Who has the edge?
Quarterback: Mississippi State
LSU hasn’t faced a quarterback as focal to his team’s offensive success as Relf is to State’s since Auburn and Cam Newton last season, and nobody has to be reminded how that turned out. While the 6-foot-4, 245-pound Relf isn’t in the stratosphere as Newton (is anybody?), his dual-threat capabilities make him equally as valuable to the Bulldogs in this game.
Running back: Mississippi State
Vick Ballard has carved a spot as one of the top runners in the SEC through two games this season – averaging 9.7 yards a carry and 150.5 yards a game – to slightly edge LSU’s two-headed monster of Spencer Ware and Michael Ford. If you lump Relf in as a running threat, the Bulldogs have a clear advantage in the running game.
Receivers/tight ends: LSU
The Tigers’ pass-catchers did an 180-degree turn from the first game to the second with several nice catches, headlines by junior Rueben Randle. That improvement, plus the presence of DeAngelo Peterson, put in much better shape here than the Bulldogs, whose go-to receiver is junior Chad Bumphis and freshman Jameon Lewis leads the way with five catches for 116 yards.
Offensive line: LSU
LSU lost one starter before the season from a veteran offensive front began and was able to plug in a fifth-year senior in T-Bob Hebert, plus the Tigers have La’el Collins and Josh Williford waiting in the wings as backups. Meanwhile, State will be without its starter at left tackle (senior James Carmon) and perhaps a veteran center (senior Quentin Saulsberry). The replacements are both redshirt freshmen. Uh-oh.
Defensive line: LSU
On the ground, the Bulldogs are allowing 4.8 yards per rush and 199.5 yards a game. Those stats are against Memphis and an Auburn team that has a rebuilt offensive line. Imagine what Ware and Ford and the Tigers’ big and experienced o-line might have a chance to do and you understand just how big the edge is here for LSU – the SEC leader in rushing defense.
Linebackers: Mississippi State
Cameron Lawrence is State’s top tackler this season with 18 stops, 3½ behind the line of scrimmage, and he’s also forced a fumble. He might also be the Bulldogs’ best player on that side of the ball. LSU showed some improvement last week, especially a young trio, but is still very much a work in progress at linebacker, especially if Ryan Baker’s suspension costs him any more playing time this week.
There’s always some thought that being led in tackles by members of your secondary is a bad sign. Tell that to the Tigers, whose best players – and perhaps their best athletes – populate the defensive backfield. LSU’s top five tacklers are DBs, and that crew has also chipped in with 5½ tackles for loss and six pass breakups. The Bulldogs might be talented enough to find some room to run, but big plays will hard to come by, largely because of the Tigers’ aggressive and opportunistic secondary.
Special teams: Even
This is a spot where the Tigers and Bulldogs have a virtual standoff. They’re neck-and-neck in the return games and coverage teams. LSU is third in the SEC in punting, while State is fifth. The Bulldogs have one more field goal and a more tested kicker in Derek DePasquale. This is a tossup and, as always, could be a key to the game’s outcome.