Mississippi State opens Southeastern Conference play with its third-straight home game Saturday as the Bulldogs (2-0) welcome No. 14 LSU to Davis Wade Stadium for an 11 a.m. kickoff on ESPN. The Tigers defeated MSU 31-16 last year in Baton Rouge and lead the all-time series 77-36, with three ties.
LSU (1-1) opened its season with a 45-24 loss to Florida State, which has since risen to No. 3 in the AP Top 25. The Tigers rolled over Grambling State last week, 72-10. To learn more about this LSU team, The Commercial Dispatch chatted with Wilson Alexander, who covers the Tigers for The Advocate in Baton Rouge.
Editor’s note: This conversation has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.
The Commercial Dispatch: Two games into the season, what have you learned about this LSU team?
Wilson Alexander: We’ve learned that the secondary was a valid concern, as we expected coming into the season with a lot of youth back there and inexperience at the Football Bowl Subdivision level. We’ve learned that this is an offense that hasn’t fully clicked yet necessarily, they’re still trying to iron out some kinks in the run game and have dealt with a few drops from their receivers. But it’s still an offense with quite a bit of continuity, and they got back Logan Diggs at running back last week, which may be able to help, and they’ll have John Emery back as well at running back for this Mississippi State game. So there’s more confidence on the offensive side of the ball, but some defensive concerns that they’re going to have to iron out heading into SEC play.
The Dispatch: What does Jayden Daniels bring to the table that makes him so tough to defend?
Alexander: It’s the combination of what he can do on the ground and through the air. He’s not the greatest passer who’s ever lived, but he is generally effective at throwing the ball down the field. His downfield passing is the area where LSU wants to see him continue to improve. He missed a few throws in that regard just this past weekend against Grambling, but what he does with his legs is so dynamic and makes him even more of a threat because he can quickly pick up 30- or 40-yard chunks. When he’s at his best, those things are working in harmony.
The Dispatch: Daniels aside, what will be the biggest challenges Mississippi State’s defense will face on Saturday?
Alexander: LSU has some talent at receiver and tight end with Malik Nabers and Mason Taylor. Brian Thomas has dealt with some drops, but he’s seemed to have emerged this year as more of a threat in the passing game, and they have some other options there as well. Diggs came back after missing the Florida State game, he’s a Notre Dame transfer at running back. He had 115 yards on 15 carries and brought just a little something extra to that run game. So if LSU is able to get push up front and start running the football more effectively than they did against Florida State, then this is going to look like a pretty complete offense.
The Dispatch: What do you make of the Tigers’ defense this year, and what does it have to do to slow down the Bulldogs’ offense?
Alexander: They are going to have to be able to defend the zone running scheme that it seems Mississippi State has this year. Those stretch runs, particularly to the outside, looked to be pretty effective against Arizona. This is an LSU team that struggled to defend the run in the second half against Florida State and then very early on against Grambling as well. So they’re going to have to improve in that regard and tackle much better on the edges.
The Dispatch: LSU will win if…
Alexander: If it is able to defend the run and make Mississippi State be more one-dimensional on offense. The tackling in particular, in a few different spots and giving up some big chunk plays, if they are able to negate that and clean up those mistakes, that will be their path to winning.
The Dispatch: LSU will lose if…
Alexander: If it gets gashed on defense. If it’s not able to stop the run, and if it’s giving up big pass plays down the field that MSU quarterback Will Rogers is certainly capable of making. It all falls on the defensive side of the ball. Of course by the same token, if LSU comes out very flat offensively, it might get run out of the building. The offense has had some success and should be able to continue to do so. It’s a pretty good offense, but a lot of LSU’s questions are on the defensive side.
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