We will be traveling to face a pretty well-tested team when we face Mississippi State on Saturday. Though it is only the 4th week of the season, this will be Mississippi State's 3rd conference matchup, having already faced (and gotten pounded by) Auburn and having beaten Vandy.
Unfortunately, this is another team I have not been able to see, because alas, they keep playing at the same time we play and the ESPN schedule, while it is making it easier to see LSU play, is not making it easy to see anyone else play unless I want to forego watching the Tigers. Which I don't.
Anyway, we are to the point where we can really start seeing trends develop in these games, statistically. To look at Mississippi State, we are going to have to ignore their opening week game against Jackson State, or at least put it in context. They rolled up a lot of yards and a lot of points, but it was against far weaker competition than against ULL. Jackson State is a SWAC team, and they have followed up their drubbing by MSU with losses to Tennessee State and Grambling. That game really was a glorified scrimmage. In contrast, ULL entered their contest with us sitting at 2-0 and having beaten a Big 12 team, albeit one of the weaker ones.
Much more telling are their subsequent contests against Auburn and Vandy. What do those games tell us? Well, they beat Vandy in a more dominant fashion than we did, piling up 260 yards rushing and 341 total yards, compared to only 157 total yards for Vandy en route to winning 15-3. However, their passing game was not very good. If you think LSU lacks big play ability, check out MSU's combined QB statline against Vandy: 10 for 18, 81 yards, 0 touchdowns, 0 interceptions.
Against Auburn, they were actually a little better passing the ball. 11 for 21, 131 yards, 1 touchdown, 2 interceptions. OK, that's really not any better when you factor in the interceptions. On the season, their longest pass play from scrimmage is 32 yards, which did not go for a touchdown. Ours is 45 yards, and that one was limited by the presence of an end zone in Terrance Toliver's way, otherwise he would still be running.
Mississippi State lost to Auburn in a game that Auburn pretty much controlled from the end of the first half onward. The Mississippi State defense which stoned Vandy gave up 589 yards of offense to Auburn, mostly on the ground. Auburn rushed for 390 yards in that game, including Ben Tate's 157 yards, which was good enough to win ATVSSECOSPPOW honors for that week.
It's hard to get any sort of a read on Mississippi State's defense from these two games. The fluctuations are just too wild. I realize that Auburn is going to be a much better offensive team than Vandy this year, but there's no logical reason why even a good offense should get almost 5x the yardage that a bad offense should get, against the same defense. One is forced to conclude that either the Vandy game or the Auburn game was anomalous for one reason or another. The question is which one was anomalous?
What we can see is that despite the installation of Urban Meyer disciple Dan Mullen, Mississippi State is going to remain, for now, a grind it out team on offense, much like they have been for the last few decades. Against Vandy and Auburn, the Bulldogs rushed 94 times compared to 39 passes. That's a ratio almost unheard of in college football, where a team with a 50/50 split is probably running the ball more than average. And keep in mind, that 2.5-to-1 ratio of runs to passes includes a game in which they were playing from behind the entire second half.
I really don't think the QB duo of Tyson Lee and Chris Relf are going to be able to pass on us. They just don't have the QB skill or the quality receivers. I don't expect Patrick Peterson to have his name called much again this week. I expect them instead to challenge our front seven again and again by pounding Anthony Dixon and Christian Ducre at us. They can even bring in a running QB Chris Relf, who is actually their second leading rusher both in carries and yards.
In the words of Yoda, stack the box we will. Pass we shall dare you.
It is definitely time for our somewhat maligned defensive line (which I think has played pretty well) to really show that they can play. This is a running game that can make noise. If we hold the running game in check, we should be able to win handily. If Mississippi State can run on us, it will be a difficult game.