SEC play is now only a day away for No. 8 LSU (3-0), which will host Western division foe Mississippi State (3-0) in Tiger Stadium Saturday night at 6:05 p.m. ESPN will have the live television broadcast.
Today I’ll bring the State Scouting Reports full-circle with an in-depth look at the cowbell crew’s 4-3 defense under coordinator Geoff Collins, in the midst of his fourth season in Starkville.
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP
DT: P.J. Jones (Sr., 6-3, 296)
DT: Kaleb Eulls (Sr., 6-4, 295)
DE: Preston Smith (Sr., 6-6, 270)
LB: Matt Wells (Sr., 6-2, 220)
LB: Benardrick McKinney (Jr., 6-5, 249)
LB: Beniquez Brown (So., 6-1, 235)
CB: Jamerson Love (Sr., 5-10, 175)
FS: Justin Cox (Sr., 6-3, 192)
SS: Jay Hughes (Sr., 5-11, 195)
CB: Taveze Calhoun (Jr., 6-1, 184)
Key Backups: DT Chris Jones (So., 6-5, 308), DE Nelson Adams (So., 6-3, 300), DE A.J. Jefferson (So., 6-3, 270), LB Christian Holmes (Sr., 6-1, 230), FS Deontay Evans (So., 5-10, 205), CB Tolando Cleveland (So., 6-0, 180)
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
Three things right off the bat are clear about this talented Bulldog defense.
First, they’re going to line up for the most part in a traditional 4-3 alignment LSU is accustomed to seeing. Second, they’re going to employ a lot of zone coverage in the secondary. Third, Collins and defensive line coach David Turner have waves of good players with legitimate size to roll in on the front four.
Starting with that last item first, State’s depth along the defensive line will probably be the biggest shock to the LSU offense’s system in comparison to what the Tigers have seen through three games. Not only can MSU run out a pair of seniors in DE Preston Smith, who’s been named SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week in each of the last three weeks, and DT Kaleb Eulls in the starting lineup, but the Bulldogs also boast plenty of young talent in rotational roles with sophomores DT Chris Jones and DE A.J. Jefferson.
Smith has been fantastic through three games, albeit against lesser competition, racking up three tackles for loss, two sacks, two interceptions (to lead the team), three quarterback hurries and two blocked kicks. As a team the Bulldogs have totaled 28 tackles for loss and 11 sacks. For comparison’s sake LSU has notched 20 TFLs and eight sacks so far.
The defensive ringleader, though, resides on the second level. Junior middle linebacker Benardrick McKinney, a beast at 6-foot-5 and 249 pounds, is on every conceivable award watch list you could imagine for his position. He leads the team in tackles with 20, tackles for loss with five and is tied with two others for the lead in sacks with two.
In the secondary State has drawn a lot of criticism after conceding 34 points, 548 total yards and 435 passing yards to UAB two weeks ago. Surprisingly enough, though, there is a decent amount of experience in that back four, so it's not as if the maroon and black are breaking in a lot of new players.
Three seniors and a junior, that’s what MSU will trot out in its first four. So the question becomes: Will the Tigers, who themselves are dealing with a lot of newness in the passing game, see the same group that was discombobulated against the Blazers? Or will LSU face the State secondary that surrendered a combined three points against Southern Miss and South Alabama?
Either way the scheme is a bit of a known at this point. LSU will encounter zone, something that even gave Zach Mettenberger & Co. some problems in the first half of last year’s contest in Starkville. It may take in-game adjustments, but Cam Cameron and the LSU offensive brain-trusts will have those young receivers in spots where they need to be. The rest, as it always is, will be up to the quarterback.