Joe Burrow, LSU Beat Mississippi State Behind Dominant Defensive Performance

Kyle Newport@@KyleNewportFeatured ColumnistOctober 21, 2018

BATON ROUGE, LA - OCTOBER 20: Michael Divinity Jr. #45 of the LSU Tigers returns an interception during the first half against the Mississippi State Bulldogs at Tiger Stadium on October 20, 2018 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)
Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

The LSU Tigers defeated the Mississippi State Bulldogs 19-3 at Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, on Saturday.

Joe Burrow threw for 129 yards for the Tigers, with senior running back Nick Brossette adding 57 yards and a score on the ground. Meanwhile, Bulldogs quarterback Nick Fitzgerald threw for just 59 yards with four interceptions, although he ran for 131 on 23 carries.

            

Dominant LSU Defense Ready for Big Stage

It wasn't the prettiest of nights for Burrow, but fortunately for him, the Tigers' ferocious defense came ready to play.

LSU has relied on its strong defense all season. Entering Saturday's game, the unit ranked 33rd in the nation in total defense (340 yards per game) and 17th in scoring defense (16.9 points per game). And that's having faced five ranked opponents in eight games.

The only time the Tigers allowed more than 21 points in a game this season came in a 27-19 loss to the Florida Gators. Even then, seven of the points were the result of an interception taken to the house.

It was more of the same this week against the Bulldogs.

Linebacker Michael Divinity Jr. picked off Fitzgerald just three plays into the game to give the offense great field position, giving the Tigers offense a short field to work with. Three plays later, it was 7-0.

The defense struck again near the end of the first quarter, coming up with a second interception at the Mississippi State 24-yard line thanks to safety Grant Delpit. This time, though, the offense was not capable of taking advantage of the turnover, as Burrow threw an interception of his own in the end zone.

Even with that letdown, the Tigers defense never let up.

It held Fitzgerald to just 4-of-9 passing for 19 yards and three interceptions until he was able to pad his stats a bit in garbage time. Overall, Mississippi State managed just three points and 260 total yards.

Just as importantly, the Tigers were able to make plays to get off the field, holding the Bulldogs to just 2-of-14 on thirds downs.

If LSU is going to upset Alabama, the defense is going to have to be the reason. The Crimson Tide leads the nation in scoring at 54.1 points per game, having scored 39-plus points in every game this season. That's a mark the Tigers offense has topped just once this season, a 45-16 victory over Ole Miss on Sept. 29.

Of course, Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa won't make it easy on LSU. The sophomore passer has 25 touchdowns and zero interceptions this season.

LSU's defense has held strong throughout this season, even when the offense has struggled. It will now face its toughest test—but it looks ready for the challenge.

            

Nick Fitzgerald Can't Beat Top-Tier Teams with His Arm

Fitzgerald is one of the most dynamic playmakers in all of college football, but his game has one serious limitation: his arm.

Fitzgerald has never been one to put on a passing clinic during games, completing just 54.5 percent of his passes and throwing for just 139.2 yards per game throughout his career. The senior entered the game having completed less than half of his passes (49.6 percent) this year and had seen his passing yards total drop with each passing game since Week 2.

After Saturday night's game, he now has just four touchdown passes to six interceptions.

Throwing the football is clearly an important part of being a quarterback, but Fitzgerald has been able to get away with a limited arm because of his great athleticism. He entered the game with 2,999 career rushing yards, including 1,375 in 2016.

While he may be able to run all over the Kansas States and the Louisianas of the world, Mississippi State needs him to make big throws when the competition rises—and that's something he hasn't been able to do.

In three games against teams currently ranked in the Top 25, Fitzgerald has completed just 42.7 percent of his passes for 302 yards, zero touchdowns and five interceptions. When the Bulldogs upset then-No. 8 Auburn, 23-9, Fitzgerald went just 9-of-17 for 69 yards, zero touchdowns and one interception. (Of course, he ran for 195 yards and two scores.)

Fitzgerald, with three 100-yard rushing performances this season, can be a nightmare for defenses. But unfortunately for Mississippi State, he hasn't been able to make top-tier opponents respect his arm. And that's a big reason the Bulldogs haven't been able to take the next step.

              

LSU Proves Alabama Will Have to Earn SEC West Crown

For the better part of the last decade, the SEC West has run through Tuscaloosa. Although Alabama may very well wind up in the SEC Championship Game once again, Nick Saban's squad won't have anything handed to it this year.

Alabama has won the West in four of the past six seasons, with a loss in the regular-season finale last year keeping it from a fifth crown. With the way the Crimson Tide have handled opponents this season, it appeared as though they might cruise to Atlanta.

LSU has other thoughts.

The Tigers have been battle-tested early and often this season, having already faced five ranked opponents. They are now 4-1 in such contests, including 3-0 against teams ranked in the Top 10 at the time of the game.

LSU had its bid for a perfect season ruined when the team lost to the Florida Gators in the Swamp a couple of weeks ago. However, the Tigers have shown their toughness by responding with a 36-16 victory over then-No. 2 Georgia and now a victory over Mississippi State.

If the Tigers are going to win the West, they are going to need to buck recent trends. Not only have they not won their division since 2011, but they also haven't beaten the Crimson Tide since then, a 9-6 overtime victory. Alabama got its revenge and then some with a 21-0 victory over LSU in the 2012 BCS Championship Game and has walked away victorious in all of the last seven meetings.

LSU had won nine of 12 matchups before Alabama took control of the rivalry.

If the Tigers want to make a run at the SEC as well as the College Football Playoff, they are going to have to take down the Crimson Tide. Alabama has looked like a juggernaut so far this season, but LSU has the talent on both sides of the football to make things interesting.

           

What's Next

LSU (7-1) will have a bye next week and will be back in action on Nov. 3 in a showdown against Alabama. Meanwhile, Mississippi State (4-3) will return home to host No. 17 Texas A&M on Oct. 27.

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