BATON ROUGE, La. -- Coach Les Miles said LSU's football staff has already submitted to the SEC office its concerns over Mississippi State center Dillon Day stomping two Tigers players in Saturday night's game.
"That's already in the works," Miles said at his Monday press luncheon. "I think not only did TV catch that, but that was something that we caught and that we sent in and certainly the conference will do the right thing."
Day also drew a 15-yard personal foul penalty late in the third quarter for a hit well after the whistle.
Mississippi State's senior center was suspended for the first half of last season's game against Troy for stomping on an Auburn player, with Bulldogs coach Dan Mullen saying after the Troy game, "I didn't think that [Day's personal foul] represented what our football program was all about."
Day took to Twitter to defend himself and apologized that it was perceived that he was trying to injure LSU players.
My personal letter to the bulldog fans. pic.twitter.com/Mx2CXhvBTF
- Dillon Day (@DoomzDAY63) September 22, 2014
This was bound to happen eventually, once talented true freshman Brandon Harris gained full command of the Tigers’ offensive scheme. It’s happening now, sooner than Les Miles’ coaching staff might have anticipated, after what happened on the field in Saturday night’s 34-29 loss to Mississippi State.
Sophomore starter Anthony Jennings struggled to do much of anything with the offense for three-plus quarters. Then he left the game with what appeared to be a shoulder injury after taking a huge hit at the LSU goal line. Then Harris came on and breathed some life into the Tigers’ offense, nearly sparking a miraculous comeback win.
To be clear, Jennings does not deserve all (or maybe even most) of the blame for LSU’s stagnant offense on Saturday. The Tigers had been a run-heavy team that took occasional shots downfield through the first three games, but Mississippi State’s stout defensive front controlled the line of scrimmage on Saturday.
Outside of a 20-yard Leonard Fournette run early in the second quarter, the Tigers had just one run that covered at least 10 yards and that was on a Harris scramble on the game’s final drive. They averaged just 2.5 yards per carry, which simply wouldn’t cut it when Mississippi State’s offense was carving up LSU’s defense so efficiently. And for the most part, the Bulldogs also took away the downfield throws that had made LSU’s passing game dangerous at times.
Miles said ineffective offensive line play contributed to both issues.
“The protection is something that makes every quarterback struggle,” Miles said. “If you’ve got somebody running in your face, it’s an issue. So for me to say that [playing Harris earlier would] have been any different at that point, I’m not ready to say that.”
This was the kind of game where LSU needed a quarterback who could stretch the field in order to take some pressure off the run, and it was evident that Jennings’ passing skills did not scare Mississippi State’s defense enough to back them out of the box. Harris, however ...
That’s the dilemma here, and let’s do our best not to overreact to what LSU’s offense did late against a Bulldogs team that obviously took its foot off the gas pedal too early. Harris was phenomenal in three possessions, finishing 6-for-9 for 140 yards and two touchdowns, but the pressure was largely off once he entered the game. Playing against State’s starters would have made life tough for Harris, too.
We also can’t overlook that LSU’s offense looked potent for the first time once Harris entered the lineup.
“His performance certainly, in the limited pieces that we asked him to perform, was very positive,” Miles said. “We’re not going to also downplay what was really great throws, the ability to move his feet and those things. That we see. We’re going to make the correct decision, and he made a case for himself today. And we enjoyed the productivity that he gave us.”
Nonetheless, maybe Saturday’s game against New Mexico State is the perfect time to see what the freshman is made of. It remains to be seen how serious Jennings' injury was -- Miles said Jennings was "nicked up" and not available to re-enter the game late once LSU closed the gap -- so the freshman might play more on Saturday out of necessity. But either way, maybe it’s time to start getting Harris valuable game reps.
Playing Jennings makes sense if LSU's coaches believe that their strategy in the first several games -- playing it close to the vest on offense and letting the defense control the game -- will help the Tigers remain in contention in the SEC West. Jennings probably suits that philosophy better than Harris. But Saturday night’s results revealed that might not be an effective strategy against the caliber of opponents that remain on LSU’s schedule.
The Tigers are going to need to score. A lot. As a raw talent, Harris might be more prone to mistakes, but he’s also more likely to make a defensive coordinator think twice about crowding the line of scrimmage. And if he’s LSU’s quarterback of the future (since nearly everyone seems to agree that he is) LSU might as well let Harris start proving whether he can handle the job.
Miles' coaching staff probably wouldn’t publicly admit to thinking beyond this season, especially since the Tigers have played only four games. That’s understandable. The question they must consider this week, and each week moving forward, is whether making Harris their starting quarterback would better prepare the Tigers to win right now as well as in the future.
