Mississippi St.-LSU Preview
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP)
"We won every statistical category, but the score,'' coach Les Miles said of the 21-17 defeat. "That's unfortunate. I told the team I wish I would have done a couple of things better.''
Mississippi State, which visits Death Valley on Saturday, has to wish it did everything better in its last two games - losses by a combined 76-20 to the Crimson Tide and then-No. 16 Texas A&M.
Miles certainly understands the mentality of the 22nd-ranked Bulldogs.
"Both of us are 7-2,'' he said. "They are coming off two losses. We're sick to our stomach. It's two teams with a lot to play for.''
The loss to Alabama all but eliminated the ninth-ranked Tigers from winning the SEC West title. LSU has a chance - albeit a slim one - to represent the division in the title game if it somehow manages to end in a three-way tie for first place with Alabama and Texas A&M.
The Tigers' players had two priorities this season - get a measure of revenge for their 21-0 loss to Alabama in last season's national title game and return to the national championship game in January.
Now, barring a totally unexpected series of results, there will be no titles for this LSU team.
"You can still have a championship style of effort,'' Miles said. "Having a championship style of football team is still our need and want. We still have a chance to do some significant things.''
One of those significant achievements would be an appearance in a BCS bowl game, possibly the Sugar Bowl. But LSU would even need some help for that to happen, including one more loss for both Georgia and Florida, who are ahead of the Tigers in the BCS standings.
"Understand we have a good football team,'' Miles said. "In a few ways, Saturday (against Alabama) proved that. We have to play like that the rest of the way and see how things come out. Ending up in a BCS bowl certainly can happen. That's a possibility.''
The chance of winding up in the BCS is likely gone now for the Bulldogs, who had turned the ball over four times in their first seven games before giving it away four times the last two weeks.
Now, they'll face a third straight top-20 team as they try to snap a 12-game losing streak to LSU. Mississippi State hasn't won in Baton Rouge since 1991.
"A lot of leagues, there are one or two big games a year,'' coach Dan Mullen said. "In this league every week seems to be that way. So it is not just the mental part of having to be up for such a big game every single week, but also the physical toll it takes from playing top national teams week in and week out on your body.
"You have to respond. Especially this point of the season, you have to have great mental and physical toughness to get through and win these football games.''
The Bulldogs were 21st nationally in pass defense at 188.6 yards per game in starting 7-0 while forcing 20 turnovers. But they surrendered 567 yards through the air the last two weeks, getting one takeaway.
Suddenly, it looks like LSU's Zach Mettenberger might pose a legitimate threat in the passing game as well. The much-maligned junior had his best game of the season by throwing for 298 yards and one touchdown with no interceptions against the Crimson Tide's top-ranked defense.
"(It) was our most complete game on offense,'' Miles said. "Mettenberger and the receivers had great chemistry on his throws and the receivers coming out of their breaks. We rushed the ball OK. It could have been better.
"Our football team understands that it didn't get it done against Alabama. But, let's play like that again. Throw for 300 yards and run for 200 yards. The defense has to play with the same intensity and eliminate the mistakes. We improved, but we need to keep improving.''
Considering LSU hasn't lost back-to-back home games since 2001, that seems like a pretty strong possibility.
"We have a 24-hour rule,'' Miles said. "We watch (Alabama) film (Monday) and then we're done with that one. We'll take the positives and move on. If we play like that in the next game, I'll be happy. I'm glad we're playing a good team. That's what our football team needs now.''