Saturday Morning in Starkville

TigerSportsDigest.com Managing Editor Shea Dixon weighs in on Saturday's early Southeastern Conference game between LSU and Mississippi State.

No matter the style, three games have brought three victories for LSU.

 

Last weekend, the Tigers defeated in-state ULL for the 22nd straight time in the teams’ series. Struggles defensively overshadowed most positives in the Washington game, but the unit has since put together back-to-back impressive performances.

 

Gameweek Links:
  • Injury Bug Looms
  • TSD Television: Charles Scott
  • TSD Television: Josh Dworaczyk
  • The Little Things
  • TSD Television: Chad Jones
  • Still Looking for Answers
  • TSD Television: Jordan Jefferson
  • A Look Ahead: MSU
  • Meanwhile, the Bulldogs opened the season with a 45-7 win over Jackson State before a 49-24 loss at Auburn. Last weekend, MSU bounced back with a 15-3 win in Nashville over Vanderbilt – the same team the Tigers’ had just topped 23-9.

     

    LSU rides a nine-game win streak against the Bulldogs, with four consecutive victories coming in Starkville.

     

    The talk around the LSU side this past week has surrounded “marked improvement,” especially on the offensive side. With Georgia and Florida on the horizon, the weekend match with MSU is the final opportunity to iron out any wrinkles.

     

    For MSU, first-year head coach Dan Mullen sees his team’s bout with the No. 7 Tigers as their first opportunity to make a statement against a ranked opponent.

     

    The Tigers are the heavy favorite, but in SEC play – especially on the road – assumptions are usually tossed aside until the teams step on the field.

     

     

    When MSU Has the Ball

     

    When you think of Dan Mullen, Florida’s spread attack is certainly the first thing that comes to mind. Yet, without much time on the job, the MSU headman has not fully implemented the offense into the Bulldogs’ playbook.

     

    True freshman Tyler Russell is likely the guy that Mullen wants running the attack, but he remains on the bench in favor of the two-man rotation of Tyson Lee and Chris Relf.

     

    Relf, a 6-foot-3, 240-pound running threat at quarterback, has picked up 178 yards on 28 carries. The sophomore has also thrown for 167 yards and three touchdowns.

     

    Lee, who was under center against the Tigers in 2008, has completed 23-of-38 passes for 216 yards and one touchdown.

     

    The pair’s most important task, it has seemed, is taking the snap and giving it to senior running back Anthony Dixon.

    The Bulldogs have run the All-SEC candidate mostly out of the spread formation, where the 6-foot-1, 235-pound back has picked up 215 yards on 41 carries.

     

    Fellow senior Christian Ducre and sophomore Robert Elliot round out the rushing attack, with Elliot used as a change-of-pace back. If the Bulldogs are going to pull the upset for the first time in a decade, all three runners will need to be on point.

     

    The offensive line is very experienced, and they have only given up three sacks this season after they suffered 36 in 2008. They average 6-4, 304 pounds across the front and should pave the way for the ground game to get going against an LSU defensive front that has struggled to provide consistent pressure through their opening three games.



    Chris Relf has been MSU's big-play man under center

    When Lee and Relf decide to throw, Mullen has the Bulldog offense spreading the love around. Ten receivers have recorded catches, with junior Leon Berry out front with seven receptions for 77 yards.

     

    Senior Brandon McRae and tight end Marcus Green are two other names to watch for when MSU goes vertical, though the real worry for LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis will remain the rush.

     

    The Tigers have improved each game against the run, and keeping that trend going against the Dixon-led Bulldog attack would give defensive line coach Brick Haley’s unit tons of momentum.

     

    Expect the linebackers to blitz the MSU quarterbacks a good bit, with Harry Coleman being let loose from the strong side for as many sacks and hurries that he can manage.

     

    The Bulldogs will likely not throw against Patrick Peterson, which means that Jai Eugene and Chris Hawkins should stay busy when Relf and Lee go to the air. Chad Jones – who came up with two interceptions against ULL – should have another solid Saturday.

     

     

    When LSU Has the Ball

     

    Offensive coordinator Gary Crowton will game plan for the Tigers to keep it low risk in their first conference game away from Tiger Stadium, likely not taking many deep shots or showing hands that have been held from the previous three outings. With a trip to Athens and a home date with No. 1 Florida to follow, expect more of the same from the Tiger offense this weekend.

     

    Sophomore Jordan Jefferson has hit on 47-of-73 passes for 475 yards and five touchdowns – a 64.6-percent completion rating that has been made mostly of short-game conversions.

     

    When Jefferson does let the arm fly, he may look to Terrance Toliver and Brandon LaFell. Both Tigers are off to good starts with a combined 335 yards and five touchdowns between them, and that should continue against a weak MSU secondary – home to three new starters.

     

    Miles challenged the offensive line on Monday to step up their play, so plenty of eyes will be on the five men up front. The Tigers have been slow to find consistency opening up running lanes, especially on the right side.

     

    Charles Scott and Keiland Williams have both rushed for 164 yards through three games, while Williams recorded the lone pair of touchdowns on 10 less carries. Scott will line up at fullback in various spots, but expect to see the senior get his fair share of touches out of the tailback spot. Miles said on Monday that the one bright spot of the running game has been that Scott is still running hard, and the headman will likely ride him during the early morning road test.

     


    Les Miles looks to get Trindon Holliday more involved in the offense

    When Crowton mixes things up, look for Trindon Holliday and Russell Shepard to take touches. Miles said that the staff considered giving Shepard more back-to-back touches at quarterback. Holliday is coming off his first touchdown outing of the season.

     

    MSU held Vanderbilt to 33 yards rushing and 124 yards passing last weekend, which has the unit feeling good as they welcome the Bayou Bengals. What they can’t have is a performance anything similar to that against Auburn, where the Bulldogs allowed 390 yards on the ground and 199 through the air.

     

     


    Glancing at Special Teams

     

    LSU has the edge here, but the Bulldogs are much improved from years past.

     

    Josh Jasper, who has been perfect on his five field goals and 10 extra point attempts, and punter Derek Helton pair up to create what Miles described as “one of the strongest one-two combinations in the country.”

     

    Chad Jones and Trindon Holliday will rotate at the punt return position, with Holliday and Ron Brooks the two-deep on kickoffs.

     

    A pair of JUCO All-American transfers – kicker Sean Brauchle and punter Heath Hutchins – lead an MSU special teams unit that has done a 180-degree turn from 2008.

     

    Hutchins has punted 16 times with only five kicks being returned for a total of just six yards. Brauchle has hit five field goals in a row, including a 44 and 49-yarder in the victory over Vanderbilt.

     

     

    How We See It

     

    Once again, there is a possibility of showers which means that Jefferson will likely be even more reserved with his approach. Expect plenty of small-ball; though if LSU can build a lead, expect the sophomore gunslinger to try and hit a deep ball or two. Expect LaFell to get hawked by the unproven MSU secondary, which could mean a big afternoon for Toliver.

     

    The Bulldogs will run Dixon until he can’t go anymore, which should prove quite the test for the Tiger defensive front. With the thick of conference play about to arrive, expect the unit to be poised for their biggest performance to date.

     

    MSU kept it close in Baton Rouge last fall, and the Tigers will remember that. Expect LSU to take an early lead and not look back……

     

    LSU 31, Mississippi State 13


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