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Putting LSU's (lack of) title defense in perspective

Like a lot of you I'm sure, I spend a lot of time each day thinking about Mississippi State's 44-34 win over LSU. That game looks like it will join the Week 1 Over-Reaction Hall of Fame, joining stalwarts like 2014 Texas A&M-South Carolina (the Kenny Trill game) and the 2016 game where 5-7 Texas defeated 4-8 Notre Dame in a double overtime thriller ("Texas is back, folks!").

How could an offense that can't score on anyone go bombs away on the defending champions?

Mississippi State offense vs. LSU:
632 yards on 76 plays (8.32 a play), 44 points

Mississippi State offense vs. Everyone Else:
1,112 yards on 291 plays (3.82 a play, 278 a game), 7.5 points per game

This is an offense that ranks 14th in the SEC in yards, yards per play and scoring with the LSU game removed. 

With four games of additional context, that game says far more about LSU than Mississippi State.

Missouri offense vs. LSU
586 yards (180 rushing/406 passing) on 68 plays (8.62 a play), 45 points

Missouri offense vs. Everyone Else
1,335 yards (455 rushing/880 passing) on 290 plays (4.60 a play, 333.8 a game), 17 points per game

While not quite as dire, Missouri is 12th in yards per play and 13th in scoring against Everyone But LSU. 

Bo Nix vs. LSU: 
18-of-24 (75 percent) for 300 yards (12.5 yards per attempt) with three touchdowns and no interceptions

Bo Nix vs. Everyone Else: 
101-of-172 (58.7 percent) for 1,107 yards (6.44 per attempt) with six touchdowns against four interceptions

While LSU made Nix look like a Heisman contender, against Everyone But LSU Nix's 119.6 quarterback rating would place him 13th in the SEC. The only SEC QB he outpaces? Mississippi State's KJ Costello, who lit up LSU for 623 yards and five touchdowns on 10.4 yards per attempt. 

It doesn't stop there. Here are relevant statistics from each of LSU's five games thus far. Asterisks represent season highs.

Opponent

Yards Per Carry

QB Rating

Total Yards

Yards/Play

Points

Mississippi State

0.56

168.05*

632*

8.32*

44*

Vanderbilt

3.56*

79.17

266

3.91

7

Missouri

5.45*

218.02*

586*

8.62*

45*

South Carolina

5.83

149.80*

403

7.90*

24

Auburn

4.68

204.23*

506*

7.23*

48*

So where does LSU go from here? Is this getting better any time soon?

Well, yes and no. The Tigers are off this week, so the bleeding will halt for one week. After that, though, Alabama awaits. So too do an improved Arkansas team, and then road trip to 4-1 Texas A&M. The Dec. 5 game with Ole Miss could be the most Big 12 game in SEC history -- Ole Miss is surrendering 41 points a game and scoring 38 -- before closing the season with a rescheduled game against Florida.

LSU owns the SEC's fourth best scoring offense. The remainder of the top five are still ahead on their schedule.

Screen Shot 2020-11-01 at 8.56.06 AM

Ed Orgeron's team is the first defending champion in nearly 30 years to begin 2-3, according to The Athletic's Matt Brown.

Four of those teams eventually rebounded to finish .500 or better, but none had this closing schedule. With three top-10 opponents waiting, a 4-6 record looks like the best case scenario, which would qualify 2020 LSU as college football's least potent defending champion since 1967 Michigan State's 3-7 finish.

Looking bigger picture, Orgeron said he would not institute staff changes during the season, but it's hard to see how Pelini should return in 2021, which is a problem since he's under contract (fully guaranteed) through March 31, 2023. Despite the fact there was zero market for him as a Power 5 defensive coordinator at the time, LSU committed $4.6 million to Pelini beyond this season.

And considering a new defensive coordinator would likely command a multi-year deal worth north of $2 million per year -- consistent with both Pelini and Dave Aranda's deals -- and Bo Pelini looks like an $8+ million mistake.

As always, stay tuned to The Scoop for the latest.