LSU vs. Mississippi State: 5 Keys to Tigers' Inevitable Win
On Thursday night, the nation's third-ranked team, the LSU Tigers, will meet the 25th-ranked Mississippi State Bulldogs in prime time. The Tigers are pretty much a lock to win, but after Mississippi State's start to the year—averaging upwards of 320 yards on the ground and 46 points a game—the Tigers should not take the Bulldogs lightly.
In order for the inevitable victory to take place, there are several keys that need to happen for LSU's expected dominance to occur.
Stop Vick Ballard and the Bulldogs Rushing Game
Despite a crushing defeat against Auburn last week, the Mississippi State Bulldogs have surprised many in the SEC with their dynamic rushing game.
The Bulldogs are averaging 321 yards on the ground through their first two games, putting them sixth overall in the nation. Not only does RB Vick Ballard have 301 yards on the year with four touchdowns, QB Chris Relf has surprised some with his great mobility. Through two games, Relf has rushed for 157 yards. Not too shabby for the senior QB out of Montgomery, Ala.
This should be a big test for the LSU defensive line as it is used to stopping the run. After shutting down LaMichael James in Week 1 versus Oregon, Northwestern State Demon's running game last week wasn't much of a challenge.
LSU currently holds the eighth-best rushing defense in the nation, allowing an average of just 45.5 yards per game, and has only allowed two rushing TDs all season. Both DT Michael Brockers, who has seven tackles, and DE Sam Montgomery, who has 9 tackles and 2.5 for a loss, will need to continue pounding in the trenches to close the openings created by the Bulldogs offensive line.
The Tigers shouldn't have too much issue shutting down the run as it is the more predictable of the two offensive choices for the Bulldogs, but if Mississippi State is able to dominate the line of scrimmage, it could cause problems for the Tigers.
Dominate Through the Air
Early on in this college football season, LSU quarterback Jarrett Lee has yet to have an outstanding performance where he was the reason his team won the game. The LSU defence has carried much of the load thus far, and the Mississippi State game provides Lee with an excellent chance to get more involved with the offence.
Lee, of course, was thrown into the starter's spot following Jordan Jefferson's off-field issues with the law and understandably needed a couple of games to get into the offense, but he should be in his best form by now.
Lee has thrown just 32 times for 231 yards and two touchdowns on the year, and the LSU offense is nothing special—at least it hasn't appeared that way so far this season.
Lee will have the opportunity to face the nation's 26th-ranked passing defense in Mississippi State, and shouldn't have too many problems getting the ball to his receivers more than he has so far on the year.
Defense Continues to Shut Down Opponents
The LSU Tigers defense is currently 11th in the nation with just 215 yards allowed per game. Not to shabby for a defense that lost several of its top players to the NFL draft and had to play the nation's most lethal offense in Oregon in the first game of the year.
Even though LSU's defense has performed spectacularly thus far, it will have to stop the nation's fifth-ranked offense in Mississippi State. State is averaging an astounding 588 yards per game, largely based on its run game.
Two guys LSU can count on to make a difference in this game are cornerbacks Tyrann Mathieu and Morris Claiborne. Claiborne has blown his critics away after he was able to keep up with Oregon's speedy wideouts in Week 1 and currently sits with 12 tackles on the year. Mathieu, on the other hand, has 15 tackles, including two for a loss, and a fumble recovery for a touchdown.
Defensively, LSU has yet to turn an interception into a touchdown and may need to count on the defense to put up its own points in this game.
Although Mississippi State has yet to face a competitive defense, its staggering numbers should present LSU with a wake-up call and motivate them further to shut down the juggernaut that appears to be the Bulldogs offense.
Get to Chris Relf
Mississippi State quarterback Chris Relf could be one of the bigger surprises out of the SEC this season. The senior QB has put up huge numbers in the first two games this season. Relf comes into the LSU game with 397 yards passing for three touchdowns, one interception and a 61 percent completion rating. Relf is not only dangerous throwing the ball, but anytime he gets space he can make a play. Relf has 157 yards rushing on the year already.
The Tigers must get to Relf whether it be for sacks or just to hurry him up and disrupt his focus tonight. The Tigers currently rank last (along with several other teams) in the nation in sacks with a dismal one sack on the year. The defensive linemen and linebackers will have to create better pressure on Relf in this game if they want to have any chance at stopping the powerful Bulldogs offense.
The only semi-weak spot on the Tigers defense is at linebacker where all three backers have yet to make a big play on the year. Whether it be on the blitz or sitting back in coverage, the Tigers need to find a way to utilize their LBs effectively to disrupt Relf through his motions.
Not saying the Tigers won't be effective in covering Relf, but they cannot afford to take Mississippi State and Relf as a bottom-feeder of the SEC, as they are far from that—at least on the offensive side of the ball.
Play with Confidence
Being the No. 3 team in the nation is no easy feat, and will always come with its critics. Everyone loves the underdog and everyone loves an upset. A lot of people are predicting Mississippi State has the best opportunity at upsetting the LSU Tigers this season, and for good reason: It has the fifth-best offense in the country.
The Tigers cannot take the Bulldogs loosely, but they must play with confidence. A confident Tigers team is a winning Tigers team. They must ignore any of the doubters going into the game and play to their best ability. If they do that, they will hands-down come out as the victors.
Overall, LSU is just better than Mississippi State—better coaching, better defense and more skilled offense overall (despite their lack of performance thus far). In order for Mississippi State to win, it will have to blow the Tigers out, and that is no easy task.
Every game the Tigers play here on out will be their biggest game of the season on their quest for the BCS National Championship game. It is crucial that head coach Les Miles keeps his team composed throughout the game. LSU has to go into the game confident and ready to play and it could be its biggest key to success.