When LSU coach Les Miles sat down for his postgame news conference after Saturday's win at Mississippi State, there was no mistaking what the scowl on his face meant.
Sure, Miles was happy to get out of noisy Starkville with a 21-19 victory, and he was relieved that Mississippi State kicker Devon Bell missed wide right on the potential winning 52-yard field goal as time expired. But Miles was also irritated by the way his team's sloppy performance nearly allowed a two-touchdown lead -- one that easily could have been even larger if not for costly penalties -- to evaporate.
"There's going to be so much to correct in that film, it's going to be ridiculous," said Miles, whose 13th-ranked team will host No. 18 Auburn on Saturday. "So it's great. It's our first game film and we're going to go to work. It's a wonderful thing, and I don't think our team is very satisfied to be honest with you."
Nor should it be. The Tigers were on the verge of turning that game -- the SEC opener for both teams, and LSU's first game of the season after lightning delays forced the cancellation of the previous week's outing with McNeese State -- into an early-round knockout. With new starting quarterback Brandon Harris tossing a couple of beautiful passes and Leonard Fournette running over and around State's defense, the offense scored touchdowns on two of its first three drives. Meanwhile, new coordinator Kevin Steele's defense was suffocating State's offense with a revitalized pass rush and surrendering next to nothing on the ground.
But the Tigers got sloppy, and it nearly cost them dearly. Harris launched a 37-yard touchdown pass to Travin Dural in the first quarter, but the play came back following a holding call against right guard Josh Boutte. That quickly became a theme of the night. In the second quarter, an 89-yard Dural touchdown run was waved off over a holding call against receiver John Diarse.
By the time the night was over, LSU had been flagged nine times for 95 yards in penalties, erasing multiple long plays that could have made it a less stressful evening for the Tigers.
"We've got to get rid of these damn penalties, I can tell you that right now," Miles insisted.
They had better get rid of them by Saturday, as Auburn might not be so generous.
LSU very much looked like a team knocking off the rust in its first game. Six Tigers made their first career starts and seven freshmen played, including starting cornerback Kevin Toliver.
They seemed to run out of gas late, while also putting it in neutral on offense with an ultra-conservative, run-heavy attack that was likely intended to run down as much of the clock as possible. Harris attempted just one pass in the fourth quarter, while the Tigers ran 16 times and managed to achieve just three first downs.
Meanwhile, Dak Prescott executed State's up-tempo offense with precision in the final period, passing for 161 yards and a touchdown and rushing for another score to nearly overtake LSU in the closing minutes. The Tigers' thin collection of defensive linemen had difficulty pressuring Prescott during State's rally after enjoying so much success earlier in the game.
Although his team has more than its share of problems to iron out, Auburn coach Gus Malzahn will enjoy watching that on film, as his offense typically operates at an even greater rate of speed than Mississippi State. LSU probably won't be able to get by with such limited substitutions up front against Auburn, and it might not have the luxury of being so one-dimensional on offense, either.
Turnovers by quarterback Jeremy Johnson have become a major concern for Auburn, but the Tigers are still capable of scoring points in bunches. LSU's offense needs a more consistent, well-rounded performance, and it can start by cleaning up the penalties that eliminated so many productive plays.
If the old cliché about teams making their biggest strides between Game 1 and Game 2 holds true, though, LSU has reason for optimism. Miles' Tigers supplied plenty of outstanding moments at Mississippi State before nearly allowing a game they had controlled slip through their fingers.
"I think there's an understanding, too, how close this was, that will not be lost on our team," Miles said.
Maybe against Auburn, maybe somewhere further down the road, such mistakes will catch up to LSU if it fails to clean up its act. The scowl on Miles' face Saturday said that he knew it as well as anyone.