The Tigers got off to a slow start this season on both offense and defense. They found theirself trailing 24-7 against Wisconsin in the second half. They would come back to win 28-24. LSU would then go on to knock off Sam Houston State 56-0 and UL Monroe 31-0. They have now scored 108 unanswered points since trailing Wisconsin and look to be playing at their full potential heading into this matchup.
The Tiger defense has really tightened up since allowing 268 rushing yards to Wisconsin in the opener. In the last two games, they have allowed 50 and 16 rushing yards, respectively. The pass defense has been even better, giving up less than 100 yards a game for the season, making them the number one pass defense in the SEC.
If there's anything encouraging that Mississippi State can take away from that, it's that the Tiger defense gave up a good bit of yards on the ground when they faced a quality opponent. The Dogs will try to test that defense early on with the run game, featuring Dak Prescott and Josh Robinson. State's offense has averaged right at 260 yards a game on the ground, so they have had a lot of success so far with that approach. Prescott and Robinson are both averaging almost 100 yards per game on the ground and are yet to play a full four quarters.
This will be the week that we see very little of the backups. Prescott and Robinson should get the majority of the snaps. That will have to be the case if they want to win. You won't see Damian Williams in the game on the second drive, and you won't see Brandon Holloway running the ball up the middle this week. The experimenting is over, the preseason is over, and it's all business now. Mullen should be done with all the cute stuff, and we will finally see what the real offense will look like.
The MSU offense vs that LSU defense will be the matchup that determines the game. The Dogs will have to have some success moving the football if they want to win. I think that goes without saying. The best chance for that to happen is to have a balanced attack, something Mississippi State has done a good job of up to this point. The Dogs are averaging 260 yards rushing and 266 yards passing. It doesn't get much more balanced than that. Dan Mullen mentioned how they still haven't opened up the full playbook. We should finally see that this week. They won't be holding anything back.
On the other side of the ball, the Tiger's offense looked a bit shaky at times last week against UL Monroe. The LSU offense is still a work in progress and hasn't shown much creativity up to this point. Quarterback Anthony Jennings hasn't put up big numbers on the year, but he doesn't have to with the stable of running backs behind him. LSU has made it clear that they won't to pound the rock.
Their running back quartet of Kenny Hilliard, Leonard Fournette, Darrel Williams, and Terrence Magee have combined for 557 yards and eight touchdowns. Mississippi State could see a dose of all of these guys at some point, but the main threat will be Hilliard. This is as talented a running back group as you will find.
Although the Tigers haven't done much damage through the air, receiver Travin Dural has been spectacular when the Tigers go to the passing game. Dural already has 370 yards and four touchdowns. He's averaging an unbelievable 30 yards per reception. The next guy behind him as far as production is John Diarse, and he has 254 fewer yards. The Dogs will need to contain Dural if they won't to shut down LSU's offense.
LSU loves to run the football and quarterback Anthony Jennings is still untested. However, you have to wonder if they'll want to throw it a bit more this week after seeing the Bulldog's struggles in the secondary the past two weeks. Just as Mississippi State hasn't fully opened the playbook on offense, LSU probably hasn't as well. They will give the Dogs a few things they haven't seen on film. And despite what they've shown in the first three weeks, don't be surprised to see them come out slinging the football.
It would be extremely dangerous for State to only prepare to stop LSU's rushing attack. We should all hope they spent plenty of time this week in practice preparing for the pass as well. Geoff Collins learned from the UAB game that he has to expect the unexpected, and he should have his players ready to defend both aspects of the game this week. At the same time, a little more emphasis will still be placed on run defense. I expect to see a lot of blitzing and press coverage this week. Collins wants to make Anthony Jennings prove he can beat them with his arm. If LSU is able to run the ball, the game will be over before it even gets started good. Making the Tigers one dimensional will be a huge advantage.
All factors being considered, the biggest hurdle for Mississippi State is that this is a night game in Tiger Stadium. As sure as the sun rises in the east, the Tigers win home games at night. It has just always been automatic for them. That crowd will be electric for the first SEC game of the year. It won't be easy, and they will have to come out and hit LSU in the mouth early to have a chance. Many experts have already picked the Dogs to get the upset this week. Is this the year that Mississippi State finally breaks the streak? If it doesn't happen this year, I'm not sure when it will.
Numbers to Know
MSU's average yards per play from last Saturday's 35-3 win over South Alabama in Mobile. The Bulldog offense worked through a few minor hiccups to put together an overall sound day at Ladd-Peebles Stadium. LSU is currently third in the nation in yards per play given up (3.53), so it the matchup of the MSU offense versus that vaunted LSU defense will certainly be one to watch.
LSU's percentage of total plays that are running plays. The Tigers will likely again lean heavily on the run Saturday night against MSU, intending to enforce their will and to break enough big gains to slowly put away the Bulldogs. It will be interesting to see if they change philosophies any to attack an MSU secondary that has had issues so far this season, or if they stick to what's worked so far. Five LSU players have 20 or more carries through three games.
The new capacity of Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, which is good enough to make it the fifth largest stadium in college football. The place is already a den of nightmares for most teams that travel there, between the deafening roar of the crowd to the intoxicating bourbon perfume swirling through the air, and now there are even more Tiger fans set to pack a place where MSU has not won since 1991. From a fan's perspective, Tiger Stadium is a must-visit place to attend a road game, but from a team's perspective, it has to be tough. Let's just hope Dak Prescott and company can overcome the roar on Saturday night.