Florida's Jeff Driskel, a redshirt junior, and LSU's Anthony Jennings, a true sophomore, have been too inconsistent to start the year to not try some new things at quarterback. That means true freshmen Treon Harris (Florida) and Brandon Harris (LSU) need more quality reps in practice and games.
Against good defenses, Florida and LSU watched their offenses back-peddle on Saturday because of nonexistent passing games. It might be good for both schools to ease their freshmen quarterbacks onto the field a little bit more going forward because there are obvious issues under center.
This was supposed to be a brand new year for Driskel with new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper installing a spread offense that would fit with his skill set more, but the last two weeks have raised the same questions about Driskel's composure. He had a troubling Jekyll-and-Hyde performance in that triple-overtime win against Kentucky and then looked flat and had zero rhythm in the blowout loss to Alabama. Driskel was off on just about every one of his down-field passes against a shaky Alabama secondary that gave him plenty of good looks in the first half and he couldn't get the ball out fast enough. He finished a paltry 9 of 28 passing for 93 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions.
Driskel's confidence was shot, as the struggles that have plagued his college career returned in Tuscaloosa. With the bye week here, Florida's coaches have two weeks to prepare for Tennessee and get things right with their offense. And that should include more quality reps from Treon Harris.
Benching Driskel for Treon Harris right now would be a mistake, but keeping the frosh off the field is too. His first two college passes went for 148 yards and two touchdowns against Eastern Michigan. That will never happen again, but there have to be plays in Roper's playbook for him to make. He's at least a change of pace for the Gators at quarterback, and some sort of change has to come.
Coach Will Muschamp hinted at some quarterback re-evaluation in the next two weeks.
“The execution is not where it needs to be,” Muschamp told reporters Saturday. “We missed a deep ball to (Demarcus Robinson) early in the game where he got on top of a guy. We had a dropped third down.
“Against a team like that, you have to make plays when you have the opportunities, and we didn't do that. We need to go back and evaluate the decisions we made going into the game and during the game.”
One Florida great, Emmitt Smith, even tweeted his unhappiness with Driskel.
Put Jeff Driskel on the bench please, I have seen enough.
— Emmitt Smith (@EmmittSmith22) September 20, 2014
At LSU, Jennings went from hero in the comeback win over Arkansas last year to a wildly inconsistent gunslinger. To his credit, he made some big throws in that valiant comeback over Wisconsin, but against a Mississippi State defense that is the best he's seen to date, Jennings threw for 157 yards and missed too many passes that were there. Granted, the Bulldogs frustrated him all night with pressure, but Jennings just wasn't efficient enough to win the game for the Tigers. He had no composure.
Jennings has been more of a game manager than anything for the Tigers to start the year, as LSU has spent more time running the ball. When the Tigers had to throw down field against Mississippi State, which held LSU to 89 rushing yards, they couldn't.
Until Brandon Harris came in late and delivered touchdown passes for 30 and 31 yards to almost pull the dramatic comeback win. Harris completed 6 of 9 passes for 140 yards in relief duty.
The thing about this situation is that it looked like Jennings got hurt in the Mississippi State game, so Brandon Harris might have no choice but to see more time. But he's also a better down-field passer and appears to be the more talented option. He really struggled against Wisconsin, but delivered some beauties against Mississippi State. Let him play. Build his confidence.
The seasons aren't over for either of these programs, but they will be soon enough if they don't create a passing threat. It might not be time for a changing of the guard for either school, but there's no point in keeping some talented guys on the bench.
Let the kids play.
Spurrier on GameDay coming to SC: "I heard there was a good chance they'd come if us and Missour won. I guess only one of us had to win."— Dave Matter (@Dave_Matter) September 21, 2014
2. There wasn't much to learn about Georgia in its 66-0 win against Troy. Or was there? We already knew Todd Gurley was one of the nation's finest players. He hardly broke a sweat on Saturday with six carries for 73 yards, but Georgia hasn't had to overwork Gurley, and still his 9.8 yards per carry leads the FBS. We knew the Bulldogs had some talented youngsters, but who knew true freshmen Sony Michel and Isaiah McKenzie were ready to completely overshadow another injury to former five-star running back Keith Marshall? It seems the only question surrounding Georgia is wither the passing game, fellas? Georgia welcomes Tennessee this weekend along with the chance to see if Hutson Mason needs to do anything other than hand off. For their part, the Vols enjoyed a perfectly timed bye week after three nonconference games and can now go about the business of clawing their way back to SEC relevance.
