This will be a slightly different-looking LSU team as the Tigers are just about as healthy as can be heading into SEC play. Now that the opener of conference play is here, this is an opportunity for the program to see where it’s at.
There are many steps to get back to a level where this team competes in the toughest college football conference every week. Kelly knows this, which is why the last thing on his mind is what a possible win over Mike Leach and the Bulldogs could mean for this 2022 team and for building a sustainable winner in Baton Rouge.
“Every game that they play is going to be an opportunity for growth. You want that growth to happen through success because success breeds confidence,” Kelly said. “Confidence is then an accelerator in what you’re doing. Everybody can move forward, everyone tends to question themselves if the outcome isn’t right. We’re not going into the game looking at it from that perspective.”
LSU isn’t lacking talent or ability; rather, experience is the area where the Tigers are a little short-changed. With many players getting their first tastes of life in the SEC on Saturday, many hope to see more discipline on both sides of the ball.
Defensively, slowing down the Air Raid offense will be difficult, but if the Tigers can get off the field on third down, there’s an easier path to success. On offense, long, drawn-out drives should be the goal, with establishing some semblance of a run game early being the best chance to slow the game down.
Look at the betting lines, recent history, injury updates, keys to the games, and our staff predictions.
Bulldogs opened a 3-point favorite over the Tigers with Caesars Sportsbook. According to Sportsline, that margin shrunk to only two points Tuesday morning, with the over/under still at 53.5 points.
The Tigers and Bulldogs have a pretty lopsided history for two programs that have squared off 115 times, though it has been a bit more interesting in recent years. LSU leads the overall series against the Bulldogs, holding a record of 76-36 with three ties mixed in.
LSU also currently holds the longest win streak of these two programs, winning 14 straight times from 2000-13, though that’s where the recent history has evened out to some extent. Since that 2013 game, the Tigers have won five times while the Bulldogs were able to pick up wins three times in 2014, 2017 and most recently in 2020.
The latter of those three games saw Mississippi State’s current coach Mike Leach make quite an impression on the SEC as his passing offense tuned up the defending national champs through the air for 623 yards in a week one win. Last year in 2021, LSU’s secondary responded better despite Mississippi State throwing 60 times.
This is one of those games the last two years that has been a bit of a scary matchup for the Tigers as their secondary the last two years has been pretty beaten up or in total schematic disarray by the time the Bulldogs strolled into town.
There are several key ones to keep an eye on, including a pair in the secondary. LSU feels good about potentially getting Sevyn Banks back for his first game action of the season. Fellow cornerback Colby Richardson did go down with an injury against Southern, but Brian Kelly said Thursday that both Richardson and Banks would be in the rotation for LSU.
Also, expect freshman Quency Wiggins to make his Tigers debut on special teams. Wiggins was dealing with a lisfranc sprain that kept him from playing the first two games. Other than that, edge rusher BJ Ojulari will be back in the rotation after missing the Southern game as a precaution.
KEYS TO THE GAME
Tackle in the secondary
We mentioned this in our team goals piece on Thursday, but it’s the most crucial element to the Tigers’ success in this game. We know that a big part of the Bulldogs’ offensive success comes with quick reads and decisions, making it mightily important for the Tigers’ defense, particularly the cornerbacks and safeties, to be fundamentally sound in their tackling.
Of course, this extends to the linebackers as well but what will be interesting to watch is how much man coverage the Tigers play. LSU’s defense did an excellent job of keeping everything in front of it last year and came away with enough stops early in the game to help the offense pull away by double digits.
LSU struggled in third-down situations against Florida State, and that can’t afford to be the case against the high-volume passing offense that the Bulldogs will roll out.
ESTABLISH THE RUN
As part of the offensive game plan for the Tigers, finding some balance with the run game is an absolute must. Getting John Emery back in the fold provides a unique opportunity for LSU to get a player some touches that Mississippi State can’t necessarily prepare for.
Armoni Goodwin and Noah Cain will earn the majority of the snaps, and Goodwin in particular, is a guy we highlighted this week as someone to watch closely. Jayden Daniels will also be heavily involved in the running attack but if LSU wants to keep the Bulldogs on their toes, getting the backs more involved than two weeks ago is a must.
KEEP MISSISSIPPI STATE OFFENSE ON THE SIDELINES
This goes hand in hand with establishing the run, but LSU’s offense must try to even the time on the field as evenly as possible. For the last two years, the Bulldogs have controlled time of possession, and while LSU handled its business in 2021, a 10-minute time difference is nothing to sneeze at.
LSU will want to even that out more this year and has the offensive talent to keep up with the Bulldogs when clicking on all cylinders.