Some say LSU should be undefeated following a heartbreaking season-opening loss to Florida State. The results are what they are. The Tigers could follow the script from the two previous seasons and steal one that many are figuring to be a loss like the 2020 Florida or last year’s season finale over Texas A%M. It all evens out…except when it doesn’t.
The Bulldogs are a 2.5-point road favorite, while the total sits at 54.
The Tigers won last season’s contest in Starkville, 28-25. MS State took the ’20 season opener in Baton Rouge, 44-34.
So much for home-field advantage, at least lately.
The Tigers own the all-time series edge 76-36-3. LSU had a winning streak of 14 consecutive from 2000-2013 and has seven wins in the past ten meetings.
This year’s clash pits a pair of experienced program leaders.
Mike Leach, age 61, owns a 152-103 career record. He signed an extension with State through 2025, which pays him $5 million per season.
Brian Kelly turns 61 on October 25. Over his 32-plus campaigns as a head coach, his impressive record sits at 264-97-2.
Leach is in his third season in Starkville, which an overall 13-13 mark. The Bulldogs finished 7-6 last season.
Coming in 2-0, State is confident. LSU has a greater need for a win here if they want to have a chance at a successful season.
Over the next five weeks, LSU will square off with New Mexico at home, Auburn on the road, Tennessee at Tiger Stadium, Florida at the Swamp, and Ole Miss at home.
Mississippi State hosts Bowling Green, Texas A&M, and Arkansas before hitting the road to battle Kentucky and Alabama.
Momentum is at stake for both teams heading into a primarily unforgiving run.
Statistically, through just two games, The Bulldogs hold an advantage in the passing department while the Tigers show an edge in the running game. However, LSU’s numbers are bolstered by one game against an FCS opponent (Southern) and the scrambling ability to start quarterback Jaylen Daniels.
The Air Raid attack of the Maroon ranks second in the SEC so far, passing 49 times each contest and completing 78.7%. LSU ranks sixth in the league, tossing 35 passes each week and completing 70%. Both teams have looked to throw much more than run so far.
The Bulldog defense features perhaps the top cornerback in all of college football, Emmanuel Forbes. The 6-foot, 190-pounder had 60 tackles last season and stole three passes. Texas transfer Jalen Green (6-1,200) means the free safety spot as a redshirt senior leader with eight tackles this season.
Will linebacker Jett Johnson paced the team last season with 87 stops with six for losses. Johnson (6-2, 235) is off to a fast start, leading the defense with 20 tackles in the first two games. Middle linebacker Nathaniel Watson (6-2, 240) is a run stuffer in the middle. He tallied 84 stops plus 5.0 sacks in ’21 and has 8 tackles with 1.5 for loss this season.
The offense has weapons. A sophomore, Rara Thomas (6-2, 200), paces the receiving corps with 10 catches, 144 yards and one touchdown this season. Redshirt senior Caleb Duckey, a big target at 6-5 and 200 pounds, has corralled 10 passes for 129 yards and three touchdowns including a pair at Arizona last week.
Dillon Johnson (6-0, 215) is State’s top runner. The junior has 127 yards rushing, averaging 5.0 yards per try. A good target in a wide-spread passing attack, he had 65 catches last season.
Both of the backs are key options as receivers. Jo’quavious Marks (5-10, 210) also has three rushing touchdowns this season. He is a major weapon with explosive speed out of the backfield. Marks has totaled 150 career receptions, 50 hy of becoming the school’s all-time leader.
Like in any Leach offense, the quarterback is the key figure. Will Rogers is the head of the snake, currently leading the SEC with 763 passing yards.
The 6-2, 210-pound junior would like to prove that he is in the same class as media darlings like Bryce Young (Alabama), Anthony Richardson (Florida) and Will Levis (Kentucky) among the SEC’s elite quarterbacks. A 3 year starter, Rogers has accounted for 7,478 passing yards with 56 touchdown passes and 18 interceptions, completing 72.8% of his throws with a 141.8 QB rating during his tenure.
Rogers already holds the school’s single-season mark for completions and passing yards. He is 1,900 yards short of overtaking Dak Prescott as Mississippi State’s career passing leader and 15 touchdown tosses shy of being the school’s all-time king in that category. His 4,739 passing yards in ’21 was the third most in a season in SEC history.
Proficient at making multiple checks at the line of scrimmage, Rogers is accurate on his intermediate and short throws. He has a quick release and good anticipation on his out patterns.
Those are the plusses, but here are the minuses. Rogers has been sacked 55 times in a Bulldog uniform. He averages 3.1 yards per rush, so he is not a legitimate running threat. LSU must bring the heat. Last year under different leadership, the Tigers often rushed three and dropped eight into coverage. It worked, but the defensive front can generate more pressure if allowed to rush four.
Rogers will demonstrate active feet in the pocket. When his feet follow his hips, his throws are precise. When he moves around, his accuracy drops. Timing is everything for that offense. He is often too anxious when he doesn’t set his feet correctly. Rogers will get in a rhythm of throwing off of his back foot when pressure is all around him. He will use too much arm when moving around and not step into his throws. At least effective on a scramble or the move out of the pocket, LSU must move Rogers off his spots.
If the Tigers cannot get pressure on Rogers, it could be a long evening in Tigertown. If they can disguise some defensive sets and cause confusion, it would force the Bulldogs to rely more on the running game, where they have less success and patience.
That is easier said than done.
LSU must account for Marks at all times due to his versatility. I expect defensive coordinator Matt House to mix man coverage with zone, hoping to keep the State attack out of any comfort zone pre-snap.
Bulldogs defensive coordinator Zach Arnett is a blitz-heavy guy. He attacks and takes risks. At times, that pays dividends but opens the door for the big play. In 2021, the Bulldogs’ defense allowed the fewest first downs in the SEC.
Having Daniels behind the center should be beneficial to LSU. His escapability and overall running skills will likely force State to spy on him. Daniels must find the passing matchup to make them pay when they do so.
LSU’s offensive line will have to step up significantly, offering Daniels time in the pocket and running lanes for the backs. The Tigers are still a work in progress in the trenches with changes to the starting lineup coming after the loss to Florida State.
Early success in the short passing game would be a positive sign for LSU. Pressure (or lack thereof) on Rogers will likely determine the outcome.
A decision could be forthcoming for a pair of LSU targets for 2023 who visited campus this past weekend for the home opener.
Javien Tobiano (6-0, 185), a four-star 2023 safety from Arlington, Texas, is a player the Tigers covet. It appears LSU has a healthy lead over Texas A&M, Texas and Michigan. Robert Steeples is handling LSU’s recruiting effort here.
The offensive line is a primary target for Kelly moving forward, and tackle D.J. Chester (6-4, 300) from Conyers, Georgia, is an essential figure for the current class. The Tigers enjoy a lopsided advantage over Florida State, Auburn, and Ole Miss. LSU offensive line coach Brad Davis is making Chester a top priority.