No. 8 LSU (3-0) will dip into SEC play for the first time in 2014 on Saturday night, hosting Western division foe Mississippi State (3-0). Kickoff is set for 6:05 p.m., and ESPN will have the live television broadcast.
But before the cats and dogs meet on the gridiron, TSD is providing scouting reports on Dan Mullen’s cowbell crew on both sides of the ball.
Up first: An examination of the Mississippi State offense, under co-coordinators Billy Gonzales and John Hevesy, led by dual-threat quarterback and Louisiana native Dak Prescott.
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP
RB: Josh Robinson (Jr., 5-9, 215)
WR: De’Runnya Wilson (So., 6-5, 225)
WR: Jameon Lewis (Sr., 5-9, 187)
WR: Robert Johnson (Sr., 6-1, 210)
TE: Malcolm Johnson (Sr., 6-2, 231)
LT: Blaine Clausell (Sr., 6-7, 315)
LG: Ben Beckwith (Sr., 6-3, 305)
C: Dillon Day (Sr., 6-4, 299)
RG: Justin Malone (Jr., 6-7, 320)
RT: Justin Senior (So., 6-5, 295)
Key Backups: RB Nick Griffin (Sr., 6-0, 226), WR Fred Brown (So., 6-1, 190), WR Joe Morrow (Jr., 6-4, 210)
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
The ringleader of State’s spread attack is quarterback Dak Prescott. The former Haughton Buccaneer, no longer in a time-share at the position, continues to grow into his own as a passer, adding to an established running skillset with his 230-pound frame.
Prescott is the active leader for SEC quarterbacks in most rushing categories, including career rushing touchdowns (19) and career yards on the ground (1,197). Through the air in 2014 he’s tossed nine touchdowns against two interceptions, completing 59.7 percent of his passes and connecting for an average of 9.7 yards an attempt. Prescott even caught a touchdown in MSU’s win over South Alabama last weekend, making it the third of his career (and they’ve all come from WR Jameon Lewis).
His individual brilliance aside, which the Bulldogs do lean on heavily, there are a slew of playmakers that compliment Prescott. Chief among them is another representative of the Boot, running back Josh Robinson, a 5-foot-9 junior and former Franklinton teammate of LSU’s Terrence Magee. Robinson has totaled 288 yards and three touchdowns in State’s three games, averaging 6.3 yards per carry (Prescott’s averaging 6.8 ypc).
While Prescott and Robinson force a defense to respect the Bulldogs within the tackle box, several experienced wide-outs give the MSU offense, which frequents three- and four-receiver sets, different dimensions.
Nine of Mississippi State’s top 10 receivers average at least 12.5 yards per catch, meaning there is a vertical nature to the passing attack. In fact that group of nine, which excludes leading receiver Jameon Lewis, has accounted for 10 of the team’s 11 touchdown receptions – Prescott has the other. The primary red-zone target and TD grabber: big-bodied sophomore De’Runnya Wilson, with three.
Lewis is the go-to short-range guy, topping the team in catches (10) and yardage (107). He’s yet to haul one in for six, but Lewis, the SEC’s leading returning receiver from a year ago, keeps the chains moving for the Bulldogs. He packs a lot into that 5-foot-9 frame.
Along the offensive line State starts a veteran crew comprised of three seniors and a junior. The quintet has some size, too, averaging 306.8 pounds. Center Dillon Day, a West Monroe product, is the leader. Senior tight end Malcolm Johnson can help in run-blocking, but he’s better known as a pass-catcher at 6-foot-2, 231 pounds.
All things considered Mississippi State has far and away the best offense LSU has seen to date this season. The Bulldogs have rung up more than 500 total yards of offense in each of their last four games dating back to the Liberty Bowl, and for the season are averaging 43.7 points and 526.7 yards (260.3 rushing and 266.3 passing).
Look for the Tigers to be tested most in run defense, specifically between the tackles. A basic tenet of any spread run offense is to make a defense honor the interior first and then, via the zone read or option, to take off around the edge once a defense is accustomed to sucking in to help on the inside run. It’s going to be a big test for an unproven group of defensive tackles and also for the linebackers to make sure that once Prescott and Robinson are into the second level that they don’t break a tackle and make it into the third.
Assignment football, and maintaining lanes, will be a huge key for LSU’s defensive front.