In an early season showdown which could determine if Mississippi State is a legitimate contender in the SEC or due for another 8 win season, the Bulldogs host the LSU Tigers on Sept. 15, a Thursday primetime matchup on ESPN.
The Tigers, who are touted by many as a possible candidate to play for the BCS National Championship, seem poised to make their first true run at the game since hoisting the crystal trophy in 2007.
But if LSU is to realize the hype on its run towards the championship game in
Jefferson followed up a promising sophomore campaign (182-of-296 for 2,166 yards and 17 touchdowns) by laying a turd last season. Jefferson never showed the consistency the coaching staff, fans and media were looking for, tossing 10 interceptions to seven touchdowns and completing only 56.5 percent of his passes.
To shake things up, Miles hired failed-Louisville coach Steve Kragthorpe to replace offensive coordinator Gary Crowton. Much to the chagrin of Tiger fans, the initial results from the spring game weren't inspiring. Jefferson struggled to an 8-for-23 day while managing only 94 yards and a pick. And despite signing former-Georgia quarterback Zach Mettenberger, Miles expressed confidence in
“I think he will have his best season,” Miles said. “There’s something about a senior season. That’s when a guy usually plays his best football and proves who he really is.”
Jefferson's unpredictability bodes well for Mississippi State's veteran defensive backs. Rated as one of the best secondaries in the SEC, the group should be able to capitalize on Jefferson's mistakes and cause much needed turnovers. Since it'll still be the third game in a young season, they'll have to make up for the green-but-developing linebacking unit and the lack of a pass rush from the defensive ends.
The Bulldogs ability to stifle Jefferson will be key because, well, LSU appears stacked everywhere else on offense.
The offensive line returns four starters (with a combined 44 starts) and Chris Faulk will shift from the right side to replace Joseph Barksdale's vacant left tackle spot.
The LSU backfield, which always seems to have quality depth, will now feature Spencer Ware. Ware, who also plays baseball for the Tigers, held his "welcome party" at the Cotton Bowl last season, rushing for 102 yards on 10 carries. Michael Ford, Alfred Blue and Jakhari Gore will use fall practice and the Tigers' first two games to figure out a pecking order for the young, but dangerous group.
Receivers Russell Shepard and Rueben Randle have yet to develop into All-SEC performers, thanks in part due to the quarterback issues, but the two are always a threat.
LSU's defense will still be stout in part to coordinator John Chavis' play-calling and excellent recruiting but the Tigers do have to replace the production of three star contributors. Gone are All-American cornerback Patrick Peterson, All-American tackle Drake Nevis and All-SEC middle linebacker Kelvin Sheppard.
Cornerback Morris Claiborne and defensive end Sam Montgomery, who is coming off a serious knee injury in the Tennessee game last season, are both high on talent and athleticism but still need a few games to develop into the elite prospects many are expecting them to be.
As LSU continues to gain its footing, this will be an opportunity for the Bulldogs' experienced skill position players to capitalize. Though I'm still not sold Chris Relf can be called on to win games, a steady dose of Vick Ballard and LaDarius Perkins should allow Relf to connect on simple throws and move the chains.
This is also a great chance for Chad Bumphis to begin his run for All-SEC honors. Bumphis, who will likely matchup against Claiborne, has but up big numbers against lesser competition but he has never had a true break out game against an SEC opponent.
So after the meeting Auburn, which will likely be one of the more emotional games of the 2011 slate, Mississippi State will have to refocus and prepare a mere five days later to play potential national champion LSU. The Tigers are great but the Bulldogs have a chance as a flustered quarterback could be LSU's downfall.