After LSU bounced back with a 72-10 win over Grambling last week, it is time for the Tigers to start conference play with an early kickoff on Saturday against Mississippi State. On the road in Starkville, Mississippi for an 11:00 A.M. kickoff, this is going to be a good test to see where this LSU team is at and how much the group has improved since their blowout season opening loss to Florida State.
For a team that has high expectations heading into the season, there is hardly much room for error with conference play starting around the corner. LSU Head Coach Brian Kelly has a game plan when trying to get his team ready for an early start.
“We do things in our preparation that matches an early start. For example, in our practice schedule, we will do things that will accelerate our team articulation. In other words, we are not going to go individual and work our way into group and get to team. We will go to team right away. You got to turn it on immediately. We will do some things that get our senses awakened earlier on gameday. We are going to start with our team meal at 7:20 in the morning. We will have an hour bus ride. We have to handle these things differently than in a normal routine. This is going to be a totally different schedule than they have been presented with. We are going to use the things we did last year, and that sets them up for more of an understanding for what that day is going to look like.”LSU HC Brian Kelly on preparing for an early kickoff
The Tigers will have to be ready for a 2-0 Bulldogs team that is coming off a 31-24 OT win against Arizona led by first year head coach Zach Arnett, who has the unenviable task of replacing a coaching legend in Mike Leach, who tragically passed away at the end of December.
Arnett is trying to continue to build on the competitive and winning nature that Leach helped build in Starkville but is trying to do so in a completely opposite way. Under Leach, the team was used to throwing the football 60 times a game in the Air Raid offense, but now, Arnett wants to do a 360 and install a Pro-Style offense.
Quarterback Will Rogers is a very experienced signal caller in the SEC as he has 34 starts over his record-breaking career. In his fourth year as a starter, Rogers has set school records for passing yards (11,078) and passing touchdowns (87). He is also first all-time in completions (1,192) and is on pace to beat Aaron Murray’s career passing yards (13,166) record as well.
“Offensively, there is quite a change there going away from the Air Raid offense to a much more traditional offense. It is one that many see in college football. Will Rogers is one of the most experienced quarterbacks in the SEC. When you have that, you’ve got experience at the quarterback position.”LSU HC Brian Kelly on Mississippi State’s Offense
Although the Bulldogs have one of the best quarterbacks in the conference, the style of attack will appear to be different as new offensive coordinator Kevin Barbay, who comes over from Appalachian State, wants to lean on the run a lot more compared in years past. Along with having a good quarterback, the Bulldogs have one of the best running backs in the SEC in Jo’Quavious Marks. After setting a program single season record for catches in a season by a running back in 2022, Woody, as he is nicknamed, is doing his damage the old-fashioned way, which is beating teams on the ground in 2023. Through two games, Marks is first in the SEC in rushing yards (250), rushing touchdowns (3), and has led the number one rushing attack in the conference. LSU defensive lineman Mekhi Wingo loves the challenge of going up against a team that wants to pound the football.
“This year, those guys are committed to the run. That’s crazy when you think of Mississippi State and that this is what they are putting on film. They definitely took on a whole another approach and we have to match their physicality. It starts from what they are doing in practice.”LSU DL Mekhi Wingo on Mississippi State’s running game
When the Bulldogs do throw the football, Rogers will look to find his favorite target Lideatrick Griffin, who has 9 catches for 116 yards and 2 touchdowns. The Bulldogs offense will be going up against an LSU defense that is trying to find its footing. After giving up 45 points to Florida State in the opener and 10 points on Grambling’s first two possessions last week, the defense managed to settle by only giving up 61 total yards in the second half. Wingo and company look to build on three good defensive quarters against Grambling against a balanced Mississippi State attack.
“Everything that went wrong for us were fixable things. We have to play gap sound in our run defense. We missed a lot of tackles on our first two drives. This week, we have been working on keeping our head on tackles and the guys have been taking the coaching to the field so far.”LSU DL Mekhi Wingo on defensive issues through first two games
Defensive coordinator Matt House will rely on a talented and deep defensive line rotation led by Wingo and Maason Smith in order to stop that running game. After a year in which Wingo took every snap on the defensive line, it is good to have not only Maason Smith, but Jacobian Guillory, Jordan Jefferson, and others to rotate with him.
“Coming into the game, I don’t have to have that mindset about to play every snap. I truly can give 100% effort on every snap. There is no saving myself to the fourth quarter. I trust the guys that are coming behind me in Jordan Jefferson, Jacobian Guillory, Jalen Lee. Those guys practice really hard, and I got full faith in those guys.”LSU DL Mekhi Wingo on defensive line depth
At linebacker, Omar Speights is ruled as doubtful for Saturday’s game so there is a high possibility that Greg Penn will fill in his place. That will free up Harold Perkins Jr. more as he is starting to play more outside the box and is focused on creating havoc from the outside like he did last year.
“We wanted to free him up a little bit. He’s got a lot of responsibilities playing inside, and we just needed to let him go and let him play fast. We felt like with all the things we had asked him to do, we probably slowed him down a little bit. One of the things we need to do as coaches is to know where our players are relative to playing fast. I think we saw in the first play the physicality he showed when the ball got out on the perimeter. You don’t want to throw the ball out on the perimeter with Harold.”
