With Gene Swindoll, publisher of Gene’sPage.com
1. What's the mood around the Bulldogs been like this week after the gut-wrenching loss at Auburn last week – will it be tough for them to get off the mat in a short week?
The players are dealing with it well. But I expected that because MSU head coach Dan Mullen is great about getting his players ready for the next game after a tough loss, especially when the next game is at home. As an example, last year State lost to LSU on the road 29-7, then came back and defeated Georgia 24-12 at home. They did something similar late in the year when they lost to Alabama 30-10 on the road, then came back home and took Arkansas to double overtime before losing 38-31.
The answer to your question has several parts to it. Starting quarterback Chris Relf, a senior, is a very good dual threat QB who is not only a very good runner but also a good option quarterback. He's simply got a great knack for knowing exactly when to pitch the ball off or run with it. Plus, senior running back Vick Ballard is an excellent running back who also gives 100% effort during every play. He's one of the best running backs that I have seen play at MSU. Another key to the running game is the blocking of the running backs, tight ends and wide receivers. In all of my years of watching and covering MSU football I have never seen as good a group as these guys at blocking. Add in a mostly veteran offensive line and you have a great running game.
3. Are we seeing the Chris Relf that Dan Mullen thought he'd get when he landed him a few years ago? What is he doing better than last season?
Actually, Relf was recruited by former MSU head coach Sylvester Croom. But the credit for his development goes to MSU offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Les Koenning and Dan Mullen. He's doing a lot of things better this year – throwing the ball better, reading coverages better, running the ball better and also handling the option great. The key to Chris' improvement has been his passing. Chris came into his own, passing-wise, during the last three games of last season and has been just as good this season. During those five games (4 wins and 1 loss) he has completed 84 of 127 passes for 1,190 yards while throwing 9 TDs and just 3 interceptions.
4. How vulnerable is the Bulldogs defense right now, especially against a grind-it-out power running game like LSU leans on?
5. Even though this is only the third game of the season, how large does this week loom for MSU's psyche moving forward considering it's a nationally televised spotlight game against a top-three opponent who has dominated the series for so long?
It's extremely large. It's not do or die for the Bulldog team as far as the season goes, but it's another chance for State football to show the nation how far they have come under Dan Mullen the past two-plus years.
I know LSU has dominated the series win/loss-wise for over a decade, but the last two seasons, Mullen's first two seasons as MSU's head coach, have been much more competitive, especially the 2009 game when MSU was just a few inches short from winning it on the last play of the game. Even last season MSU won the offensive stats battle but not the scoreboard partly due to five interceptions thrown by the MSU QBs. Even without the interceptions MSU wouldn't have won the game but my point is MSU was competitive against a very talented LSU team on the road. I think Dan will remind his team about both games, which should offset any awe any player might have thinking about playing a top-three opponent.
6. How do see this game playing out?
Although many folks concede this game to the LSU Tigers, including many who believe it will be a blowout, I see MSU playing LSU well, possibly pulling off the upset if they get a few breaks or turnovers.
If you go back and look at last year's schedule you'll see that MSU played every team well when playing at home, even last year's national champions, the Auburn Tigers. Even when you got back and look at 2009, Mullen's first season at State, MSU played most teams well at home other than a 31-3 loss to Alabama. And I really believe this MSU team is better than either of the last two State teams.