LSU prepares for MSU's unorthodox defense

The Mississippi State offense has struggled mightily in the 2001 season, averaging just over 13 points a game. But even though the Bulldogs are 1-4, largely because of that lack of output, LSU is still taking its preparations for its game at Starkville this Saturday very seriously. The main reason – the MSU defense.

The devil-may-care attitude of defensive coordinator Joe Lee Dunn shines through in his defense at Mississippi State, and the unit has done a fair job at times of containing the opposition. Only Florida, a 52-0 winner over the Bulldogs on Sept. 29, has proven difficult to stop for Dunn's "50" attack – a scheme that employs a combination of linebacker/safeties as rovers and blitzes almost continuously throughout the course of the game.

"They are unconventional on defense," said LSU quarterback Rohan Davey, who will be playing in his first career game against Mississippi State. "They just have a lot of athletes doing a lot of different things. They'll stack up inside, bull and blitz, which means there's usually going to be something open on the flank.

"They gamble on defense, so it means there's going to be a big play one way or the other."

Opponents have averaged a respectable 150.6 rushing yards per game against Mississippi State this year, but it has been much tougher to throw against the Bulldogs. The 560 yards Florida amassed against MSU skews the defense's average up to 170 yards per game. Other teams have had a harder time putting the ball in the air. South Carolina managed only 60 yards against the Bulldogs while Auburn only totaled 79. Both of these teams beat Mississippi State in the late stages of their respective games by the identical score of 16-14. 

The Bulldogs' success on defense, says Davey, is due to creating favorable down-and-distance situations. Statistics through four games show Mississippi State's opponents converting on third down only 29 percent of the time, indicating the circumstances favored the Bulldogs the majority of the time. 

"They thrive on bad situations," Davey said. "When they can get you in a second-and-long or third-and-long is when they're at their best."

Although Mississippi State lost six starters from last season's defense, including All-SEC cornerback and motor mouth Fred Smoot, Dunn is working with capable replacements. Junior college standout Korey Banks has taken over Smoot's spot, and a defensive line that's almost entirely new from last year's is close to hitting its stride.

"I think it's not really their players," said LSU running back LaBrandon Toefield, "it's the system that they're in. They can come out and dominate any game if you can't pick up the blitz."

One of Toefield's duties will include picking up the extra players Mississippi State sends blitzing into the backfield to affect the Tigers passing ability. But according to Mississippi State coach Jackie Sherrill, the LSU running game can also cause his team problems.

"They have good balance offensively," said Sherrill. "Josh Reed is the leading receiver in the league, and they have a good running back in LaBrandon Toefield. They will probably run a two tight end set against us. They used play action effectively against us last year. They were able to do several things against us because of the rush."

For his part, Davey says he will strive to improve upon his performance against Kentucky, when he completed 27 of 38 passes for 383 yards and two touchdowns - including a 6-yard game winner to Micheal Clayton with 13 seconds left to play. Davey's night also included two interceptions that, had he not thrown them, could have allowed the Tigers to distance themselves from the Wildcats earlier in the game. It all comes down to making better decisions, he says.

"For example, right before the half when I threw the interception," said Davey, "that right there could have turned out to be 7 points or 3 points. I came out right after the half and threw another interception. That was our opportunity to bury them, put a stake in their heart and get them out the game. It wouldn't have come down to the final drive."

Although it did take until the final minute of the game to beat Kentucky, Davey believes he and his teammates are benefiting from the positive experience of winning their first ball game in over a month. The spirit from the locker room in Lexington has carried over to the practice fields, he said, and the mood is much lighter than the weeks prior to the Florida and Kentucky games.

"The guys are having fun out there again," he said. "We're taking our practice serious, but the offense can joke with the defense again. And the defense is joking with the offense. We can get a lot more done out there when we're having fun."

Tiger Blitz Top Stories