3. That sound of laughter you're hearing off in the distance? It's Lane Kiffin basking in the afterglow of Alabama's 42-21 smackdown of the Gators. His offense so thoroughly dominated Florida's defense, the Gators set a record for the most yards allowed in school history. Dating to his time as head coach at Tennessee, that kind of performance against the hated Gators was something Kiffin could only dream about. On Saturday, his quarterback threw for 445 yards -- second only to Scott Hunter's 484 in Alabama history -- and his money wide receiver was the clear winner in a much-anticipated matchup with one of the best cover cornerbacks in college football. Today, receiver Amari Cooper is a legitimate Heisman candidate. We suspected he might be the best wideout in the country, but there is now a totally different perception of quarterback Blake Sims (who deflected some of the praise to Kiffin, by the way). If Alabama's offense can keep up this kind of balance and ruthless efficiency, the only sound we'll be hearing will be the chattering teeth of defensive coordinators.
Around the SEC
- Mississippi State center Dillon Day stepped on two LSU players on Saturday. He was flagged once.
- Arkansas is clicking in all phases. The Hogs' next test -- against Texas A&M at Jerry World -- offers a chance to break their 13-game SEC losing streak.
- Vandy played much better on Saturday, albeit in a losing effort. Derek Mason is still looking for his first league win, as is his next counterpart, UK's Mark Stoops.
- There wasn't much to learn about Texas A&M in its romp against SMU, so the national media turned its attention to a cadet saving the Aggies' canine mascot.
- Les Miles took the blame for his Tigers' big loss at home: "I've got to be a better head coach."
Fairly disappointing to see ONLY 4 SEC West schools in top 10 in new AP poll.— Paul Finebaum (@finebaum) September 21, 2014
We’re also adding a 12th team -- Arkansas -- to the list after the Razorbacks crushed Northern Illinois to improve to 3-1. Arkansas has an awfully difficult schedule down the stretch, but we will give Bret Bielema's club the benefit of the doubt for now and project it to reach at least six wins.
Here is our full SEC list entering the fifth week of the season:
College Football Playoff semifinal (Rose Bowl): Alabama
Orange Bowl: Texas A&M
Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl: Auburn
Capital One Bowl: Georgia
TaxSlayer Bowl: South Carolina
Outback Bowl: Mississippi State
Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl: Ole Miss
Belk Bowl: Missouri
AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl: LSU
AutoZone Liberty Bowl: Tennessee
Birmingham Bowl: Arkansas
Duck Commander Independence Bowl: Florida
Edward Aschoff, Jeff Barlis, David Ching, Sam Khan Jr., Chris Low, Greg Ostendorf and Alex Scarborough contributed to these rankings.
Each Sunday during the season, ESPN.com will highlight four storylines that had an impact on the College Football Playoff race.
Louisiana native Dak Prescott passed for 268 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for 105 and a TD at Tiger Stadium as the Bulldogs snapped a 14-game losing streak to LSU.
Jameis Winston, suspended for the game after making "offensive and vulgar" comments earlier this week on campus, was reduced to cheerleader as Karlos Williams scored on a 12-yard touchdown run to rally Florida State past Clemson in overtime.
Marcus Mariota threw for 329 yards and five touchdowns and rushed for 58 net yards despite being sacked seven times as the Ducks scraped by the Cougars 38-31.
Quarterback Brandon Harris “made a case for himself” according to LSU coach Les Miles by leading the Tigers back from a huge deficit to nearly earn an amazing comeback victory. Suddenly a quarterback battle that seemed to have settled looks wide open again.
Here’s a recap of how Harris and some of the Tigers’ other true freshmen fared on Saturday:
WR MALACHI DUPRE
What he did: Dupre played more than he had in any game to date and notched his first 100-yard outing with four catches for 120 yards and two touchdowns. In the fourth quarter alone, he notched scoring catches of 31 and 30 yards.
What it means: This is what LSU fans expected when Dupre, the nation’s No. 1 wide receiver prospect for 2014, signed with the Tigers in February. He got off to a somewhat slow start, but Dupre formed a solid one-two punch with Travin Dural (six catches, 124 yards) on Saturday. It was the 13th time in LSU history that two receivers enjoyed 100-yard outings.
RB LEONARD FOURNETTE
What he did: Fournette ran seven times for 38 yards in the first half, but didn’t get a carry in the second half once the Tigers fell far behind. He finished with 99 all-purpose yards (38 rushing, 60 on three kickoff returns and 1 on one reception).
What it means: Nobody on LSU’s offense did much in the running game -- the Tigers finished with just 89 yards on 36 carries -- so we can’t read too much into Fournette’s numbers. He had the Tigers’ longest run of the night, a 20-yard burst in the second quarter, but LSU mostly abandoned the run out of necessity once State went up by multiple scores.
