Tiger Sports Digest publisher Ben Love talks LSU/Mississippi State match up

In this week's Huddle, Tiger Sports Digest publisher, Ben Love talks about this week's match up between Mississippi State and LSU. The Tigers will open their season on the road in Starkville after seeing their home opener against McNeese State washed out last weekend.

With LSU losing the chance to play last week, there have been a wide range of opinions about which team benefits from the wash out. Mississippi State does not have the benefit of seeing the Tigers game film from week one, but at the same time the Tigers have not been able to get the first game kinks worked out with a win.

"I see both the good and the bad in it," Love shared. "The Tigers will come into Starkville a fresh team, one without any new injuries and prepared to take out all their offseason angst in this new revised opener. They are also fairly un-scout-able with virtually no game film available. But it is undeniable that LSU, in particular starting quarterback Brandon Harris, could’ve used that McNeese State tune-up.

"And it’s not just Harris. LSU has a new defensive coordinator and defensive line coach as well as two new starters at defensive end. Now a lot of kinks will have to be ironed out on the go inside Davis Wade Stadium. That’s substantially less than ideal. So while there are some silver linings to this situation for Les Miles and the Tigers, I believe the cancelled opener is more of a disadvantage than an advantage.

As for how it impacts LSU, I suspect it may take them a little longer to get out the gate in front of the Cowbell Crazies. Once the Bayou Bengals get going, and early jitters/errors/communication issues are behind them, I doubt it will make much difference. We’ll see, though, if a potentially slow start due to rust puts LSU behind the eight ball."

Mississippi State fans remember LSU quarterback Brandon Harris well. Harris nearly lead the Tigers to win in miraculous fourth quarter fashion a year ago. The second half of the Tiger schedule, Harris played sparingly despite the court of public opinion clearly favoring him as the LSU starting signal caller.

"Trying to crawl inside the mind of Les Miles can be a dangerous undertaking, but I’ll give it a shot," Love joked. "It’s been no secret to the LSU staff that Harris is more talented than Anthony Jennings. But two things became evident to Miles during the Auburn game (and, yes, I personally believe he got a bit stubborn with these realizations and never even considered Harris after Auburn) . . .

First, freshman-version Harris had a penchant for ad-libbing play calls and actually struggled to verbalize many of LSU’s plays inside the huddle, leading to confusion for the rest of the offense, especially the linemen. Second, Harris, who played with a ton of adrenaline and missed high repeatedly on throws, was more prone to turning the ball over than Jennings.

Combine these things and Miles, who offensively is among the biggest minimalists in the country, opted to the Jennings route – which is to say hand-offs, punts and no turnovers."

Sophomore running back Leonard Fournette burst onto the scene last fall as one of the top running backs in the country. With a strong season under his belt, Tiger fans are excited to see a more polished runner this fall.

"Sorry for the corny answer here, but it’s true – Fournette has become more of a leader and taken ownership of the LSU offense, and in many ways the team," Love said. "I can’t remember the last time the Tigers sent a sophomore to SEC Media Days. Nor the last time a second-year player was on the season media guide. Fournette appeared on both.

Some of that is due to the fact he’s now the leader of his position room. With Kenny Hilliard and Terrence Magee gone, Fournette has usurped much of the role those two shared. Some of his growth is due to the maturity it takes for a 20-year-old to be a father. He’s also progressed physically this offseason, shaving some pounds to get even quicker, but I believe his most significant strides have been taken in a leadership capacity. So many of LSU’s players, including ones older than Fournette, fall in line behind the guy without a peep. Says a lot."

The Tigers have had to replace some real quality starters on the offensive line, but it appears that the LSU sled pushers are still extremely talented. 

"Even with some newness, the offensive line is a top two position grouping on the LSU team for me, probably right behind the secondary," Love explained. "The Tigers return three starters in Vadal Alexander, Jerald Hawkins and Ethan Pocic. Hawkins has moved from right to left tackle, taking the place of La’el Collins. Alexander, a senior, has kicked out to right tackle, vacating a guard spot. Pocic, an incredibly versatile junior, is set to start at center.

I really don’t believe LSU loses much in the way of pass protection on the blindside going from Collins to Hawkins. Where Hawkins can’t match Collins, a first-round talent, is in run-blocking. But, considering Alexander is at right tackle and mammoth Josh Boutte is at right guard, here’s betting the Tigers run more right this fall than left (a huge change from the last two seasons). The left guard spot will be manned by William Clapp, but don’t be surprised to see true freshman Maea Teuhema some. The nation’s No. 1 offensive guard in 2015 is coming on strong."

Heading into Saturday night, many believe that the game will be won or lost on Mississippi State's ability to move the football against a talented defense that is playing its' first game under a new coordinator. The Tigers have athletes all over the field and should be one of the league's top teams, so the Bulldogs will need to bring their best effort.

"My intuition tells me I haven’t seen anywhere near the amount of changes in that LSU defense yet that all of us will see beginning next season," Love said. "What do I mean? New coordinator Kevin Steele wants to operate more from a 3-4 base, deploy bigger linebackers and be overall a little more flexible in how they arrange their fronts.

That’s going to take some time in recruiting to achieve, so for the mean time they’ll be a little more rigid and, honestly, pretty darn similar from a schematic standpoint to what John Chavis had going in Baton Rouge. Smaller, quicker linebackers will flank Kendell Beckwith in the middle. They’ll play primarily from a 40 front with pass-rushing-heavy defensive ends. In general the feel is still smaller, but quicker for that LSU defense. And Steele will compensate for that relative lack of size the same way his buddy, Chavis, did – by blitzing the fool out of nickel and dime backs."

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