I learned a lesson. We didn’t prepare the players as well as we should,” Orgeron said. “This is going to be a turning point for us. It better be.”
For only the fifth time since the start of the 2000 season the Tigers lost by 30 or more In 2009, Nick Saban began to rebuild the program from the wreckage of a 3-8 1999 campaign.
The 37-7 beat-down by Mississippi State, which rose to No. 17, was LSU’s most lopsided defeat in a series that began in 1896.
With a couple days to digest video of the defeat, Orgeron discussed a litany of mistakes including penalties, dropped passes, missed assignments on both offense and defense and poor tackling.
Having dropped from No. 12 to 25th in the rankings, the Tigers (2-1) will now have two home non-conference games to get things turned around before their next SEC game at Florida on Oct. 7. Next up is Syracuse (2-1) on Saturday night, followed by Troy.
“You hope you hurt after losing more than you like winning,” said LSU quarterback Danny Etling, who completed fewer than 50 percent of his passes (13-of-29) for 137 yards. “I don’t like losing. You chew on the loss, don’t make the same mistakes and spit it out.”
Penalties seem to have become an epidemic for LSU, which has had 30 assessed in the first three games. Two touchdowns were called back due to penalties at Mississippi State, and a frustrated Oregon took little solace in the fact that one of those drives ended with the Tigers’ lone TD anyway.
LSU’s first targeting penalty not only got linebacker Donnie Alexander ejected, but extended a scoring drive on what would have otherwise been a third-down incompletion when the game was still within reach.
“We’ve had referees come to our practice,” Orgeron said. “We have run the guys who commit the penalties. Four penalties on defense, two targeting, really had an impact. Those penalties changed the game and kept the drive alive.”
LSU running backs Derrius Guice and Darrel Williams both averaged more than five yards per carry against the Bulldogs. However, explosive runs were tough to come by, with just one gain of more than 10 yards.
The passing game was even worse, but the issues went well beyond Etling. The quarterback had accurate passes bounce out of receiver D.J. Chark’s hands or off of receiver Russell Gage’s face mask.
Etling also was under constant pressure; he was sacked twice and hurried on six other pass attempts. Of 21 passes thrown to wide receivers, only six were caught.
“We dropped passes and then we didn’t hit passes,” Orgeron said. “In one-on-one plays, we didn’t catch the pass or the ball was not on the money. Danny got pressured. There was not much pressure in the first two weeks.”
Meanwhile, the Bulldogs’ offense had its way with an LSU defense that allowed only 10 points through its first two games. Quarterback Nick Fitzgerald passed for 180 yards and two touchdowns that each resulted from busts in the Tigers’ secondary. Running back Aeris Williams rushed for 146 yards, while Fitzgerald added 88 yards on the ground.
“Our run fits were not good,” Orgeron said. “We didn’t carry out our option responsibilities. Our eyes in the secondary were not good. We let too many runs get outside of us.
“It was not as much Mississippi State being more physical than it was our technique and alignment.”