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September 13, 2011

The Next Test for the LSU Tigers - Mississippi State

LSU's first two games were a real treat for Tiger fans and expectations of a national championship appear to be reasonable.  I was glad to see LSU ranked #2 after dominating a very good Oregon team but understood that Alabama fans might be miffed at having won and dropped in the polls.  It was not hard to predict that Alabama would beat Penn State and jump back up to #2.  Considering LSU plays a ranked team and Alabama plays North Texas, we will see if the trend continues.  First, LSU will have to face a very good Mississippi State team in Starkville.  

Mississippi State's defense gave up 14 points to an over matched Memphis team and 41 points to a solid but rebuilding Auburn offense.  I think it is reasonable to expect LSU to put up 40 points.  LSU's first two games would indicate that 40 points is a benchmark of what to expect.  It will be interesting to see if LSU's offense will be able to keep showing improvement against a ranked SEC West team.  Mississippi State gave up two passing touchdowns in each of the last two games and I would like to see Jarrett Lee throw at least two TDs and zero interceptions this Thursday.  By the way, if you did not get to see the NSU game, LSU's quarterback future looks bright.  Zach Mettenberger delivers the football quickly and on target.  By comparison, Lee's pass seems to be thrown more on an arc and floats.  Don't get me wrong, Lee's passes were on target and his decision making has been stellar in the first two games but I expect Mettenberger to be playing on Sundays for a number of years.  Provided he has matured enough to stay out of trouble.  The real story in the LSU/Miss. State game is not LSU's offense versus Miss. State's defense.  I expect LSU's offense to have a solid showing.

The real match up of the LSU/Miss State game will come down to the ground game.  LSU's rush defense versus Miss. State's rushing attack.  Mississippi State's passing game will keep LSU honest.  Miss. State QB, Chris Relf, has completed just over 61% of his passes accounting for 397 yards, 3 touchdowns and 1 interception but, even with an improved Auburn pass defense, I feel that LSU will significantly cut down that nearly 200-yards a game passing average.  The threat of a passing game will only keep LSU from crowding the box to defend the run.  Mississippi State running back Vick Ballard is on a mission to improve his NFL draft status and he is looking every bit like a first round draft choice so far.  So far this year, Ballard has rushed for just over 150-yards a game, 4 rushing touchdowns while maintaining a 9.7 yards a carry average.  I have watched significant portions of both of Auburn's games and in the Mississippi State/Auburn game Vick Ballard took over the game in the fourth quarter.  Ballard rushed for 94 yards including a touchdown in the fourth quarter and accounted for another 21 yards receiving.  It looked like to me that on the third to last play of the game Ballard launched himself through the end zone for a second fourth quarter touchdown before going out-of-bounds but, the ball was marked at the one yard line.  No part of Ballard's body touched the ground out-of-bounds before the ball broke the plain of the end zone.  I think at a neutral site or at Starkville Mississippi State would have beaten Auburn in overtime.

While Vick Ballard may be one of the best running backs in college football this year,  we will not know just how good he is until he has met the LSU Tigers' rush defense.  Auburn is a solid team, however; I was a bit embarrassed for them in their opener against Utah State mainly because Utah State seemed to be able to run almost at will against Auburn's defense.  Utah State may be a very good team too.  But,  I suspect that Auburn may be having troubles with their rush defense and if that is the case Ballard's ability to run all over Auburn in the 4th quarter may not be quiet as impressive as it seems at first glance.

Another thing to consider in this key match up of LSU's defense versus Miss. State's ground game is the size of Miss. State's Offensive line.  So far LSU has faced two opponent offensive lines that they outweighed at key interior line positions.  Oregon is having to play less experienced interior offensive linemen that may have needed a game to get their legs under them and let's face it - NSU O-line did not belong on the same field with LSU's D-line.  I am not sure how many teams, if any, will be able to handle the size, strength, and speed of LSU's D-line.  Thursday will serve as a big test to evaluate just how good LSU's defense really is.

Note:  Thanks to the many of you who have written me with concerns about my silence and encouragement for me to keep writing my thoughts down about LSU football.  I guess I was so elated about the Oregon game that I didn't show up to write about the next game.  Better I not show up for the NSU game versus LSU not showing up.  I did have concerns that LSU might come out flat after the victory over the Ducks.  It seems that these Tigers are mature enough to know that they have a target on their backs.  I am also glad to see that there is a "real want" for these Tigers to prove themselves on the field each and every week. 

1 comment:

Switch_to_Natural_Gas said...

Great Analysis Bob! Now I know what to look for when I watch the Tigers take on Miss St tomorrow night.

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