Below is a Q&A conducted with Gene Swindoll – Publisher of Genespage.com and DAWGSBITE Magazine – where he answers questions on Saturday’s game.
TSD Subscribers: I know MSU is in the process of implementing Dan Mullen's spread offense, but how is that coming along?
MSU Publisher: It's going ok, although he's going to need time to sign additional players that fit his type of offense. Wide receivers with speed are a big requirement and he did sign a few of those type guys last year but more are needed. He also is looking for a quarterback that fits the spread offense, although he very likely has that guy sitting on the bench this season in true freshman Tyler Russell. But Tyler is still a freshman and it takes time for any freshman, especially at the quarterback position, to learn a college offense.
MSU Publisher: They run him out of the spread almost exclusively now. As for the second part, this year's running game is a strong point of this year's Bulldog team, primarily due to having three senior running backs, including All-SEC candidate Anthony Dixon. Plus, State has a sophomore, Robert Elliott, who offers something different from the three seniors, and that is breakaway type speed.
TSD Subscribers: LSU's line play has been criticized on both sides this year. How do you think MSU's line play stacks up?
MSU Publisher: Other than against Auburn, MSU's defensive line play has been solid. But the MSU defense used a three-man front against Auburn with very little pressure help from the safeties and linebackers.
And one thing you will notice about the MSU D-line is State's coaches will play two complete lines throughout the game and the second unit line will consist of a sophomore, a redshirt freshman and two true freshmen. The true two freshmen, Fletcher Cox and Josh Boyd, are potential All-Americans, but they are still true freshmen. As the year progresses they will get better, hence the MSU D-line will also improve. By the end of the season this could be a strength of the MSU team.
MSU's O-line is fairly talented and very experienced. Although MSU offensive line coach John Hevesy feels they are a long way from being as good as they can be, they have only given up three sacks this season after giving up 36 last year. And if scoring is an indication of how good an O-line is, State is scoring at a 28.0 points per game clip this year after scoring 15.2 points per game last season. And State has scored 39 points in two SEC games (Vanderbilt and Auburn). Last year, MSU scored 19 total points against those same two schools.
TSD Subscribers: What does Mississippi State think is LSU's biggest vulnerability on defense?
MSU Publisher: I really don't think LSU has a significant vulnerability on defense because they appear to be fairly consistent against the rush and the pass. But I guess when MSU quarterback Chris Relf, who has the size of a fullback at 6-3 and 240 but much better speed than that size would indicate, is in the game he may be a guy that LSU's defense may take a little time to adjust to.
TSD Subscribers: Does Mississippi State have the confidence to play their best game against us, since we have had their number for a long time?
MSU Publisher: New MSU coach Dan Mullen, who has been around nothing but winners throughout his college coaching career, has ingrained a winning attitude in the players. He simply doesn't allow them to believe they are going to lose. Everything he and his staff does reinforces to the players that they will win if they work hard enough at it.
TSD Subscribers: Some teams do a great job of getting into other teams' heads, and would it be a fair assessment and statement proclaiming, “LSU is in Mississippi State’s head?”
MSU Publisher: It's possible LSU is in the heads of some of the veteran players but not in the new or young players and coaches’ heads. And State is playing a lot of new guys and young guys this season.
TSD Subscribers: What are the Bulldogs’ key injuries and how will that affect the game plan employed against LSU?
MSU Publisher: State only has one key injury and that is to redshirt freshman offensive guard Tobias Smith. But that shouldn't affect State at all since the guy who is playing in his place, Craig Jenkins, is a senior who has started 33 games during his career, including three this year.
TSD Subscribers: What is Mississippi State’s biggest weakness on defense that you think LSU can take advantage of?
MSU Publisher: The secondary is State's biggest weakness on defense. Three of this year's secondary starters are starting for the first time. They've been inconsistent at times.
TSD Subscribers: If I were an outsider with no knowledge about the recent history of this series, what could you tell me about this MSU team that would make me think that they can be competitive, or even possibly win this game?
MSU Publisher: Mississippi State only lost to LSU by 10 points last year and that was a better LSU team than this year's team. And last year's MSU team wasn't as good at this year's team appears to be. Both teams have played one common opponent, Vanderbilt. And State played them as well as LSU did despite playing them on the road while LSU played them at home. State is also playing this game at home and in the morning which should give them a slight advantage.
TSD Subscribers: Who is Mississippi State’s X-factor on offense and why? How about on defense?
MSU Publisher: I'm sure you expect me to say Anthony Dixon but two other players have been huge factors this year - the kicker on offense and the punter on defense. If this game is close then both of those guys will play a large part in MSU's chance of winning this game.
Last year's kicker and punter were very inconsistent and really didn't help MSU and even hurt them at times. But this year's team has two juco transfers who were junior college All-Americans, K Sean Brauchle and P Heath Hutchins. And both have lived up to expectations. Hutchins has punted 16 times with only five of them being returned for a total of just 6 yards. Kicking-wise, after missing his first two field goals of the season, Brauchle has made five in a row including a 44-yarder and a 49-yarder in the Vanderbilt victory.