September 17, 2017 12:24:10 AM
This is beginning to look familiar, isn't it?
The Mississippi State football team flipped the script again against LSU and suddenly a team nobody thought very much of seems to have no limitations.
Unranked, unheralded, undaunted MSU defeated No. 12 LSU 37-7 for the largest margin of victory against the Tigers in series history. The crowd of 60,596 at Davis Wade Stadium lost their ever-loving minds as the final seconds ticked away.
For the Bulldogs, it was only their second victory against the Tigers in the millennium. I'm guessing you probably remember that other win. It was the signature win for MSU and junior quarterback Dak Prescott, the first of three consecutive victories against ranked teams that catapulted the 2014 Bulldogs to a five-week run as the nation's No. 1 team. The Bulldogs played good defense and relied on the one-two running bunch of Prescott and Josh Robinson to finish with its first 10-win season.
MSU, you also will recall, entered that game against LSU outside the rankings.
When the Bulldogs arrive, they always seem to arrive out of nowhere.
So here we go again, right?
Another junior quarterback, another complementary runner in the backfield. Defense? We'll get to that in a bit.
Nick Fitzgerald, who led the Southeastern Conference in total yards last year as a sophomore, is picking up where right where he left off. Against the Tigers, he was 13-for-23 for 180 yards and two touchdowns. He rushed for another 88 yards and two more scores.
Aeris Williams, the Bulldogs' hard-running junior running back from West Point High School, upstaged LSU's Derrius Guice, rolling for 146 yards on 23 carries. Williams is averaging 112 yards a game. He averages 7 yards per carry, most of it dragging a hapless defender or two along for the ride.
MSU had 465 yards and, mind you, these numbers didn't come at the expense of a little school looking for a pay-day.
LSU's defense is big and fast and had allowed just 31 rushing yards per game before Fitzgerald and Williams got behind that big offensive line and pounded the Tigers to a pulp, piling up 285 rushing yards.
MSU scored on all three of its second-quarter possession and its first four possessions of the second half. It was a laugher.
I will pause here to consider the wonder that is the LSU Tigers. It is a rare thing to see a team with so much talent and so little discipline. LSU had two touchdowns called back on penalties, had not one, but two players ejected for targeting while roughing the passer and committed nine penalties for 112 yards. LSU's colors are purple and gold. They are purple and yellow.
But make no mistake: LSU didn't beat itself, although it did contribute from time to time.
LSU had one scoring drive, a 65-yard yard march that tied the score at 7 in the second quarter.
Other than that, the Bulldog defense frustrated the Tigers at every turn. LSU converted on 3-for-13 third downs and was 0-for-2 on fourth-down conversions. LSU moved the ball some, but never when it seemed to really matter.
Nose tackle Jeffrey Simmons, a sophomore from Noxubee County High was again, virtually unblockable. He had seven tackles, one-and-a-half sacks, and two quarterback hurries. Fifteen games into his career, he already might be the best defensive lineman to put on a maroon jersey. LSU couldn't handle him, and Simmons had plenty of help. The MSU defense attacks like a swarm of hornets. It's no fun playing against them, which is a remarkable turn-around for a defense that gave up 450 yards per game last year.
Guice, the Tigers' hugely talented junior running back, is every bit as good as advertised. He's a fast, strong, balanced runner and a constant threat to make the big play. Against MSU, he ran for 76 yards on 15 carries and no scores. Those are decent numbers, but not Guice numbers. He earned every yard and took a beating.
So here we are. An offense that can run and throw and score. A defense that is probably better than that 2014 defense -- maybe much better.
Suddenly, MSU is back on everybody's radar, and while you may debate the talent of this team compared to other perceived top teams, you can't debate its toughness.
On both sides of the ball, MSU is slobber-knocker tough. The Bulldogs will pound you. Repeatedly. Monotonously.
Oh, and as a bonus, the Bulldogs appear to have found a reliable kicker in freshman Jace Christmann (field goals of 30 and 45 yards). Imagine that, huh?
At 3-0, 1-0 in the SEC, MSU is exactly where the 2014 team was after the LSU game. Road games against Georgia and Auburn are just ahead. They will be tall tasks, but it's beginning to look awfully familiar.
Slim Smith is columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is email@example.com.
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