Rabalais: It’s foreign as it gets, but this may be LSU’s new normal

Advocate staff photo by TRAVIS SPRADLING -- LSU head coach Les Miles lines up his players for the run onto the field for the first half in Starkville, Miss. Show caption
Advocate staff photo by TRAVIS SPRADLING -- LSU head coach Les Miles lines up his players for the run onto the field for the first half in Starkville, Miss.

STARKVILLE, Miss. — One game. That can be an anomaly.

Two games? That’s a trend.

Two and a half games, well, it begs the question while Les Miles and John Chavis beg for some aspirin:

Is this the new normal for LSU football?

For those used to the buttoned-down cavalry charges that have always seemed to be Miles’ offensive flavor of choice and the vacuum-sealed containers Chavis’ defense usually stuff opposing teams into, one has to wonder: Is this what the Tigers plan to deliver the rest of this season?

This is not the LSU football program I have covered for more than two decades. Somehow under the cover of night the Oregon Ducks slipped into the LSU football complex like the invasion of the body snatchers.

On one hand, OK, LSU beat Mississippi State again. I know, what else is new? That’s 14 straight for the Tigers over the Bulldogs and 21 of the past 22. It’s an annual right of fall for LSU, like leaves slipping off the trees by Thanksgiving (sometimes) and drunk revelers passed out on The Quad lawn after overdosing on yet another tailgate party.

But come on. LSU beat Mississippi State here Saturday night 59-26. That’s 85 total points. Both teams combined for 1,031 yards total offense.

Hey, I’m a writer. I can’t count that high. Someone get me one of those scientific calculators and a mathematician, quick.

For a half, it looked as though Davis Wade Stadium at Scott Field’s scoreboard — which in case you’re wondering is actually bigger than the rest of Starkville — would explode.

The first half was a stunningly accurate reenactment of last week’s LSU-Georgia game. Tigers running into the end zone this way, Bulldogs running for the end zone thataway. Track. Meet.

In the coaches booth next to the working press area, I’m not sure, but I think I could see steam venting from Chavis’ nostrils through the open window of the LSU coaches’ booth.

Fortunately for him and his defense, the Tigers offense was just as smoking hot. Kate Upton hot. Kilauea volcano hot.

I chide my son Nick every time he plays the soon-extinct EA Sports college football game on his Xbox for the ridiculous offensive numbers his teams put up. That’s not real football, I tell him, after a score like the one LSU put up here Saturday.

Well, maybe the Tigers offense is computer-generated, too, because it doesn’t look real, either. Until someone disproves the theory, this definitely appears to be the new normal for the LSU offense: six straight games rolling up 400-plus yards and scoring more than 35 points, both first-ever stats for the Tigers. When you do something for the first time in the 120-year history of this program, well, that’s doing something.

Zach Mettenberger threw for well north of 300 yards — again. Jeremy Hill rushed for well over 100 yards — again. Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry teamed up for darned near 300 yards receiving — again.

Even State coach Dan Mullen, who if he really admitted it would say he’s the best offensive mind he knows, had to show his appreciation.

“They won every matchup on the edge,” Mullen said. “That’s as good a wide receiver play I’ve seen in college football in a long, long time.”

As for LSU’s defense, the Tigers came here bruised, battered, their pride stinging and confidence sagging after last week’s 44-41 loss at Georgia in which they surrendered just a tick under 500 yards.

The last thing the Tigers probably wanted to do was to find themselves in, ahem, another Dog fight for the second straight week (and don’t forget the second half of LSU’s 35-21 win over Auburn before that). At halftime, it looked like Mississippi State’s dogs would finally have their day against LSU. But the Tigers stiffened after allowing 274 yards and 23 points in the first half.

State’s second half stat line: three points on its first drive to pull within 28-26, 194 yards, two turnovers. The Bulldogs’ last five drives: missed field goal, interception, turnover on downs, fumble, clock hit zero.

OK, not an overwhelmingly impressive stat line by LSU standards — but maybe it’s a start.

Or it’s the continuation of something entirely different for LSU football. Again, if 59-26 was an Oregon final score, you’d say the Ducks won impressively. For the Tigers, it doesn’t seem to compute.

But figure on this: If LSU’s offense can continue to play this way, if Mettenberger can throw it and OBJ and Landry can catch it and Hill can run it this way, the Tigers can continue to win.

State may only be a mediocre team, but its defense ranked third in the Southeastern Conference coming in for points allowed and second for yards allowed.

The best defense? That’s up next for LSU when the Florida Gators come to Tiger Stadium next Saturday.

The Gators are a concern for another day. For now, it’s enough that LSU survived, thrived and beat the Bulldogs again — in the Tigers’ new normal way of doing things.