The LSU Tigers suffered a disappointing 34-29 home loss to SEC West foe Mississippi State Saturday night, and will likely pay the price by falling in Sunday’s updated top 25 polls.

Here are five takeaways from LSU’s loss to the Bulldogs:

  1. LSU looked much better on offense with Brandon Harris at quarterback. The backup quarterback is always the most popular man in town, but the Tigers might actually be better off with Harris, a freshman, at quarterback. Mississippi State scored just 10 points in three quarters with Anthony Jennings at the helm, but ripped off 19 points in the fourth quarter after Harris came in the game. Although the Bulldogs had dropped into some vanilla coverages while holding a big lead, Harris picked the MSU secondary apart and threw for 140 yards and two touchdowns on just six completions in the fourth quarter. Jennings has never played a quarter where he looked as solid as Harris did against Mississippi State, whether he was filling in for Zach Mettenberger last year or starting a game this year. It would be risky to start a freshman in the loaded SEC West, but the Tigers’ offense is going nowhere with Jennings at the helm and it would not be the worst thing in the world to begin grooming Harris for the future.
  2. The Tigers no longer have a margin for error in the SEC West. LSU is now 0-1 in the SEC, and still has four teams ranked in last week’s top 10 remaining on its schedule. The Tigers will play three of those teams in the final month of the season, making it critical they reach that month without another loss if they hope to contend for a West division title. Mississippi State must win both its games against the SEC East (Kentucky and Florida), and must take care of unranked rival Arkansas to even have a chance at a trip to Atlanta. Games against Ole Miss, Alabama and Texas A&M are still a long way off, but LSU cannot afford a second loss before November if it hopes to win 10 games and contend for a conference championship.
  3. Leonard Fournette still does not appreciate the talent level in the SEC or even the FBS. The freshman sensation actually led LSU in rushing with seven carries for 38 yards, but he struggled once again and appeared less patient than he had in previous games. Many freshman struggle early in their careers as they battle a learning curve, but Fournette appears stubborn in his development, routinely running straight into the line with his head down rather than patiently waiting for his blockers to do their jobs. That move may have worked in high school when Fournette was the biggest and strongest kid on the field, but at the Division I level those moves are not longer adequate. He is certainly a dynamic weapon in the run game, but he needs to take time to better understand LSU’s sophisticated rushing attack to maximize his abilities. Until then, it will just be a lot of downhill running with an occasional big gain.
  4. Malachi Dupre is going to be nasty for LSU for the next few years. Dupre is another freshman already making an impact on the LSU offense, and he had his best game as a Tiger against Mississippi State Saturday night. Dupre caught four passes for 120 yards and two touhdowns, both coming from Harris late in the fourth quarter. His 40 yards per catch average was even better than teammate Travin Dural’s 30 yards per catch entering the game against MSU. Dupre took advantage of a lackluster Mississippi State secondary and put up big numbers in an otherwise struggling passing game. He should play a larger role in LSU’s offense next week when the Tigers step back out of conference to take on New Mexico.
  5. The LSU defensive line lost its battle in the trenches. The Tigers let Mississippi State run all over them, and although the defensive line had some success rushing the passer, it looked hopeless in trying to defend the Bulldogs’ rushing attack. Two different Bulldogs rushed for more than 100 yards apiece, and the Bulldogs rushed for more than 300 yards as a team. In a conference with as many strong backfields as the SEC has, the LSU defensive line must improve against the run the rest of the season. LSU has games remaining against strong running teams like Alabama, Arkansas and Auburn, and will face similar issues in all three games if it cannot improve its play in the trenches to stop the run at the line of scrimmage.