For both LSU and Mississippi State, this could be a season-defining game for whichever team comes out on top. Of course, this also being the conference opener for both brings added meaning to every drill, every practice, and every minute of preparation this week.
The Bulldogs (2-1) come off a tough loss at Memphis which saw them outgain the Tigers 468 to 246, double them up on first downs (26 to 12), limit them to 2-for-12 on third down, and dominate time of possession (36:57 to 23:03). Yet, despite all that, MSU still managed to lose 31-29. How? Just … how?
Meanwhile, LSU (2-1) has been a little under the radar since that highly documented loss to UCLA in Week 1. The Tigers have gone on to dominate both FCS member McNeese and Central Michigan out of the MAC, helping to restore some confidence once again. Some, not all.
We’ll see if that changes on Saturday.
LSU at Mississippi State
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 25 at 12 p.m. ET
Spread: LSU -3
When LSU Has the Ball
This offense needs to get back to being the Tiger offense we're used to seeing. That means toughness and establishing the run. Head coach Ed Orgeron talked about that before the Central Michigan game. But what happened? The Tigers ran for just 84 yards against the Chippewas. The Tiger rush offense is No. 120 in the country, averaging a boney-armed 86 yards per game. The good news is that Corey Kiner became a real find against CMU, gaining 74 yards on just 12 carries. So let's see if he totes the rock more this week.
Branching off of that, one of the more underrated facets of why the Tigers have struggled on the ground is the fact that their offensive line has had a tough time sustaining blocks and pushing to the second level of the defense. UCLA used a lot of slants and twists to wreak havoc in the pocket and bottle up the Tiger running game. Keep in mind this is a unit that returned intact from a year ago. The O-line vs. D-line play in this one will be really intriguing. It will also be THE telling story.
Despite the Bulldogs' struggles, you can't blame the defense. Against a Memphis offense that came in averaging 634 yards per game, the StarkVegans held the Tigers to just 246 total yards and had nine offensive series which were either three- or four-play drives. That was a huge reason why Mississippi State had the ball for nearly two-thirds of the game. Cornerback coverage on the Tiger receivers will be really important this week, especially if the LSU running game is a non-factor.
When Mississippi State Has the Ball
While we certainly bagged on LSU's running game above, it is the Boys of the Cowbell who are dead last in the country in rushing with a paltry 45 yards per game. Although the Bulldog run game did account for six first downs and a touchdown in their 15 carries against Memphis. So when they do run, it's with purpose.
Of course, as we know the ground game is not a Mike Leach-coached M.O., which is why the Bulldogs lead the SEC with 363 passing yards per game. So expect more of the same game plan here. Makai Polk (11 rec., 136 yds.) and Malik Heath (9, 88) became real go-to guys vs. Memphis. And you know Leach is going to let quarterback Will Rogers fling it against these Tigers too, especially after setting an SEC record with 50 completions last week.
Another nugget to keep an eye on, LSU leads the nation with 17 sacks in three games. BJ Ojulari is the top sack artist in the country, accounting for 4.5 all his own. Senior defensive end Andre Anthony is 11th nationally with 3.5, but his season is done due to injury. The MSU front wall has done an exemplary job keeping Rogers vertical this season. In his 163 pass attempts, Rogers has only been sacked six times and hurried seven times. This will be a great mano-a-mano matchup.
While the Pirate himself knows he needs his charges to right the ship this weekend, it's the Tigers who come into this one with revenge on their minds, considering the Bulldogs opened the Mike Leach era with a resounding 44-34 win in Tiger Stadium last year. That was the game that officially signaled that LSU's 2019 national title was long in the rear-view mirror and that this new set of Tigers were going to struggle all season long.
LSU's improvement over the last two games is nice to see, but admittedly it came against lower-level competition. Still, they needed it. Mississippi State is actually given a 54 percent chance to win according to the FPI. But I'm not buying it.
Prediction: LSU 34, Mississippi State 30
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— Written by Eric Sorenson, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He is a college football, college baseball and college hockey addict... and writer. Follow him on Twitter @Stitch_Head.