With a young secondary, Mississippi State has relied heavily on rotation along the front seven, and the Bulldogs have excelled in Geoff Collins' first year as the full-time defensive coordinator. Though State hasn't faced an offense as potent as LSU's, it should be interesting to watch which one finally gives on Saturday.
Yesterday we previewed the Mississippi State offense, and today TSD has the full scouting report on the defense, including the projected starting lineup and an analysis on how the Bulldogs will try to keep the LSU offense in check.
MISSISSIPPI STATE STARTING DEFENSE
DE: Preston Smith (6-6, 255, Jr.)
DT: Chris Jones (6-5, 305, Fr.)
DT: Kaleb Eulls (6-4, 290, Jr.)
DE: Denico Autry (6-5, 265, Sr.)
LB: Matt Wells (6-2, 215, Jr.)
LB: Benardrick McKinney (6-5, 235, So.)
LB: Deontae Skinner (6-2, 250, Sr.)
CB: Jamerson Love (5-10, 175, Jr.)
SS: Kendrick Market (5-10, 190, So.)
FS: Nickoe Whitley (6-1, 2015, Sr.)
CB: Cedric Jiles (5-10, 180, R-Fr.)
Notable Backups: DT P.J. Jones (6-3, 295, Jr.), LB Zach Jackson (6-2, 215, So.), CB Justin Cox(6-3, 195, Jr.), DE A.J. Jefferson (6-3, 260, Fr.)
MSU DC Geoff Collins, who also coaches the LBs, has centered his 2013 defense around the unit he spends the most time with. The bulk of State's production has come from the linebackers, who have excelled particularly in stopping the run.
It all starts with sophomore Benardrick McKinney, who was named a first-team freshman All-America last season. McKinney's continued that hot start to his career and currently leads the team with 24 tackles. At 6-foot-5, he has enough length that he can also factor into the pass game. LSU will need to keep a particularly close eye on him during third downs, when LSU really likes to go over the middle to pick up those yards.
But LSU can't just focus on McKinney, because the equally-productive Deontae Skinner lines up right next to him. At 250 pounds, Skinner is definitely the biggest linebacker, and he's been the more disruptive threat behind the line of scrimmage. Skinner, who trails only McKinney with 23 tackles, has a pair of stops behind the line, including a sack. He's also picked off a pass. One of three senior starters on defense, Skinner has the size and ability to also play with his hand in the dirt, so expect State to use him in several different spots.
With so many DL receiving playing time, no one in particular has eye-popping stats, though the unit as a whole has been productive, limiting teams to 120.2 rushing yards per game. Freshman Chris Jones, a former five-star recruit, has been a pleasant surprise for the Bulldogs. He immediately entered the starting lineup and his speed at 305 pounds makes him a tricky matchup at DT.
At least entering the season, State's secondary appeared to be its most vulnerable unit. After losing Thorpe Award winner Johnathan Banks and second-round draft pick Darius Slay, the Bulldogs had a lot of youth and inexperience enter the defensive backfield. But the Bulldog secondary has performed admirably to this point, limiting prolific passing attacks like Oklahoma State and Troy to minimal yardage. Nickoe Whitley, the lone senior DB, has led that unit, racking up 13 tackles and a pair of interceptions.
But these Mississippi State corners haven't seen WRs like Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham, or a passer like Zach Mettenberger. Whether this unit can perform up to its standard thus far will go a long way in determining whether it's the LSU offense or Mississippi State defense that comes out on top Saturday.
Can State's defense limit the LSU offense?