LSU (1-1) vs Mississippi State (2-0)
Game time: Saturday, Sept. 17, 5:00 PM CT
TV/Streaming: ESPN and Watch ESPN APP
Radio: 105.3 FM (New Orleans), 98.1 FM (Baton Rouge) and 103.7 FM (Lafayette)
What’s at stake
This is the SEC opener for both teams. It’s an opportunity for LSU to move to 2-1 and show that they’re ready to compete in a tough SEC West division. They’ll enter the game as a home underdog in what I feel is their toughest test yet. They’ve had two weeks to get all the kinks out, is Jayden Daniels ready to step up and take command of this team as the Tigers head into SEC play? Winning the games you’re not supposed to win, is what it takes to win in the SEC. For LSU that all starts on Saturday night. Can they get it done?
When LSU has the ball
One of the most glaring and interesting stats to me heading into this matchup is how much Mike Leach’s Mississippi State offense has controlled the time of possession (TOP) compared to their opponents. Dominating the TOP is not a very common occurrence for fast paced air-raid teams. The Bulldogs are heading into Saturday averaging nearly 40 minutes a game in time of possession, nearly double the average of their opponents through two weeks.
LSU gets John Emery Jr. back this week and it couldn’t have happened at a better time. The Tigers are going to need to sustain drives and keep that Mississippi State offense on the sidelines. In order to do that, they’ll have to lean more on the running game. You don’t want this game to turn into a fast-paced shootout because then you lose the advantage. If I’m Brian Kelly, I plan on giving the Bulldogs a heavy dose of Emery and keeping that offense on the sidelines as much as I can.
When Mississippi State has the ball
Mississippi State quarterback Will Rogers has completed 77-of-98 passing attempts for 763 yards and nine touchdowns to just two interceptions. The Bulldogs love to sling the ball all over the field, they throw it a lot and they like to go fast. The running backs are not only a threat on the ground, but Mike Leach loves using his running backs in the passing game as receivers as well.
LSU needs to make sure they do two things well, or this game can get away from them fast. They need to get pressure on Rogers and it needs to happen fast. This is the kind of offense where you won’t see a ton of coverage sacks, so they’re going to need to get penetration and force Rogers into early decisions. If he has too much time in the pocket, he’ll pick you apart.
The other thing they have to do is make sure that the running backs are covered coming out of the backfield. Whether it’s Dillon Johnson or Jo’quavious Marks, if they commit to a conservative style of play Leach will dial up dinks and dunks to the backs all night long. Keying off of the running backs in the passing game is going to be an important factor in LSU’s efforts to slow down the Bulldog air-raid attack.
Key Tiger’s to watch
John Emery Jr: After missing the first two games due to a suspension, Emery makes his return to reclaim his role atop the depth chart. Emery was a standout during fall camp and should be the unquestioned lead back heading into Saturday night. The Tigers will need him in top form.
Linebackers/Safeties: We’ll call this a cohesive unit because it’s hard to pin it to just one. Whether it’s the linebackers in pass coverage keying the running backs or one of the safeties, depending on what the defensive play call from defensive coordinator Matt House is, they’ll need to be ready to run on Saturday night. Because these Mississippi State running backs will be running routes all over the field Saturday night and if they lose track of the running backs in the passing game, this game can go south quickly.
The bottom line
To me this will come down to how well LSU’s defense plays. I think both offenses will see success, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we see a high scoring affair. I still believe LSU is the more talented team and they have a ton of talent on this defense that should continue to improve from week to week. I had this game as a coinflip heading into the season and LSU didn’t really do a lot to win me over in week one. But I think they will make enough plays on defense to get a close win at home. If this game were in Starkville, I’d probably be a slight lean the other way.