After bouncing back from a season-opening loss to Florida State with a 72-10 rout of Grambling last Saturday, No. 14 LSU begins its defense of its SEC West title when it faces Mississippi State on Saturday in Starkville, Miss.
“We played the right way for four quarters,” Tigers head coach Brian Kelly said of the lopsided win. “Now we need to take that against an SEC opponent. That’s the next challenge.”
LSU was No. 5 in the preseason poll but dropped significantly after preseason No. 8 Florida State beat the Tigers 45-24 in the opener.
The Tigers’ defensive shortcomings extended into the game against Grambling as they allowed 232 yards on the first three possessions. But they allowed just 61 yards and four first downs in the second half.
“We were probably too anxious to start,” Kelly said, “but we settled down.”
LSU is trying to figure out its running back rotation. Kelly began the season hoping that a deeper group of ball carriers would lessen the rushing burden on quarterback Jayden Daniels, who was the team’s leading rusher with nearly 900 yards last season.
But Daniels had the most carries and rushing yards in the opener before Notre Dame transfer Logan Diggs broke through with 115 yards and a touchdown against Grambling. Freshman Kaleb Jackson chipped in 62 yards and two touchdowns.
John Emery Jr., a fifth-year senior who has missed the first two games because of academic issues, could be available Saturday.
“We’re going to feature a guy who’s feeling it and is hot, if you will,” Kelly said, “but we have enough depth where we can spell a guy. We can play multiple backs and have the continuity that’s necessary.”
Mississippi State (2-0) has won all three games since Zach Arnett took over as head coach, beginning with a bowl victory in January after Arnett being promoted from defensive coordinator after Mike Leach’s sudden death.
The Bulldogs have an opportunity to demonstrate that they can compete for the title in what might be a wide-open West after LSU, No. 10 Alabama and unranked Texas A&M already have a nonconference loss.
“This is why you come to the SEC,” MSU defensive back Marcus Banks said.
The most obvious difference in Arnett’s team is that he has moved on from Leach’s “Air Raid” offense and brought in former Appalachian State coordinator Kevin Barbay’s more conventional offense.
Senior Will Rogers is the most prolific passer in school history, though he is operating a more balanced attack this season.
Rogers threw just 17 passes, completing 13 for 162 yards with three touchdowns, in a 31-24 overtime victory at home against Arizona last Saturday.
Jo’Quavious Marks rushed 24 times for 123 yards and a touchdown and has back-to-back 100-yard rushing games for the first time in his four-year career.
The Bulldogs, who defeated visiting Southeastern Louisiana 48-7 in their season opener, forced turnovers on Arizona’s first four possessions and finished with five takeaways.
“We need to improve and get better,” Arnett said. “I thought we had every opportunity to break that game open early and some lack of execution, plays in critical moments, prevented us from really enjoying the success with the intensity they deserved with a larger margin of victory.”
–Field Level Media