LSU vs. Mississippi State: Preview, Predictions and the Edge at Each Position

Tom PerryCorrespondent ISeptember 14, 2011

LSU vs. Mississippi State: Preview, Predictions and the Edge at Each Position

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    If Mississippi State has any intention of being anything more than an SEC afterthought, then the road to contender begins Thursday night.

    Standing in the Bulldogs’ way at Davis Wade Stadium is third-ranked LSU and arguably the nation’s stingiest defense.

    The Tigers’ defense will be challenged by Dan Mullen’s offense, as Mississippi State is putting up some impressive numbers (46.5 points per game and 588 total yards through two games).

    LSU has allowed just 15 points per game and only 215.0 total yards per game, and just 45.5 on the ground.

    Kickoff is scheduled for 8 p.m. and the game is televised by ESPN.

Quarterbacks

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    Jarrett Lee, the former turnover machine, has been an effective quarterback for LSU through two weeks.

    Lee has completed 19 of 32 passes for 231 yards with two TDs and no interceptions. The Tigers aren’t missing Jordan Jefferson, who is suspended indefinitely, like many thought they would.

    Senior quarterback Chris Relf has developed into a top-rate quarterback, who can also turn it up and run when needed.

    Relf has thrown for 397 yards and three scores, while rushing for an additional 157 yards on 40 carries.

    Edge: Mississippi State

Running Backs

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    Mississippi State is sixth in the nation with 321 rushing yards a game.

    Senior Vick Ballard leads Mississippi State with 301 yards and four touchdowns. His best showing was a career-best 166 yards in a 59-14 season-opening victory at Memphis.

    LSU’s tandem of Michael Ford (168 yards, four TDs) and Spencer Ware (119 yards, three TDs) is tough to contend with.

    The defense must always deal with a fresh back.

    Edge: Mississippi State

Receivers

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    LSU is dinged again by a suspension as Russell Shepard is serving the final game of a three-game penalty.

    However, junior Rueben Randle (131 yards, TD) and senior Deangelo Peterson (71 yards, TD) have filled in admirably.

    Freshman Jameon Lewis is the leader in Starkville with 116 yards and a touchdown, while junior Arceto Clark had three catches for 78 yards. There’s nothing overly impressive with the group.

    Edge: LSU

Offensive Line

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    If Mississippi State’s offensive line is healthy Thursday night, it could cause LSU’s defense some problems.

    MSU’s offensive line is one of the more experienced groups in the SEC, but there may be a few casualties from the Auburn game. The Bulldogs may have to lineup without senior center Quentin Saulsberry (sprained knee) and senior left tackle James Carmon (leg).

    LSU has good experience on the offensive line, led by junior center P.J. Lonergan, senior T-Bob Hebert, junior Alex Hurst and sophomore Chris Faulk.

    The Tigers controlled the line of scrimmage against Oregon, but they'll have trouble doing the same with the Bulldogs.

    Edge: LSU

Defensive Line

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    LSU may have graduated some talent from last year, but the Tigers have reloaded on the defensive line.

    Senior Kendrick Adams is the only starter back, but LSU has another group of athletic and aggressive players who shut down the run.

    The new faces are junior Josh Downs and sophomores Michael Brockers and Sam Montgomery.

    Mississippi State's line is experienced with juniors Josh Boyd, Fletcher Cox and Sean Ferguson, but they got pushed around a bit by Auburn last week.

    Edge: LSU

Linebackers

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    Mississippi State is rotating a lot of new faces in and out at linebacker, including Cameron Lawrence, Brandon Wilson and Deontae Skinner.

    Lawrence leads the team with 18 tackles and a sack, while Wilson has eight tackles and a sack.

    Once again, LSU is loaded at linebacker.

    Take your pick of seniors from Ryan Baker (four tackles), Stefoin Francois (two tackles) and Karnell Hatcher and sophomore Kevin Minter (seven tackles).

    Baker was suspended for the home opener against Northwestern State.

    Edge: LSU

Defensive Backs

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    Even with the loss of Patrick Peterson, LSU's defensive backfield is still stacked.

    Corner Tyrann Mathieu leads the team with 14 tackles, including two for a loss. Safety Brandon Taylor has 13 tackles and corner Morris Claiborne is arguably the best of the group.

    On almost any other night, Mississippi State's unit would get top billing.

    MSU corners Jonathan Banks and Corey Brumfield could make life miserable for LSU's receivers, while safeties Charles Mitchell and Nickoe Whitley are great in pass coverage, but make their presence known in the running game as well.

    Edge: LSU

Special Teams

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    LSU has a history of great returners, but this year they are looking at Morris Claiborne to return punts and Tyrann Mathieu to bring back punts.

    The kicking game has two new faces with Drew Alleman as the placekicker and Brad Wing at punter.

    Mississippi State returns senior kicker Derek DePasquale, and he has made 3-of-4 field goals and 9-of-9 extra points. However, his longest so far this season is just 32.

    The punter, snapper and holder are all new for the Bulldogs.

    Edge: Mississippi State

Coaches

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    Dan Mullen is one of the hottest names in coaching circles, and if the right job opens he’s likely moving on from Mississippi State.

    Mullen has done some impressive work in Starkville and the Bulldogs are winning and playing in bowl games. Expectations are high.

    Les Miles is often the butt of jokes, and he’s called the Mad Hatter. But one thing LSU’s win over Oregon proved—Miles is still one heck of a coach.

    You don’t win as many games as Miles without recruiting great talent, but also coaching them up in the process.  Of course Miles takes some crazy gambles and his clock management skills are questionable, but he’s still one of the best in the game.

    Edge: LSU

Intangibles

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    LSU never loses night games. Well, this one is at Davis Wade Stadium and not Death Valley, so there goes that advantage.

    While both teams are coming into the game on short rest, LSU should be better prepared because the Tigers had a game with Northwestern State (49-3) last weekend.

    The Bulldogs are coming off a tough and emotional 41-34 loss at Auburn last week, and Dan Mullen hasn’t been able to put in a normal week of work to prepare for the third-ranked team in the nation.

    A bigger concern is how Auburn stuffed Mississippi State on the goal line to preserve the win.

    LSU is 68-33-3 all-time against Mississippi State and the Tigers have won 11 straight games in the series dating back to 1999, so the odds are in Les Miles’ favor.

    Edge: LSU

Make the Pick

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    Mississippi State and Dan Mullen are well aware of the importance of winning this game. Going down 0-2 in the SEC West basically ends any notion of playing for the conference title.

    The Bulldogs must recover from last week's tough loss at Auburn, and getting LSU five days later is not the best recipe.

    LSU just might be the best team in the nation, especially after that performance against Oregon.

    Les Miles and his boys sort of got an off week with Northwestern State, and there is no way the Tigers are looking past the Bulldogs for the road game with West Virginia next week.

    Winner: LSU