LSU and Mississippi State played a classic thriller on Saturday night, and it wasn't one that fits an easy narrative. There were times when Leonard Fournette sliced through the Bulldog defense with ease, while other times he'd get stuffed repeatedly. MSU couldn't move the ball at all for stretches, but it also had four drives of nine plays or longer.
It's games like these where Five Factors analysis can help out best. I didn't include the sack of Brandon Harris right before the half in any of the below, as it wasn't a real drive there, and MSU's two spikes aren't in the pass data either. Also, sacks count as pass plays, not runs.
The Bulldog defense had issues with actually getting guys to the ground, and it shows up here.
|Team||Runs 10+||Pct.||Passes 20+||Pct.||Explosive Pct.|
Some of the Tigers' big run plays were due to good blocking and design, but a number of them came from ball carriers (mostly Fournette) leaving a trail of defenders behind them. LSU also had a pair of long TD plays called back for penalties.
This table undersells MSU's passing a little bit, as the Bulldogs had four passes between 15 and 19 yards. That said, LSU did a great job of defending the intermediate-to-long routes, and Prescott wasn't always that accurate in trying to get the ball downfield.
The main measure here is success rate. Watch this short video if you need to brush up on it.
The main efficiency numbers probably look about as you'd expect if you watched the game. LSU was efficient with the run but not the pass, and the opposite was true for MSU.
|Team||Run SR||Pass SR||Overall SR||Red Zone SR|
If anything, the run figure for Mississippi State looks higher that it felt while watching the game. But despite being subpar in standard run plays, MSU was six-for-six on getting either first downs or touchdowns when the distance to go was no more than three yards. When MSU loaded up for the run, it worked. That's a stat to file away for LSU's defense too.
It also looks wrong to see MSU's overall figure being higher than LSU's, but the Bulldogs did get more scoring opportunities (2 TD, 3 FGA) than the Tigers did (3 TDs).
|Team||1Q SR||2Q SR||3Q SR||4Q SR|
LSU got off to a blistering start in scoring 14 points in the first quarter, and it ultimately made the difference in the game. MSU was the team that looked like it lost its first game to a lightning storm, as its offense did little and its defense gave up lots of yards and points. MSU did snap out of its funk and got better as the game went along, although some of that was just that it phased out the run game and moved to the pass.
Both teams leaned on what worked in crunch time, which was refreshing to see when a lot of teams will still strive for balance and waste plays with stuff that hadn't worked well all game. LSU attempted just one fourth quarter pass. MSU had just two fourth quarter carries, and the first of them was a one-yard TD run by Dak Prescott.
Efficiency by Player
The two quarterbacks had very different games.
|Player||Comp. Pct.||Pass Eff.||Yards/Att||Sacks||Pass SR|
Prescott had 52 attempts, which is very high for a Dan Mullen offense. Harris chucked it just 14 times, which doesn't sound too off for a Les Miles offense. Prescott was easily the more efficient passer despite his troubles with the deeper balls, as he was adept at completing the shorter stuff that LSU's defense was offering him. Harris, meanwhile, was terribly inefficient on throws other than his deeper passes. Two of his three successful passes were his two completions of 20+ yards, and he very nearly had a third on a diving catch attempt by Malachi Dupre.
Not surprisingly given Harris's overall numbers, the success rates for the main two LSU receivers weren't good either.
Fittingly for how few explosive pass plays that Prescott had, the Bulldog receivers' yards per target rates are fairly modest. They were pretty efficient though, which is what allowed the team to keep the ball moving despite the lack of huge plays.
Fournette's stats here don't jump off the page as much as they do in the regular box score. His success rate was a bit above average (which is low 40s) but it wasn't Derrick Henry vs. Wisconsin high. It's still pretty good for the size of the workload he had, but we'll have to see how the MSU defense is against other runners to get a feel for how good this was.
This is a great example of why success rate is valuable. If you looked at Prescott's line of seven carries for nine yards—well, assuming someone took the sacks out of the rushing totals—you'd not come away impressed. Yet, he was MSU's most efficient runner on the night thanks to Mullen using him some as a short yardage back. He converted a 3rd-and-1 in his own territory in the third quarter, and he punched it into the end zone from a yard out twice. He wasn't able to do much of anything in longer distance situations, but he still got the job done in the high pressure situations.
The starting field position battle was basically equal.
|Team||Avg. Starting Position||Plays in Opp. Territory||Pct. Of Total|
|Mississippi State||Own 26||36||46.2%|
The difference in plays in opponent territory can be explained by MSU being there more often—five trips inside the 40 vs. three for LSU, as you'll see below—and the Tigers getting yards in big chunks while the Bulldogs had to go in smaller bursts. Fournette had touchdown runs of 26 and 18 yards, and those probably erased three or four plays in opponent's territory apiece by taking care of things quickly.
When LSU was able to get deep in Bulldog territory, you can't argue with the results. Getting there was the hard part.
|Team||Drives||Trips Inside 40||Points||Red Zone Trips||Points|
MSU was able to get more scoring opportunities, but it had to settle for field goal attempts in three of those five times. LSU's ability to stall out Prescott and the offense short of the end zone was a major difference in the game.
Neither team turned the ball over once.
All early season caveats apply since this was each team's first game against a major opponent—and LSU's first game, period.
LSU's offense doesn't look all that much better. Harris has more apparent upside than Anthony Jennings does, and Harris was even a decent weapon in the run game when either scrambling or on designed carries. However, Harris's passing line was not materially different than what Jennings was doing last year. He lacks touch on the short passes and doesn't always get the deeper ones completed. It's still going to be Fournette carrying the offense, though, and there's only so much even he can do.
Mississippi State, meanwhile, has a problem with running the ball. Prescott is a good quarterback, and Wilson and the two Freds make for a nice receiving corps. However, MSU's offense is not built around throwing half a hundred times a game. The rebuilt offensive line must improve on standard run downs, no matter how good it was in short yardage. They didn't get to short yardage often enough thanks to the earlier down struggles.
The jury is still out on the two new defensive coordinators given that we don't know exactly how good these offenses were. Through one game, there was no collapse from LSU going from John Chavis to Kevin Steele. If I had to pick one of the two units, I'd say I'm more confident in LSU's going forward. It offered a lot of dink and dunk plays, and that's what the Bulldogs were largely taking. The Tigers wanted to take away the run and the long pass, and they largely did so.
Manny Díaz's guys got pushed around a lot and had issues with tackling Fournette. They won't see Fournette every week, but they will see Henry and Alex Collins and a number of other good backs. Maybe it just needed some time to get its feet under it as we saw with the awful first quarter success rate, but that had better be a one-game thing and not an every-game thing if State is going to fulfill its goals.
It's was definitely an early season game for both teams. Each has better football yet to play.