Mississippi St LSU Football

LSU tight end Arik Gilbert tries to pull in a pass against Mississippi State safeties Dylan Lawrence and Tyrus Wheat on Saturday. Gilbert had four catches for 37 yards and a touchdown in his college debut.

Former Marietta High School standout Arik Gilbert made his much anticipated college debut Saturday when LSU took on Mississippi State.

There is little doubt that the 6-foot-5, 250-pound tight end is going to have a big-time career with the Tigers, and it took him just over a quarter to make his presence felt. His first catch was a 16 yarder along the sideline. Gilbert’s second catch had LSU Twitter starting to say he was going to be the next best thing to come along since sliced bread.

On third-and-goal from the Mississippi State 2, LSU quarterback Myles Brennan was about to be sacked when he let go of a pass that was an ill-advised heave and not really intended for anybody in particular. Gilbert broke back on the ball and with his large frame looked more like a power forward blocking out a defender for a rebound under the basket. He caught the ball at its highest point and with his strong hands kept a MSU defender from ripping it from his hands.

It ended up being the first of what will likely be many touchdowns of Gilbert’s career, and it was the highlight of his day during the Tigers’ 44-34 loss. He finished the game with four catches for 37 yards and the score.

In all, it could be said that Gilbert’s debut was a success, but it was far from perfect.

On LSU’s first drive, Brennan threw a second-and-3 pass to Gilbert expecting him to turn around and sit down in a hole in MSU’s zone. Instead, the ball was behind Gilbert because he started to move toward the sideline and he couldn’t haul it in.

In addition, there were numerous occasions where it appeared he was surprised by the speed of the Bulldogs’ defensive linemen as he missed blocks in pass protection. In fairness, it wasn’t something he had to worry about very much playing for the Blue Devils. Chalk it up as a learning experience.

Overall, the Gatorade Boys National Athlete of the Year for the 2019-20 school year, had mixed results. Let’s say he earned the grade of C. But let’s also note that teams have been put on notice. Once the game slows down for him, Gilbert is going to be a matchup nightmare for SEC defenses.

The game will have to slow down for a lot of players for LSU to get better, too. The Tigers had 14 players drafted into the NFL last spring from their national championship team, and another handful of expected starters opted out of this season because of coronavirus concerns. Because of that, and in conjunction with their loss to MSU, they fell all the way to No. 20 in the lastest AP Poll, which brings me to my ballot.

This week was the most confusing in my three years as a voter. We were instructed that all the conferences, which originally were held out of the poll because they were not going to play this year, we’re now eligible again. That brought teams like Ohio State, Penn State and Oregon, among others, back into the mix. It also meant the elimination of some teams who had earned their ranking over the first two weeks of the season. It was confusing. It also led to a mistake. Mississippi State was left off my ballot. That will change assuming the Bulldogs beat Arkansas next week.

As always, a disclaimer. I don’t care if Georgia or Georgia Tech win. The same can be said for Alabama, Auburn, Clemson or anyone else for that matter. I was born in Ohio, but I am not an Ohio State fan. My money went to UAB, where my Blazers are 2-1 after destroying South Alabama 42-10 last Thursday. There is plenty of room on the Blazer bandwagon, so feel free to join them for a trip toward a Conference USA championship.

My ballot:

1. Clemson

2. Alabama

3. Ohio State — The Buckeyes were my preseason No. 1 team, but since they haven’t played yet it was hard to rank them this high.

4. Georgia — The Bulldogs made that decision easier. After wondering who Georgia’s starting quarterback was going to be heading into the opener. The question still remains after a “Weak 1” win over Arkansas. Will Stetson Bennett start on Saturday against Auburn?

5. Florida

6. Penn State

7. Notre Dame

8. Auburn

9. Oregon

10. North Carolina

11. Wisconsin

12. Texas — The Big 12 had a big sigh of relief after the Longhorns were able to beat Texas Tech in overtime. Otherwise Texas and Oklahoma, the two best teams in the conference would have both lost on the same weekend.

13. UCF

14. Cincinnati

15. Virginia Tech

16. Texas A&M

17. LSU — The Tigers aren’t as bad as they showed on Saturday.

18. Oklahoma State

19. Miami (Fla.)

20. Oklahoma — Two years in a row the Sooners have lost to Kansas State, only this time, the bad loss was at home.

21. Louisiana

22. Michigan

23. BYU

24. Pitt

25. UAB

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John Bednarowski is the sports editor of the Marietta Daily Journal and the former president of the Associated Press Sports Editors. He can be reached at sportseditor@mdjonline.com or on Twitter @jbednarowski.

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