Mississippi State defensive lineman Jeffery Simmons wraps up LSU junior running back Derrius Guice in their game Saturday night in Starkville. The Bulldogs limited the Tigers to 133 yards rushing on 29 carries in a 37-7 victory. Photo by: Chris McDill/Special to The Dispatch Buy this photo.
September 18, 2017 10:05:05 AM
STARKVILLE -- Jeffery Simmons proved the Mississippi State football team's defense's point with a tackle in the second quarter.
On the first play after then-No. 12 LSU pummeled MSU with an eight-play, 65-yard touchdown drive in which it didn't attempt a pass, Marquiss Spencer took on an edge block and Simmons shed the LSU center, pursued across the formation and tackled running back Derrius Guice for a loss.
Simmons' play came after MSU adjusted the focus of its rushing attack from the interior to the perimeter. Even though LSU was called for a penalty on the play, Simmons proved MSU had an answer for everything LSU had to offer.
Excluding the touchdown drive, MSU held LSU to 68 rushing yards on 21 carries for an average of 3.2 yards per carry. The defense prevented LSU from getting started and propelled MSU to a 37-7 win in the Southeastern Conference opener for both teams at Davis Wade Stadium.
The victory catapulted MSU (3-0, 1-0 SEC) from also receiving votes to No. 17 in The Associated Press Top 25 and No. 19 in the Amway USA Today Coaches Poll, which were released Sunday. The loss dropped LSU to No. 25 in The AP poll and No. 23 in the coaches poll.
MSU football coach Dan Mullen argued his team's run defense kept LSU from developing an explosive aerial attack. LSU was 13-for-29 for 137 yards. In rushes, it averaged 4.6 yards per attempt (29 carries, 133 yards).
"They have some skill players on the outside and on the back end," Mullen said. "I think we did a good job of avoiding the big play, we didn't give up the big shock play.
"They're a run-play action team, and they ran the ball with some physicality. I think us getting a lead early took them out of some of their game plan, I thought that was huge."
MSU's defense started with the interior run. It stuffed LSU's first six runs for 15 yards in a scoreless first quarter. Defensive lineman Braxton Hoyett said the plan was as simple as playing basic gap defense, but MSU had to do so without Cory Thomas, who missed the game with a foot injury. Mullen expects Thomas to miss at least the next couple of weeks.
Hoyett and Grant Harris replaced Thomas and served as enough of a distraction for Jeffery Simmons, the sophomore standout from Noxubee County High School in Macon, to have seven tackles and one-and-a-half sacks.
The combination forced the adjustments that led the LSU's scoring drive. Even in the face of the new play-calling tact, MSU attributed its struggles on that drive to another LSU trademark: pre-snap motion under new offensive coordinator Matt Canada.
"A couple of times they got us out of formation. We didn't get the right check with the defensive line, so they took advantage of it," Mullen said. "We have some young players on defense, especially some young defensive linemen, and they were juiced about the environment. We told them, 'Be juiced, but execute at a high level.' Once they started settling down (they made) the adjustments we needed to get aligned properly."
Lining up the right way is easier said than done against LSU. Hoyett said it took three days of practice for the Bulldogs to adjust to movement before every snap.
"On Monday when we first saw it we were like, 'What is going on, what are they doing?' " Hoyett said.
Once MSU figured LSU's pre-snap movement out -- and, according to Hoyett, re-dedicated its gap-oriented defense against the outside run -- it was in position to stymie LSU. LSU ran 12 plays for 23 yards in its five possessions after the touchdown drive. The only drive that didn't end with a punt came in the final seconds of the first half.
Still, Simmons couldn't forget the one score MSU surrendered. He said the defense enters every game with a shutout in mind. It will do the same when MSU travels to No. 11 Georgia for a 6 p.m. game Saturday (ESPN).
"If we line up right, we slide over to the tackle," Simmons said. "We hold them to zero points."
NOTES: MSU's ranking is its highest since it finished the 2014 season No. 11 and 12, respectively, in The AP and the coaches poll. It made a similar jump in 2014, going from unranked to No. 12 following a win at LSU to open league play. ... In the Mullen era, MSU has been ranked for 42 weeks. ... Mullen (64-42) is one victory shy of tying College Football Hall of Famer Allyn McKeen for second in MSU all-time wins. McKeen was 65-19-3 from 1939-48. ... Entering this week, MSU is the only team in the nation to boast a top-10 scoring offense and defense. Todd Grantham's defense is fourth in the nation in total defense (206.0 yards per game) and sixth in scoring defense (9.3 points per game). MSU is averaging 47.7 ppg., which is ninth.
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter @Brett_Hudson