“I think we made the right decision there, and now, we’ll refine what we do with him like we can move him around, move him inside and outside, and do somethings that can keep him in a position to impact the game. That’s what we’re trying to do.”LSU HC Brian Kelly on Harold Perkins Jr.’s usage
The Tigers’ defensive front needs to put pressure on Rogers when he does pass the football as the secondary has had some major issues heading into this game. After giving up five touchdown passes in the first two games of the season, the play in the secondary has not been up to par as it has been in years past.
“This is a process for us. We are making some strides. We like our guys, but this is going to be coaching and player development this whole season.”
“We’re playing new players back there. Our technique, fundamentals, and tackling need to improve.”LSU HC Brian Kelly on secondary play
At least for the time being, the LSU offense led by quarterback Jayden Daniels is going to have to outscore teams until the defense can settle in. Daniels, who is in his second season as the starting quarterback at LSU, leads the SEC in total yards per game (354). The Tigers’ dual threat quarterback statistically is off to a much better start to this season as a passer by completing 40 of 61 passes for 615 yards and six touchdowns to one interception. He is also coming off a single game high of five touchdown passes against Grambling. As good as the passing game looked against Grambling, the potential of it can be even better.
Daniels has also distributed the football to a lot of his weapons. Malik Nabers and Brian Thomas Jr. lead the way combining for 24 catches for 374 yards and 4 TDs, but Daniels has also thrown touchdown passes this season to Kyren Lacy and Chris Hilton Jr. Add in tight end Mason Taylor, who has five catches so far in two games, there are a lot of weapons to go to with the football. Taylor is listed as questionable for Saturday’s game and will be a game time decision.
“Getting different guys in and seeing those guys with the ball in their hands, everybody got to eat and got their time to shine.”LSU WR Malik Nabers on the many weapons that scored touchdowns against Grambling
There are not only weapons in the passing game, but in the running game. There are four LSU running backs on the current roster with 100-yard rushing games including Logan Diggs, who is emerging as the Tigers’ RB1 with a standout debut performance that included 115 yards rushing and a touchdown against Grambling. The Tigers also got an impressive debut from Kaleb Jackson, who ran for two touchdowns in the game too. LSU offensive lineman Emery Jones was part of the offensive front that was opening up holes for both guys, and having to add those two running backs in a loaded rotation gives the rushing offense a lot of different looks.
“They bring electricity. Watching Logan Diggs running around and juking and jumping over guys, it was electrifying to see. It gave us a bunch of hope because now, we have something to block for. Obviously, we had something to block for before because we have other great guys that are in the running back room, but it just brings that electricity and spark that we need.”LSU OL Emery Jones on Logan Diggs
The spark can be said for the Tigers’ offensive line. The front five is one of the most veteran units on the team, but the group is adding a youngster in the mix with Lance Heard getting some looks at right tackle. Emery Jones played right tackle all last year, but he is adjusting to still play right tackle, while also getting the opportunity to play right guard when Heard comes in the game.
“It’s actually been fun. Coach Davis always teaches us across the board so I watch guys get coached everyday. It’s been a fun transition and I am showing my flexibility on the offensive line. It is going to be great for our future, and I am having fun.”LSU OL Emery Jones on playing guard and tackle
Through two games, the LSU offense has been statistically one of the best in the conference averaging 48 points per game and 540 yards per game but will have another tough challenge on the road in one of the loudest environments in the SEC against an opportunistic Bulldogs defense.
Under the leadership of Arnett, Mississippi State has established a reputation for being one of the best defenses in the conference finishing in the top five in total defense, rushing defense, and takeaways in their 3-3-5 defensive attack.
The Bulldogs forced four interceptions and five total turnovers in their home non-conference win against Arizona. The Tigers will have their hands full with one of the best linebacking duos in the country in Jett Johnson and Nathaniel Watson. Both players have combined for 35 tackles, 5 TFLs, 3.5 sacks, 3 INTs, and 3 forced fumbles to start the season.
“They are really well coached. Defensively, the scheme they employ is the same as last year and has a lot of moving parts from their 3-3 defense and again, it is a difficult defense to go against.”LSU HC Brian Kelly on Mississippi State’s defense
Besides an Aaron Anderson fumble against Florida State, the LSU special teams has shown signs of improvement as Jay Bramblett has established himself as one of the best punters in the game averaging 45 yards per game. That matchup will be interesting to watch as Mississippi State has two All-American returners in Griffin and Zavion Thomas.
Last year’s matchup between both teams was in Tiger Stadium and proved to be Brian Kelly’s first SEC win. After trailing at halftime last season, LSU dominated in the fourth quarter outscoring the Bulldogs 21-0 in the last 15 minutes to win 31-16.
LSU will look for more of the same in this matchup in order to start the season at 2-1 while Mississippi State will hope to get revenge on the Tigers from last season and continue their perfect season.
LSU leads the all-time series against Mississippi State at 77-36-3.
Final Score Prediction: LSU 31 Mississippi State 24