No. 12 LSU vs Mississippi State preview and prediction

The №12 ranked LSU Tigers (2–0) travel to Starkville, Miss. to take on the Mississippi State Bulldogs (2–0) on Saturday at 6 p.m. on ESPN. The Tigers have won the past two meetings between the two teams, including a comeback 23–20 win by LSU in 2016. Can Dan Mullen shake up the SEC West again and take down Ed Orgeron and the Tigers?

Photo courtesy of Campus Pressbox

LSU looks as dominant as ever after the first two weeks of college football. The Tigers beat BYU and Chattanooga by a remarkable score of 72–10 in the past two games. The LSU rushing attack has proven to be just as lethal as last season, with over 500 total yards on the ground so far this season. Running backs Derrius Guice and Darrel Williams have carried the offense, while quarterback Danny Etling has jumped out to a decent start. No one expected anything spectacular from Etling considering how run-heavy the Tigers are, but he still logged 398 yards passing for a touchdown over the past two games. Etling seems to favor receiver D.J. Chark the few times he does throw it, as Chark had three catches for 103 yards against Chattanooga.

The LSU defense returns as one of the best in the SEC as well as in the entire nation. After being ranked 25th in total defense to end last season, the Tigers are ranked fifth in the nation after two games this season. The LSU defense, especially the front seven, is running like a well-oiled machine. Plus, now All-SEC linebacker Arden Key returns for week three. Against BYU the Tigers held the Cougars to negative-5 rushing yards, and held Chattanooga to just 68 yards last week. The LSU secondary had a hot start in its first two games, with three interceptions and just 276 passing yards allowed. It’s hard to see much getting past Orgeron and his stout defense, but with Mississippi State quarterback Nick Fitzgerald on the field anything is possible.

Mississippi State has started off the 2017 on a high note with fantastic efficiency on offense. The Bulldogs defeated Charleston Southern and Louisiana Tech by a combined score of 106–21. Fitzgerald has started right back where he left off last season with 363 yards passing for five touchdowns in the first two games. Part of Mississippi State’s success throwing the ball comes from the fact that they currently have three players with over 100 yards rushing. Running backs Aeris Williams and Kylin Hill have consistently taken pressure off Fitzgerald to open the Bulldogs’ playbook. Four of Fitzgerald’s five touchdown passes went to different receivers, with his most popular target (not surprisingly) being Donald Gray, who has seven catches. For a group that was supposed to be the weak link headed into the 2017 season, the Mississippi State offensive line has been the focal point of their success on offense so far.

Defensively, the Bulldogs have looked pretty solid considering all of the players that left after last season. In their first game of the 2017 season against Charleston Southern, they allowed just 33 total yards. However, against Louisiana Tech the Mississippi State front seven was a little shakier after giving up over 150 yards on the ground. Still, the Bulldogs managed to created two fumbles and an interception against Tech. Linebacker Dezmond Harris and defensive lineman Gerri Green have held down the front seven with 22 tackles, four tackles-for-loss, three sacks and an interception combined. The front seven will be a key factor for Mississippi State and whether or not they can slow down the dynamic LSU rush attack.

LSU keys for success:

The Tigers will need to find more balance in the offense to have more success, especially against an SEC caliber defense. Etling will need to pose a threat passing the ball to open up the lanes for Guice and Williams to pound the line of scrimmage. The LSU defense will have to contain Fitzgerald and force him to stay inside of the pocket.

Mississippi State keys for success:

On offense the Bulldogs need to have more success throwing the ball than they did against Louisiana Tech, because a run-heavy offense won’t last long against the LSU front seven. The Mississippi State offensive line will need to have a great game and keep Fitzgerald from getting killed. Defense is easy, make Etling throw the football as much as possible and pray that Guice doesn’t gash you on the ground.

Prediction:

This game will be a lot close than many people are expecting, and it all hinges on the battle at the line of scrimmage. LSU will dominate the Mississippi State offensive line and wreak havoc on the Bulldogs’ run game. Still, Fitzgerald will pick up the slack and make it a decent game. The Tigers will get off to a slow start running the ball against the first SEC defense they have seen this year. However, eventually Guice and Williams will bust it open and help Etling have more success through the air. Orgeron and LSU will steal a 23–17 win on the road in Starkville

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