Starkville

photo courtesy of Ian Prester / The Reflector

Going into SEC play, LSU has bounced back from their week 1 loss with two promising performances against McNeese State and Central Michigan. This week will be a whole new beast for this team, though. Everyone remembers what happened last year, and is wondering if the Tigers can bounce back from surrendering 623 yards to the Bulldog’s quarterback KJ Costello. LSU will want you to believe that this is a different matchup from last year, but how true is that? Can LSU march into Starkville at 11 a.m. and come out victorious? Let’s take a deeper look into what this Mississippi State team brings to the table and how LSU will match up on Saturday morning.

Mississippi State’s Offense Key Stats

*ranks are out of 130, all stats are per ESPN and NCAA.com

 

Total Offense: 74th

Passing Offense: 7th

Rushing Offense: 130th

3rd Down Conversion %: 91st

Turnovers Lost: Tied 77th

Time of Possession: 11th

Mississippi State’s head coach Mike Leach runs an iconic “Air Raid” offense. This is self-explanatory, as 77% of the Bulldogs’ plays this year have been passes. Just last week against Memphis, State’s quarterback Will Rogers threw the ball 67 times.

So far this year, Will Rogers has completed 74.8% of his passes for 1,083 yards and a touchdown to interception ratio of 8:1. This is a vast improvement from last year, as in 9 games Rogers threw 11 touchdowns and seven interceptions. 

On the outside, Rogers’ most prominent target is Makai Polk, who is coming off of an 11 reception and 136-yard performance, tallying a touchdown on the way. With Derek Stingley being listed as questionable, it’ll be important for the outside corners to step up and shut down the 6 foot 3, 200 pound junior.

LSU will look to continue their dominance in the pass rush, as Will Rogers has been sacked six times so far this year, which leaves the Bulldogs’ offensive line tied for the 64th worst pass protecting team in the country. The Tigers will need newly appointed defensive end Maason Smith, along with BJ Ojulari and Ali Gaye, to step up with the loss of Andre Anthony for the year. The Tigers pass rush up to this point has been the best in the country, with an NCAA leading 19 sacks on the year.

The battle on this side of the ball, and maybe the game as a whole, will be decided by how LSU’s linebackers fare in stopping the running backs in the passing game. Expect to see a lot more of Mike Jones Jr. who is a first-year LSU Tiger after transferring from Clemson before the start of the season. Mississippi State running backs Jo'quavious Marks and Dillon Johnson rank 2nd and 3rd, respectively in receptions on the team this season. LSU will need to take away the safety blankets of Will Rogers if they want to have a chance in this game. 

 

Mississippi State’s Defense Key Stats

*ranks are out of 130, all stats are per ESPN and NCAA.com

Total Defense: 45th

Passing Defense: 93rd

Rushing Defense: 16th

3rd Down Conversion % Allowed: 8th

Turnovers Caused: Tied 22nd

Sacks: Tied 63rd

Tackles for Loss: Tied 84th

 

Second-year Defensive Coordinator Zach Arnett is looking at a Mississippi State defense that is still not amazing but much improved from last season. Arnett interviewed for the LSU defensive coordinator position before the season’s end in 2020. Arnett runs a 3-3-5 defense, which means 3 defensive linemen, 3 linebackers, and 5 defensive backs. The defensive scheme of a 3-3-5 is characteristically very fast and physical, bringing a lot of pressure to the backfield through a bunch of different blitz designs.

LSU will need to keep the tempo up on offense, which was the mission of last week, to keep Max Johnson upright. The injured and thus inexperienced offensive line of LSU will have another tough assignment this week.

Memphis was able to find success in the passing game with quick passes, look to LSU to do much of the same. I wouldn’t expect this game to be the day that LSU’s running game comes together, still missing their RB coach Kevin Faulk, and facing an overall good run defense from the Bulldogs.

The player I expect to have the most important assignment on the Mississippi State defense is senior Fred Peters. Peters plays the “DOG” role in State’s defense. The DOG is a linebacker/safety/cornerback combination that is all over the field. Peters is a guy you will see a lot on Kayshon Boutte, who looks to see a lot of action in the slot with the ascension of LSU’s young receivers able to hold down the outside. Peters’ plate will be full all day with him potentially seeing action covering emerging freshman Jack Bech when he isn’t on Boutte. Peters so far this year has 18 tackles to go along with an interception. Throughout his career, he has 4 total forced turnovers with 3 tackles for a loss and a sack.

 

Bottom Line on Mississippi State

 

Strengths: The air raid offense gave LSU fits last year. They run a defense that could confuse a struggling LSU offensive line.

 

Weakness: LSU offense could wear them down with “paper cuts” if they bring a high tempo offense, as Memphis found success with. LSU’s pass rush matches up well with the Mississippi State offensive line on paper.

 

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