We head to Week 3 of the college football season (as crazy as that sounds), and I’ve had two unsuccessful predictions thus far.
Last week, I picked BYU over Texas. It was a close call for the Longhorns, but they edged out a 17-16 victory when it was all said and done. BYU’s inconsistent offense and Texas’ benching of Garrett Gilbert were big reasons Texas walked away the winner. A new quarterback in Texas can only be a good thing for that offense.
Who will it be this week?
Les Miles and the Tigers Stumble in Starkville.
The Line: LSU -3
I featured LSU here last season, and in what was a very bizarre game, LSU managed to escape with a victory over a rebuilding Vols team.
It’s true that LSU has outscored Mississippi State 59-33 in their last two matchups. It’s also true that Dan Mullen is 2-9 against the SEC West with both victories coming against Ole Miss.
Those aren’t particularly good starting points. However, the Bulldogs played LSU close two years ago, losing 30-26. If not for a goal line stand by LSU (similar to the most recent one in the MSU-Auburn game), perhaps the Bulldogs would have walked away victorious.
While I’m not as high on Mississippi State as some are, this is a more talented squad than LSU faced in 2009. The offense and defense have trended in positive directions the past two seasons, and the Bulldogs offense is currently ranked fifth in total yardage.
Their offense is mostly based off the read-option, and it’s something that has given LSU trouble in the past (see Auburn, 2010). The Tigers did a good job against Oregon, but their offense isn’t nearly as physical as Mississippi State’s.
So far, they’ve totaled 642 yards on 101 carries. Mississippi State’s three-headed monster in the back field is led by Chris Relf. At 6’4", 245 pounds, he’s a physically imposing dual-threat quarterback in the style of Cam Newton. Relf rushed 27 times against Auburn for 106 yards.
Relf and Vick Ballard are the horses of the running game, while change of pace back, LaDarius Perkins, brings speed and big play ability. It’s not easy to stop this trio, and LSU will have their hands full Thursday night.
LSU’s offense is once again their Achilles’ heel. They are averaging 44.5 points per game, but that’s quite deceiving. They rank 89th in total offense, but struggles on that side of the ball are nothing new for the Tigers.
They’ve finished 75th or worse in total offense the past two years, but they still win their share of games. However, with Jordan Jefferson still suspended, I don’t think Jarrett Lee can get the job done. He improved last week against Northwestern State, but his performance against Oregon (10-22, 98 yards) is more telling.
LSU has a pair of bruising running backs in Spencer Ware and Michael Ford, and they will lead the way on offense as LSU will look to physically dominate the Bulldogs. That’s their style of game, and their defense is good enough to allow them to do it.
Mississippi State may not see a faster defense the rest of the year (exception being Alabama), but the Bulldogs will certainly challenge the Tigers with their ability to spread the field and pound it inside the tackles.
The Bayou Bengals have played Mississippi State more than any other opponent, though it’s really not much of a rivalry. The series, which dates back to 1896, favors LSU heavily. They hold a 67-33-3 overall record over the Bulldogs and have won 11 straight.
As lopsided as the series may be, Mississippi State has returned from the cellar of the SEC West and is no longer a team to overlook. A win for Dan Mullen and company would be a huge step forward for the program.
The Verdict: The matchups to watch will be in the trenches, pitting State’s efficient running game against the SEC’s top rush defense. There won’t be much excitement through the air tonight as both teams will keep it on the ground for most of the game.
Mississippi State will look to control the ball and put pressure on the Tigers’ offense to succeed, and I’m not sure I trust the Tigers to do that. LSU’s staunch defense won’t be able to overcome their miscues in the passing game in front of a raucous crowd at Davis Wade Stadium. Mississippi State edges LSU by a field goal, winning 27-24.
Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comment box below. You can e-mail me suggestions or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow me on Twitter @JoeSportswriter.