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LSU 42, Missouri 7: MU’s first trip to Death Valley goes quickly awry

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NCAA Football: Missouri at Louisiana State Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

On LSU’s first offensive drive, Donavin Newsom dropped a sure interception in LSU territory. On Missouri’s fourth drive, down only 7-0, Sean Culkin broke open deep downfield and Drew Lock rushed his throw and missed him by about 20 yards, throwing an interception instead.

In a do-over universe, Mizzou could have led 10-7 or 14-7 at the end of the first quarter. It wouldn’t have mattered with the way LSU was running the ball, but it would have left a different taste in the mouth than reality did.

In reality, Mizzou missed these two opportunities, gave up 293 rushing yards to LSU backs Derrius Guice and Darrel Williams, and found themselves trailing 28-0 early in the third quarter. Guice scored three times in the first half, Williams scored three times in the second, and that was that.

LSU cruised, 42-7. Mizzou broke up the shutout with a touchdown pass from Eric Laurent to Drew Lock with 6:11 left in the game.

Three quick takeaways:

1. LSU didn’t tweak much ... but tweaked enough.

Heading into the game, Missouri’s defensive coaches were concerned with the unknowns. Following Les Miles’ firing, LSU’s interim coaching staff was talking about opening things up on offense. Quarterback Danny Etling was only 19-for-30 passing and didn’t complete a particularly long pass until early in the fourth quarter. But the passing game was efficient enough to make the Tigers flat-footed, and it gave LSU all the edge it needed in the run game.

Guice was fantastic. He is excellent at running downhill, but when Mizzou tried to overcompensate and over-pursue, he was spectacular at cutting back and finding big holes. Missouri’s tackling was woeful, but Guice and Williams both ran with anger and purpose. Last year’s Mizzou defense wouldn’t have done dramatically better.

Mizzou was uncomfortable and a half-step short all night. The Tigers were somehow both hesitant and overcommitted at the same time. Both linebacker Michael Scherer and safety Thomas Wilson had the worst games of their respective careers. And the LSU offensive line mauled a defensive line that seemed to have made major progress in recent weeks.

NCAA Football: Missouri at Louisiana State
Derrius Guice
Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

2. If you can’t out-physical Missouri, you’re in trouble. But if you can...

The Mizzou offense has improved dramatically after last year’s tailspin. It has an identity and growing confidence. But the run game — the run blocking in particular — is still playing catch-up. Missouri had a couple of solid rushes, and Ish Witter and Damarea Crockett actually ended up with a decent 83 yards in 17 carries because of it, but short-yardage was a massive issue, and it’s clear that Josh Heupel simply doesn’t trust that aspect of the offense. There’s probably a reason for that.

So that renders Mizzou one-dimensional. And against a team with a secondary like LSU’s, that’s an issue. LSU’s Tre’Davious White dominated J’Mon Moore (6 targets, 1 catch, 16 yards) in a one-on-one matchup, and Drew Lock couldn’t find anybody reliable enough to make up the difference. As was somewhat suspected, Mizzou had success with a couple of screens and the trick play pass to Lock, but Tiger wideouts not named Moore finished with just 8 catches for 77 yards, and Lock finished 17-for-37.

If Mizzou receivers have a step on you, you’re dead meat. Mizzou receivers did not have a step on LSU’s secondary.

NCAA Football: Missouri at Louisiana State
Barry Odom
Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

3. Learn and grow

Four weeks ago, Mizzou was rendered woefully inefficient against a solid, physical West Virginia defense in a 26-11 loss. The Tigers responded with three straight strong offensive performances. (Well, 2.5 if you don’t want to count the second half against Georgia.)

There’s plenty of growth and potential success still on the table in 2016. Mizzou gets a bye week to rest and reassess, then takes on another physical, limiting defense at Florida. But if the Tigers can maintain morale and stay on course, four straight potential wins follow. That will define Missouri’s season, not this trip to Baton Rouge.

The effort against LSU was disappointing — not necessarily the lack of it, but the lack of productive effort — but it will end up a footnote for the 2016 season. The MTSU-Kentucky-Vanderbilt-SC stretch will define it. So find some positives, lick your wounds, and move on.