QB BRANDON HARRIS
What he did: The game was all but over when Harris replaced Anthony Jennings, but he was highly impressive in his three series under center. Harris finished 6-for-9 for 140 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. He also ran twice for 19 yards.
What it means: LSU trailed 34-16 when Harris entered the game with just 3:43 to play. That he was attempting to throw a game-winning touchdown pass on the final play was nothing short of remarkable. Harris led a 95-yard touchdown drive, a 30-yard touchdown drive and had the Tigers in position for a last-gasp shot at the end zone. He earned a shot at more playing time, if not a start next Saturday, by sparking an unbelievable rally.
RB DARREL WILLIAMS
What he did: Williams didn’t play much before the final quarter, but he had a hand in the late comeback, as well. He caught Harris passes of 13 and 25 yards on LSU’s 95-yard touchdown drive that cut Mississippi State’s lead to 34-22.
What it means: It looked like garbage-time production when Williams caught those passes, although they obviously turned out to be more important when the Tigers strung together a couple of late scores. Williams also got a couple of short-yardage runs, totaling 4 yards, but he mostly played a minor role in the backfield on Saturday.
BATON ROUGE, La. -- Five of the most intimidating words in college football are “Saturday night in Tiger Stadium.” Unless you’re Dak Prescott.
You chalk up a loss when your team is playing against LSU under such circumstances. Always, always, always.
Only twice in Les Miles’ nine-plus seasons at LSU -- at least before Prescott and Mississippi State dominated most of Saturday’s 34-29 win before the No. 8 Tigers' frantic comeback -- had a visitor come to Death Valley on a Saturday night and walked away a winner: Florida in 2009 and Alabama in 2012. Two teams that came in ranked No. 1 in the nation. One that eventually won a BCS title and one that easily could have.
In other words, this simply doesn’t happen. Especially in the fashion that the Bulldogs made it happen on Saturday night. They controlled the line of scrimmage on defense, limiting LSU to 89 rushing yards. They ran around and through an LSU defense that had not allowed a single point in 31 possessions and nine quarters, rolling up 570 yards of total offense -- the most ever allowed by a Miles-coached LSU team.
“Our guys were very, very confident coming in here and really expected to win. I don’t know, to the guys in the locker room, that this is a big upset for us,” Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen said. “I think it obviously is on more of a national stage, but I think our guys really believed that we could come in and if we did our job, took care of plays and made plays, we could win the game, and we were able to do that.”
Louisiana native Prescott was the leading figure in the upset, using his running and passing skills to embarrass LSU’s previously dominant defense. The Bulldogs’ quarterback was a Heisman Trophy dark horse prior to Saturday night, but he’s sure to get more serious attention after carving up the Tigers’ defense for 268 passing yards, 105 rushing yards and three total touchdowns.
“I think this game was really big for him, coming here,” Mullen said. “He wanted to have a big game.”
Prescott had plenty of help.
Josh Robinson rushed for 197 yards and a score and Jameon Lewis had 116 receiving yards, including a 74-yard touchdown catch in the third quarter that gave the Bulldogs a shocking 31-10 lead. Mississippi State’s defense overwhelmed an LSU offensive front that came in as a question mark and a quarterback -- Anthony Jennings -- who has yet to prove himself as a consistent passer.
As a result, the Tigers’ offense was often stagnant and unable to counter punch until freshman Brandon Harris provided a late spark and actually had a chance to toss a game-winning touchdown on the game’s final play before Will Redmond intercepted it at the Bulldogs 1-yard line.
So where does this leave us now? One of these teams exits Tiger Stadium as a legitimate contender in the SEC West, and it’s not the team that came in as a Top-10 club. Mullen was 2-23 against ranked opponents and had never beaten a Top-10 team as State’s coach before Saturday, but as Miles indicated earlier this week, this might be Mullen’s best team since he arrived in Starkville in 2009.
The Bulldogs certainly played like it on Saturday.
“They’ve definitely gotten better every year -- every year I’ve played them,” LSU senior linebacker D.J. Welter said. “They always come in here and give a tough fight and compete well against us. They definitely had the upper hand tonight. They did a great job of executing and we didn’t do so well.”
Mississippi State gets a week off and then will host Texas A&M and Auburn in its next two games. Winning in Baton Rouge for the first time since 1991 was a major hurdle to clear, but we might know by mid-October whether the Bulldogs have staying power in the Western Division race.
