Tigers not overlooking Mississippi State

LSU coach Nick Saban finds himself in a tough position. Having been favored to win against Kentucky, he senses disappointment from fans despite the Tigers' last-minute 29-25 win. And as he prepares the Tigers to meet a beleaguered Mississippi State squad, Saban once again faces a situation where some may think his team should have no trouble winning.

But following a weekend of improbable upsets in the Southeastern Conference and his team's own struggles in Kentucky, Saban is hesitant to put any stock into fan inclinations. Since LSU, under his watch, has not been a team that's played well on the road with consistency, Saban is looking at the Tigers' trek into Starkville on Saturday as another perilous journey.

"I said that last week's game was a dangerous game and everyone thought that I was crazy," said Saban. "But it turns out that I wasn't crazy. We went and played a team that had nothing to lose (and) played them on the road. It has historically not been an easy game for LSU. So why wouldn't it be a dangerous game?

"Now, everybody is sitting there saying, ‘Boy, this is going to be an easy game this week because they (Mississippi State) lost to Troy State.' Well, I'm here to tell you that it is an even more dangerous game because they lost to Troy State. They, too, have pride in what they do. …They are going to try and come back and prove that they have a good football team."

Saban discussed the weak points of the Tigers' performance at Kentucky and highlighted the defense's susceptibility to the big play and the inability of the offense to put the game away. Specifically, he mentioned the opportunities LSU had with the ball inside the Kentucky 35-yard line and came away with out scoring. The Tigers encountered the same problem against Florida and Tennessee, Saban added.

"I think that we have to be able to put teams away, especially when you're playing teams on the road," he said. "That's something that we should be able to show the capacity to do. This is the only thing that I think that our offense needs to improve on."

Defensively, Saban noted the momentum shift in Kentucky's favor once quarterback Jared Lorenzen replaced Shane Boyd. The Wildcats didn't alter their attack when the quarterback switch was made, but the Tigers were still surprised by some of the things Lorenzen was able to do.

"They really ran the same offense," said linebacker Jeremy Lawrence. "I didn't think they were going to run the quarterback draw still with Lorenzen in there, but he lost some weight and got a little faster, too. The only difference between the two of them is that Boyd's a little faster and Lorenzen has the experience."

The Tigers could be facing another team using two quarterbacks when they travel to Mississippi State this weekend. Head coach Jackie Sherrill replaced starter Wayne Madkin with Kevin Fant in the second half after Madkin failed repeatedly to lead the Bulldogs on any scoring threats in their 21-9 loss to Troy State.

To downplay State's loss to Troy State, Saban mentioned the Bulldogs' close calls against of the better teams in the SEC. He said parity in the league has made it tougher for teams to play well consistently and can prevent a program from building momentum.

Saban maintains that the Bulldogs have good players and are capable of playing good football. He expects MSU to come out and play well and will make sure his players are thinking that when practicing this week.

"Auburn beat Florida last week and Auburn barely beat Mississippi State on a last-second field goal (14-16)," Saban said. "South Carolina is in the top 20 and they beat them (Mississippi State) by only two or three points (14-16). This is not a football team that does not have good football players and we don't have a history of being able to dominate a team on the road."

LSU players rejoiced in the locker room following the win over Kentucky, finally having a reason to celebrate for the first time since their win over Utah State on Sept. 8. Offensive lineman Rodney Reed said it didn't matter much to the Tigers at that point that they were favored to beat the Wildcats handily.

"We were really excited after the game," said Reed. "Some fans thought we really didn't play well, but an SEC road win against a quality team is something to be excited about."

And having learned that being favored to win big doesn't always equate to an easy victory, Reed doesn't want to read anything into Mississippi State's big loss to Troy State. "All it means to me is that they'll be really ready to play," he said. "It's kind of the pivotal game of the season, so we're going to have to come in and be very, very sharp. This is going to have to be our best game of the year."

Tight end Robert Royal also refuses to over look the Bulldogs, keeping in mind that no one from the SEC West has emerged as a dominant team like Florida and Tennessee have in the East.

"You always take into consideration that the teams on our side of the conference are very dangerous," said Royal. "If you look at it, no one really has dominated our side of the division. Everyone's always beating one another.

"Even though Mississippi State got beat by Troy State, they're still dangerous. We played them last year and know what type of team they are. We just think they'll come out there fired up."

PRACTICE REPORT: The Tigers were still without offensive guard Dwayne Pierce and running back Devery Henderson at Monday's practice. Both are coming off of ankle injuries and are considered questionable for the Mississippi State game. Saban says a true determination on their status can't be made until after Wednesday's practice. Both Pierce and Henderson were no longer wearing the braces they sported last week.

With Pierce unavailable against Kentucky, the Tigers moved center Rob Sale to guard and gave true freshman Ben Wilkerson his first start at center. Saban said Wilkerson graded out well against the Wildcats and benefited from having Sale right next to him to assist with the line calls.

Other players not practicing on Monday were linebacker Philip Maxwell, wide receiver Jack Hunt and offensive tackle Jason Baggett. Players wearing no-contact jerseys were fullback Ryan O'Neal, free safety Ryan Clark, cornerback Norman LeJeune and running back LaBrandon Toefield.

Other than the question marks hanging over Pierce and Henderson, Saban said he expected everyone else to be available for action in Starkville.

A portion of Monday's practice was devoted to correcting mistakes made against Kentucky, with the defense concentrating on the mix-ups that occurred when the Wildcats threw vertically and ran the quarterback draw.

Ryan Gilbert practiced with the cornerbacks again, having been moved to the position prior to the Florida game. Corey Webster was expected to split time with the corners and wide receivers in Monday's practice.

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