Defending the dawgs

When an offense is struggling to move the ball and put points on the board the last thing an offensive coordinator wants to look at on film is a defense that is big, strong, and fast. That is exactly what Mississippi State offensive coordinator Woody McCorvey faces on Saturday when his Bulldogs travel to Baton Rouge to take on fifth-ranked LSU.

The Tigers (3-0, 1-0 SEC) have won eight straight over the Bulldogs and 15 of the last 16 meetings, including the last eight at home.


Mississippi State (1-3, 0-1 SEC) limps into Tiger Stadium with an offense that is at or near the bottom of the pack in the SEC.


The Bulldogs are dead last in scoring offense at 14 points a game, and 11th in total offense and rushing offense at 318 and 113 yards a contest, respectively.


The offensive line that the Bulldogs feature has been banged up and bruised in the early part of the year, but received a boost on Thursday when Michael Gates was cleared to play.


The 6-4, 305-pounder is expected to see time but Craig Jenkins (6-4, 315) will start at right guard.


State’s line will be the biggest group of guys LSU has faced up to this point in the year, averaging 294 pounds across the front.


Despite the rash of nicks and bruises it has received through a third of the schedule, the opposing line has the full attention of LSU head coach Les Miles.


“It appears to me they’re getting better and that’s the dangerous piece to me,” Miles said. “As you watch them progress through the year it appears to me that they’re getting better. It’s always about how they’re going to play against us and not how they’ve played in the past, and the improvement, weekly, is pretty obvious.”


Running behind that line is the big bruising tailback Anthony Dixon, who leads his squad in rushing with 270 yards and two touchdowns on 56 carries, and Louisiana native Christian Ducre, who has added 129 yards on 30 totes.


The one area on offense that Mississippi State isn’t hovering around the bottom of the league at is with its passing game but the Bulldogs still have their share of problems in that department too.


Wesley Carroll has started all four games and completed 51 of 95 for 528 yards with three touchdowns, but his touchdown to interception ratio is 2:1 in favor of the opposition.


Carroll’s six picks, which included three in a season-opening loss at Louisiana Tech, has allowed Tyson Lee to get more action. Croom has remained mum on who will start on Saturday but odds are both will play and redshirt freshman Chris Relf could also get thrown into the mix.


“We intend to definitely use two,” Croom said, then he changed his stance to, “We’ll use all three of them, that’s the plan, all three. In different roles.”


Bulldog fans have been screaming for Lee to get more action and those voices grew louder and louder after he completed 17 of 27 for 179 yards in his relief effort last week against Georgia Tech.


Whichever quarterback is under center he will have some big targets to throw to in Brandon McRae (6-4, 200) and Aubrey Bell (6-3, 217).


McRae leads the league with 24 catches and they’ve gone for 249 yards and two touchdowns, while Bell has grabbed 17 passes for 152 yards.


State’s passing game ranks seventh in the conference at 204 yards a game and the big, physical receivers could pose some problems for LSU’s secondary according to Miles.


“They all have height and size, and are great targets with guys who can make plays,” Miles said. “The matchup problem is not only one with speed and the ability to throw the football but also with size and the height of the receiver so those matchups certainly benefit their offense.”


Matching up with those receivers will be a test for LSU’s defense, particularly in the secondary, which is ninth in the conference, allowing 197 yards a game.


LSU gave up several big plays to Auburn last week that pushed that number higher. Danny McCray got beat over the top a few times from his nickel spot and Chad Jones struggled some in his role as the dime back.


Miles, however, hasn’t lost faith in his secondary, or with McCray or Jones for that matter.


“You look at Danny McCray and he’s really just coming back to health,” Miles said. “He’ll be playing on a healthy ankle probably for the first time this weekend.


“Chad is a very fine young player and just needs the component that makes every good player a great player, and that’s experience,” added Miles. “We’ll get him snaps and correct the mistakes and keep going forward because he’s one of those guys you have to have on the field.”


LSU’s defense will be in good health as Darry Beckwith is the only starter that is out according to Miles.


Miles says he could be back for the Florida game on Oct. 11, but the defense shouldn’t miss a beat if the Tigers get the same play they got from their linebackers last week in Kelvin Sheppard, Perry Riley, and Jacob Cutrera.


Sheppard led the Tigers in tackles at Auburn with nine, including two for loss, and he was able to roam free most of the game because LSU’s front kept Auburn’s offensive linemen engaged all night.


Tyson Jackson had one of his better games last week with four stops, 1.5 tackles for loss, and four quarterback hurries, but it was an all-around effort by the defensive line that has Croom concerned.


“Their offensive line worries me but I don’t think we’ll see a better defensive line,” Croom said. “They have so many good players that their depth just wears you down.”


Getting worn down is something that Mississippi State can ill afford because things could go South in a hurry.


That’s for Baton Rouge on Saturday and also back home in Starkville.

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