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NCAA Football: Arizona at Mississippi State
Mississippi State Bulldogs running back Jo’Quavious Marks (7) runs the ball against the Arizona Wildcats during the second quarter at Davis Wade Stadium at Scott Field.
Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

Know Your Foe: A conversation with Mississippi State beat writer Jack Byers

A conversation with Mississippi State beat writer Jack Byers of the on the Rivals/Yahoo Network discussing Saturday’s game against Mississippi State and what to look out for.

No. 14 LSU will take on a dangerous Mississippi State team on Saturday at 11 a.m. CT at Davis-Wade Stadium in Starkville, Mississippi.

Although the last few years they have been known as an Air Raid team, they have shifted to a run-oriented balance attack due to the unfortunate death of legendary coach Mike Leach. Despite the change of scheme, Mississippi State has been highly successful running the ball as it is averaging 221.5 rushing yards per game.

The run game is led by Jo’Quavious Marks who leads the SEC in rushing yards with 250 on 5.8 yards per carry and has scored three touchdowns. Marks is also second on the team in rceeiving yards with 91 on eight receptions.

Despite not nearly putting up the numbers he posted last year, Mississippi State quarterback Will Rogers is still effective through the air has he has completed 71.7% of his passes along with 389 yards and five touchdown passes.

Mississippi State also has one of the best rush defenses in the country as it has only allowed 87.0 yards per game allowed, which is good for 31st in the nation.

I had a discussion with Mississippi State beat writer Jack Byers of BulldogBlitz/ about the game so we can get a perspective from their side.

Grant Chachere: What are some of Mississippi State’s strengths and weaknesses?

Jack Byers: Mississippi State’s biggest strength is easily the front six of its 3-3-5 defense. Nathan Pickering and Jaden Crumedy are two veteran defensive lineman that create tons of push on the interior and make opposing running backs’ lives difficult. Linebackers Jett Johnson and Bookie Watson finished as the SEC’s #1 and #2 tacklers last season. They’re both versatile players who can get home on blitzes and shoot the gap on run plays while also playing formidable pass coverage.

The Bulldogs’ biggest weakness would probably be the interior of its offensive line. When things aren’t going well for the offense, it’s usually because the opposing nose guard or 3-tech is getting tons of push. Will Rogers isn’t a mobile quarterback, so when these types of things happen it results in a lot of dead plays.

GC: Why hasn’t Mississippi State thrown the ball as much this season?

JB: Offensive coordinator Kevin Barbay was always someone who ran the football during stops as the OC at Central Michigan and Appalachian State. His philosophy is that if you can establish the run, you’ll create explosive plays in the passing game. We saw some of these big plays against SELA in Week 1, but against Arizona, they got out to an early lead and became more focused on keeping the defense fresh than putting up more points.

GC: Do you think Mississippi State will throw the ball more given the recent struggles of LSU’s secondary?

JB: I think they’re going to have to, and Barbay even admitted that he was way too conservative in that Arizona game. When Will Rogers has thrown the ball, he’s been very efficient and I’d expect they lean on that a bit more. Tulu Griffin is an elusive player out of the slot that can be a mismatch on short routes, who I’d expect will be their go-to target. The Bulldogs’ top vertical threat, Zavion Thomas, missed Week 1 with an ankle injury and was limited and Week 2, but if he’s full-go I’d expect he’s someone they turn to for some big plays.

GC: Where do you see LSU giving Mississippi State problems on both sides of the ball?

Offensively, Jayden Daniels’ rushing and improvisation abilities are what worry me the most. Mississippi State’s defense since Zach Arnett took over in 2020 has been stout, but their one kryptonite has been athletic quarterbacks. Last season, Mississippi State shut down LSU’s game plan for the entirety of the first half, but Daniels took over on the final drive with his legs and gave the Tigers all the momentum.

Defensively, I think the LSU pass rush could give Mississippi State a lot of issues. I mentioned earlier how I think the interior defensive line could be an issue, and the duo of Maason Smith and Mekhi Wingo might be the toughest matchup they’ll face up front all season. I know Harold Perkins has been playing off-ball a lot this season, but he’s still someone I worry about making plays after what he did to the Bulldogs last year in what seemed to be his coming out party.

GC: How will Mississippi State’s lack of coaching experience hurt them against Brian Kelly and LSU?

JB: I think this is something we saw last week when they narrowly escaped with a win against Arizona. From an X’s and O’s standpoint, I really like what MSU has done under Arnett but the feel for the game is something that’s likely going to take some time as I does for all head coaches. Hopefully for their sake, last week’s conservative approach was a major learning experience.