“We’re 1-0 in the SEC West this year with a lot of football [to go],” Mullen said. “I think the next two games we play are against teams ranked higher than LSU was, which is hard when you have that much depth and talent in our side of the league, and then Alabama’s I think even higher than those two. So there’s so much to play for in this league. You’re going to have to bring your A-game every week.”
The Tigers, meanwhile, look like a young team that will experience the growing pains that most of us expected prior to the season. Their season-opening comeback win against Wisconsin and ensuing blowout wins against Sam Houston State and Louisiana-Monroe provided LSU fans with hope that maybe they were ahead of schedule while breaking in a host of new players in key roles. State provided a wake-up call on Saturday night that the SEC West is the wrong division in which to rely on a host of youngsters.
There are bright days ahead for Miles’ team, but Prescott’s Bulldogs are perhaps the team of right now. Can they play with the A&Ms and Auburns and Alabamas that remain on the schedule? We’ll find out soon enough.
But the team that dominated LSU in Tiger Stadium for most of Saturday night looked like it can play with just about anybody -- even the heavyweights in the toughest division in college football.
1. The SEC West is clearly the best ... again: It's the same story in the SEC: The West is the best. None of these teams are perfect, but they are the best of the bunch in the SEC. Alabama throttled Florida at home, Auburn went on the road and gutted out a tough win over No. 20 Kansas State, Texas A&M just continues to roll over everyone, Arkansas can run on anyone, Ole Miss is a top-10 team, and Mississippi State walked into Death Valley at night and beat No. 8 LSU team in what turned into a late thriller. We know this LSU team has issues with its passing game and young defense, but give Mississippi State a lot of credit for that performance. There's a reason the West entered the weekend with five ranked teams -- all in the top 10. On the other side of the conference, everyone in the East has issues. The thing about the West is no team is really sticking out as the dominant team in the division, and every one of them is a work in progress, but they've all had really good moments. This is easily the toughest division in all of college football. Whoever comes out of this division might have an automatic ticket to the playoff on principle alone.
3. Mississippi State will challenge for the West title: I wondered why this team wasn't ranked in the Top 25 to begin the season, and then the defense fell asleep in Week 2 and I started to wonder if Mississippi State was for real. Now, after a 34-29 win over LSU in Baton Rouge, you can't sleep on Dan Mullen and his Bulldogs. Sure, this was a rout that got pretty tight late in the fourth quarter, but this is a win the Bulldogs should be ecstatic about. And how about quarterback Dak Prescott? He had his best performance to date in his home state with 373 yards of offense and three touchdowns. Fellow Louisiana native Josh Robinson wasn't too shabby either, as he rushed for 197 yards and a score. Take the Bulldogs lightly at your own risk.
4. The East race is a total crapshoot: Besides a dominating performance from Georgia over Troy, the SEC East didn't have a great day. Florida was blown out by Alabama, Missouri was stunned at home by unranked Big Ten representative Indiana 31-27, and South Carolina slogged through a 48-34 win at Vanderbilt. We saw that Florida's offense still has major issues and Missouri's interior defensive linemen need a lot of work, as Indiana ran for 241 yards on the Tigers. South Carolina still controls its own destiny when it comes to going to Atlanta for the SEC title game, but no one would be shocked to see the Gamecocks drop another one. Will Georgia's defense get better? Will Florida have an offense? Was this a fluke loss for Mizzou? Is Tennessee a real sleeper? A two-loss SEC East champ is not out of the question with so many uncertainties.
5. Will Muschamp's seat is hotter than ever: I have a feeling Bill from Gainesville won't be calling into many radio shows this week. With a loss in which the Gators faded quickly in the second half, Muschamp's seat is roasting in Gainesville. Last year's injury-riddled, 4-8 season was one thing, but Florida has regressed in the past two games this season, which means the Gators have to show vast improvement in two weeks at Tennessee in order to perk an already downtrodden and disheartened fan base. You have to let the season play out, but this was a bad loss for Muschamp's squad, even if Alabama was the No. 3 team in the country. Florida should be competitive in games such as this, and the Gators just weren't after Alabama cleaned up its mistakes in the second half. There were plenty of opportunities for Florida in this one, but the Gators just didn't execute. Florida fans are frustrated with their coach and their quarterback, who are both in their fourth years at UF.
Drive Through: SEC West Dominance
Final Troy 0 13 Georgia 66 Final 6 Texas A&M 58 SMU 6 Final Florida 21 3 Alabama 42 Final Indiana 31 18 Missouri 27 Final Northern Illinois 14 Arkansas 52 Final Mississippi State 34 8 LSU 29 Final 14 South Carolina 48 Vanderbilt 34