Leading up to this weekend's game against LSU, I sent some questions over to fellow SBNation-ites And The Valley Shook to get their take on the matchup this weekend and find out a little bit about where the LSU program stands as it rolls in to Starkville.
If you want to see what I had to say to them, check out my answers to their questions.
Question 1. Even though LSU is 3-0, some still seem unsatisfied with where the program is this year. Can you talk more about the expectations of the team coming into this season and how those are playing out?
This is the conversation among Tiger fans right now. Going into the year, the stated expectation was getting back to 10 wins and contend for the SEC title. But after three wins to open the season, all of which by fairly comfortable margins but none by blowout, the expectation seems to have shifted to "blow out everyone on the schedule." Frankly, I don’t get it because the squeakiest wheels in the fanbase about this team not meeting expectations are the same people who predicted LSU wouldn’t win 8 games this season. Les Miles suffers from the handicap that he is not, and never will be, Nick Saban.
I’ve stated earlier that LSU is past the point where it cares about moral victories, so I will do them the common courtesy of not caring about "moral losses". But I think I’m in the minority. We want blowouts, and those aren’t happening. The big disappointment has been that LSU’s offensive line has been mediocre at best and there has been an almost complete absence of big plays. And those are real concerns, especially if LSU wants to beat Florida and Bama. Nothing against MSU, but we’ve shown we can beat teams of MSU’s quality without big plays.
Question 2. The defense seemed to struggle against Washington in the season opener, but have had no problems with Vandy and LLU. Is the defense still trying to find its swagger or was the first game more a result of travel than anything?
Let’s not forget Jake Locker is really, really good. Also, this defense seems to take its collective breath in the fourth quarter. Against UW, the defense allowed 125 yards and 10 points in the fourth quarter, 81 of those yards on a meaningless 10 play drive in the final two minutes. Against Vandy, the defense closed the game by allowing an 8-play, 22-yard drive. And against ULL, the defense allowed two 8-play drives for a total of 74 yards and 9:47 in time of possession. Those hurt the numbers a bit, as this defense seems to play to the score. But if you’re trying to "get your swagger back", you probably shouldn’t take the last drive off once the game is out of reach. Going back to your first question, this team seems blissfully unconcerned with making statements.
I also think this defense has not yet pinned its ears back and attacked a quarterback because we have faced some mobile QB’s, and Chavis has stressed containment over pressure. Richard and I have disagreed over the play of the defensive line (I’m far more negative), but I am curious how the team will attack a pocket passer.
Question 3. Aside from a little bit of the Washington game, I haven't really seen LSU play that much. Give me a run down of the big playmakers to watch for on both sides of the ball.
Patrick Peterson. He’s already a lockdown corner as a sophomore. Vandy and ULL simply refused to throw at him. Do so at your own peril. He’s one of those five star recruits who has immediately lived up to all of the hype (actually, LSU can field a defensive backfield of four five-star recruits, three already start). Rahim Alem was a sack machine last year and he’s kept up the pace already.
On offense, Miles is stressing the run and there has been a disturbing lack of big plays. For example, the longest play against ULL was 25 yards, and LSU only had two 20+ yard plays. Expect a steady diet of short passes and runs by Scott and Williams. But if you need to be afraid of a playmaker, I’d worry about Terrance Toliver. He’s shown the ability to beat his man after the catch and make big plays. Of course, he also drops a lot of passes. Nobody’s perfect. Then there’s that Lafell guy, who will likely go in the first round of the draft. If you want to be drunk by halftime, take a shot every time the announcers gush over Holliday’s explosiveness.
Question 4. Tell me a little bit about Jordan Jefferson, the new QB in Baton Rouge. Is he playing up to expectations or are Tiger fans missing Ryan Perrilloux right now?
No one will say it, but we miss Perrilloux. Not as much as last year, but LSU would be a national title contender this season with a senior QB of Perrilloux’s talent. But that’s water under the bridge and we don’t spend a lot of time dwelling on it. I even wish the guy well. It was the right decision to kick him off the team and that’s what we say want our coaches to do, but we really don’t. Fans want wins.
Jefferson has started five games in his career, and he is 4-1 as a starter. He makes good decisions in the pocket, he’s a terrific runner, and he has a strong arm. Those are the positives. The bad news is that his deep ball is often erratic, the coaching staff has made a choice to protect his psyche and he does not throw the ball over the middle of the field, and the guy will not slide. He takes one solid shot every game in the open field. All in all, I’m pleased with his development and he’s shown signs of being a very good quarterback, but he’s not quite there now. I’d give him a B so far, but he’s not there to carry the team. His receivers are so good, they can make Jefferson look good.
Question 5. As I prepare to charge the field and tear down the goal post, burst my bubble and give me your prediction for the outcome of this game.
History won’t be wearing a jersey, but let’s review the recent history. In the last 18 years, MSU has beaten LSU once. And that was on a controversial call. LSU, for some reason, has owned State even when our fortunes were reversed. It’s not a huge factor, but I do think it’s in the back of the player’s minds: we can’t beat these guys. I’ve been to Starkville, and you can just feel the crowd waiting for something bad to happen. It’s palpable.
More importantly, LSU has more talent than MSU. MSU also has a fairly conservative run-first offense that plays into our defense’s hands. LSU has been pretty sluggish over the first three weeks and I see no reason for that to change. Both teams will grind it out, but State simply doesn’t have the playmakers yet to hold on in the second half. LSU won’t light up the scoreboard, but they will wear State down. We hate making predictions at ATVS because nothing is certain in sports, but I’ll take a stab at as a visitor. Playing at home and in the early morning means that MSU can catch LSU napping both figuratively and literally. But that’s not likely. MSU is getting there, but you aren’t there yet. Random prediction: LSU 20, MSU 10.