Whom: Mississippi State (2-0)
What: SEC opener for LSU and MSU
When: Saturday, September 17, 5:00 p.m. CDT
Where: Tiger Stadium (Baton Rouge, Louisiana)
LSU is coming off an absolutely dominant 65-17 win over Southern in a classic bounce back game. The Tigers started off with a bang by forcing a fumble on the opening kickoff. By the end of the first quarter, LSU had a commanding 37-0 lead. Southern’s band spelled out the 51-0 halftime score during their unforgettable performance, and LSU’s starters showed that they weren’t too downtrodden from their loss in the Superdome. However, there’s a stark difference between last week’s opponent and this week’s.
The Other Guys:
It’s the year 2022 and Mike Leach’s football team is 2nd in the nation in time of possession per game, averaging 39:04 over their two games. A Mike Leach offense held the ball for 41 minutes in a game, the season opener against Memphis. Leach alluded to the potential of adding more running to his offense, and it seems like that’s happened. The Bulldogs have crossed the 100 rushing yard mark in each of their first two games (excluding sacks) while roughly a third of their plays have been runs. Including sack yardage for both, MSU is already nearly a quarter of a way to their 2021 rushing total in just two games.
Mississippi State’s been a common pick as a dark-horse team in the SEC. QB Will Rogers is in his 3rd season under Leach and ran the air raid in high school, so he knows this offense very well. Jaden Walley, MSU’s second leading receiver from last season, is back, as are top rushers Dillon Johnson and Jo’quavious Marks.
Oddly, it seems that the offense has been an effective defense in these first two games by controlling the ball and preventing the other side from scoring. If there’s one guy that’s truly stood out, though, it’s LB Jett Johnson, who’s already got 20 tackles and 12 solo tackles on the young season. It’s a bit difficult to say where their defense stands right now because they haven’t really been tested yet. That changes Saturday.
John Emery will be in the LSU line-up for the first time, adding a wrinkle to the offense. LSU had a tough time getting the run game going against Florida State before demolishing a team with 20+ fewer scholarships, so it’ll be interesting to see if things have indeed improved since Week 1. If LSU gets the run support that Jayden Daniels needs to make things easier for him, the offense will have a decent time.
As for the defense, I’m concerned. If this game came after the New Mexico game, I’d feel a lot more confident because they would have more experience and time to gel as a unit. Instead, they’re still figuring some things out. That worries me more this year than it would’ve last year because Leach has added more runs. Defending the air raid requires defenders to play almost perfectly and make plays when necessary since the QB is under far less pressure to get the ball out (in the classic rush 3, drop 8). If a DB makes one mistake, it can easily turn into a TD.
To put it very simply, it’s all about who has the better rhythm. Mississippi State found their rhythm already with their first two wins. They know how they’re running their offense and they’ve added wrinkles to it that weren’t there last year. LSU’s defense is still trying to find their rhythm. They’re still trying to figure out what works and what doesn’t. They lost Joe Foucha to a suspension and Maason Smith to an injury. It’s not together just yet.
I think this will be a tight game, and Joe Tessitore being on the call almost guarantees there will be some sort of chaos. Unfortunately, I think the Bulldogs just eke it out. 33-31 Mississippi State.