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LSU-Mississippi State: What To Watch

This game has more than one ingredient of the classic SEC trap game:

  • On the road, in the classic Jefferson Pilot morning time slot (it's just not gonna be the same without The Three Daves...).

  • The favorite holds an almost comically long winning streak over the underdog.

  • The favorite has a significantly higher profile game next week.

It all adds for a higher degree of difficulty than the typical LSU-State football game, and early success will be crucial in order to grab the momentum.

Here are a few things to look for.

What You Should Expect to See on Saturday:

Meet Me Outside
Watching the Mississippi State-Vanderbilt game last week, the first thing that stood out to me was that Vanderbilt had almost no success running between the tackles, but was able to find room outside. State has a pretty stout defensive line - they're a little undersized, but they play with great leverage and get underneath pads well. They also average 245 pounds per man at linebacker. They did a good job of shedding blocks and clogging gaps against Vandy, but weren't nearly as quick running sideline to sideline. Larry Smith and Zac Stacy didn't have much room to operate - except when they ran wide on zone plays, option runs and sweeps.

Of course, those types of runs have been LSU's most successful to date. The offensive line has really struggled at the point of attack, but, for the most part, has been able to seal edges to the left and right. Les Miles made it clear that said line play has not been good enough and has to improve. So one has to wonder whether there will be a concerted effort to work on the power game, or play the matchup outside. Keiland Williams could be key. It may also be time to make greater use of Russell Shepard, both for his game-breaking speed and to help reduce the pounding on Jordan Jefferson.

State's offense may also present a favorable matchup for LSU as they also have a more laterally focused attack. Anthony Dixon, despite his bullish size, prefers a rabbit running style. The Bulldogs used outside zone runs, jet sweeps and options almost exclusively against Vandy, with most of the up-the-middle action coming on cut-backs when the ‘Dore defense lost backside contain.

The result could be a field day for Harry Coleman, Perry Riley and LSU's defensive ends - but gap control and containment will be crucial. Chris Hawkins will be in the cross hairs - he did a great job against ULL, but he's had some issues getting walled off by receivers. That can't happen this week when Chad Bumphis or Leon Berry sweep wide. Middle linebackers Kelvin Sheppard and Jacob Cutrera (who struggled a lot vs ULL after playing well in the first two games) will both need to cut down on missed tackles and continue to play their gaps - taking up blocks helping to string plays to the sideline.

Gotta see the Special Man

Dan Mullen went to the Urban Meyer school of special teams, which is to say, he knows how to coach it up. State has an excellent kicker in Sean Brauchle with a big leg (2-2 in the 40-49 yard range), and Berry has been dangerous on kick and punt returns, with averages of 25 and 10 yards, respectively.

Fans have been less than enamored with the Tigers lowest-ranked kick return game, but that might not change much this week with Brauchle kicking off. Bulldog punter Heath Hutchins is also averaging 43 yards a kick.

Do NOT Expect:

Honestly, I couldn't think of an overly clever heading here, and I just don't expect to see either team throw the ball much. Mississippi State is dead-last in the conference in rush defense and pass offense. Don't expect an air show out of LSU if it can work on the running game with success against the Bulldogs.

If State does try to go sky way - do yourself a favor and watch Patrick Peterson. Nobody's made much of an effort to challenge him since the Washington game. You almost wonder if it gets boring for him at times.

All the Answers
If you're waiting for this blowout statement victory, you probably won't see it on Saturday. LSU is playing a classic trap game set up against a team that will likely be throwing the kitchen sink at them to get their brand new head coach his signature win. While LSU still has the talent to win handily, chances are this game will follow a similar formula to the first three at times -sloppy occasionally, with some missed opportunities, but no real jeopardy.

 LSU will continue to roll out more of the offense for Jordan Jefferson (you know, the 19 year old who's making his sixth start?), but the other team on the field will have something to say about whether it's firing on all cylinders. These things take time. Every team in the country seems to be swinging wildly week to week - be them USC, Ohio State, Florida State, Texas, Oklahoma, Florida or Georgia. Chances are, LSU will look like a different team a month from now and even more so two months from now. So long as the offense continues to convert third downs and avoid turnovers, things will get progressively better.