RABALAIS: LSU makes statement in State game

STARKVILLE, Miss. - There’s no mystery to what the LSU football team is building this season. It’s as obvious as when the Tigers line up in a two tight end formation on third-and-short and challenge you, brazenly invite you, to stop them.

Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen was on the right track last week when he jokingly said LSU could win the NFC East. Thursday night at Davis Wade Stadium, his team and the Tigers put on what looked very much like an intense, physical NFL-style game.

Problem was for the Bulldogs, LSU has a lot more NFL-caliber players. The result was a familiar funeral march for State as the Tigers prevailed for the 12th-straight time, 19-6.

More than just a crucial victory to keep the No. 3-ranked Tigers unbeaten and off to the right start in the Southeastern Conference race, this was a statement game for LSU. A statement that says, with each successive crunching block and punishing tackle, this is the kind of team it wants to be. Here it is.

Try to stop it.

The offense, rooted in a bruising ground game, is conservative, no doubt. There’s not a lot of flash, extra props or sleight of hand beyond the occasional trick play (which aside from Thursday’s onside kick attempt we have yet to see).

It’s straightforward, old-fashioned football, and unapologetically so.

“I like this piece,” said LSU coach Les Miles, the man whose close-to-the vest vision of football shapes the personality of his team. “That defense plays extremely well. If we do the right things with the ball on offense, we can win a lot of games.”

LSU’s mantra is to avoid making mistakes on offense. The Tigers have turned it over just one time in each of their three games.

Oh sure, the Tigers had Jarrett Lee toss some daring passes from deep in his own end Thursday to try and spark the offense, tilt field position and drive Bulldogs defenders out of the box. But generally the rationale is there are worse things the Tigers can do other than punt.

With a defense like LSU possesses, why take too many chances? Punt, and chances are, you’re going to get the ball right back. After the Bulldogs tied the game 6-6 in the third quarter, State’s next four possessions were three-and-out, three-and-out, three-and-out, interception. Meanwhile, LSU scored the last 13 points.

Certainly there are improvements to make. LSU needs Russell Shepard back on offense and in the kick return game. The linebackers (often subbed out for more defensive backs) totaled just eight of the Tigers’ 60 tackles. And LSU must find someone who can keep the other team from getting such superb field position - after kickoffs, State started off no worse than its own 30.

But there is much to build on for a team that has the makings of a prime-time SEC and national championship contender - with maybe an eye on the NFC East after that.