After a 1-1 start, LSU is set to begin conference play as Mississippi State heads to Tiger Stadium. LSU bounced back from the heartbreaking loss to Florida State with a 65-17 win over Southern, but the Bulldogs will be a tougher test than what the Tigers faced last week.
MSU last played in Tiger Stadium in the 2020 opener. As much as Tiger fans want to forget it, that game is burned into the memory of anyone that watched it. K.J. Costello threw for 623 yards against a Tiger defense that would have had trouble stopping a junior varsity high school team.
In 2021, LSU responded, heading to Starkville with a much better plan to defend the air raid. It still gave up 486 yards, but Mississippi State was inefficient and LSU led from start to finish.
Let’s take a look at how the Bulldogs shape up entering the 2022 contest.
Mississippi State is 2-0
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The Bulldogs have won their first two contests with wins over Memphis and Arizona. Against Memphis, QB Will Rogers threw for 450 yards and five touchdowns. Mississippi State picked up 34 first downs while holding Memphis to just 13.
Last week, MSU traveled to Arizona, beating the Wildcats 39-17. Mississippi State led 25-17 after three quarters but scored two touchdowns in the fourth to pull away. Rogers added four more touchdowns.
The MSU coaching staff
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Mike Leach’s third year in Starkville is underway and his air raid system is now fully entrenched. Zach Arnett is back at defensive coordinator, also in his third year with the program. The Bulldogs have finished top five in the SEC in total defense in both years under Arnett and have a solid unit again.
Arnett’s name popped up when LSU was looking for a defensive coordinator prior to 2021, but he ended up remaining in Starkville. Steve Spurrier Jr. serves as the Bulldogs’ outside receivers coach and passing game coordinator.
Another notable name on the staff is Tony Hughes, who was the head coach at Jackson State prior to Deion Sanders taking over that program.
The air raid is the air raid
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Mississippi State is an air raid team and as stated, LSU fans know that a little too well at this point. This is a unit that’s going to go out there and run a lot of plays. Through two games, Leach’s offense is averaging 78.5 plays per game, which is 13th in the country.
The air raid is not meant to be explosive, but it is efficient. Mississippi State ranks 27th in college football in plays of at least 10 yards or more, but it ranks 101st in plays of 20 yards or more.
Rogers will get the ball out quick. This offense wants to use short passes to put their receivers in space. This group led the country in yards after catch in 2021. Only 6.3% of Rogers throws have gone more than 20 yards in the air.
The air raid is the air raid, which means running the ball isn’t much of a focus, but Mississippi State has proven competent in 2022. Dillon Johnson and Jo’Quavious Marks have combined for 216 yards on 45 carries.
Arnett leads a consistent and experienced defense
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Mississippi State returned 79.1% of it’s defensive snaps from 2021. That playing experience combined with the familiarity in the system should give the Bulldogs another good unit as they begin SEC play.
Mississippi State is allowing 4.8 yards per play, ranking 40th in the country. The defense is allowing just 5.3 yards per pass, sitting 20th in the country. Against the run, the Bulldogs have allowed just four rushes of 10 yards or more.
The unit ranks 16th in Bill Connelly’s SP+ ratings and LSU. This group isn’t easy to score on and LSU will need to be more consistent than it was against Florida State.
Players to watch
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WR Rara Thomas leads the Bulldogs in receiving yards with 144. He’s caught five passes in each of their first two games.
WR Caleb Ducking is second on the team in receiving yards and has three touchdowns on the year.
QB Will Rogers has attempted over 1,100 passes in his career. He’s experienced and understands Leach’s system. His 763 yards rank sixth in college football.
DL Nathan Pickering is one of the best defensive lineman in the SEC. He’s racked up five pressures and a sack and been a strong defender against the run.
EDGE Tyrus Wheat doesn’t have a sack yet, but has five pressures coming off the edge.
CB Emmanuel Forbes emerged as one of the top corners in the SEC in 2021 and is now in his third year as a fulltime starter. He’s player over 1,500 snaps in his career.
DB Collin Duncan has been one of PFF’s top graded safeties in the SEC through two games.
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Cole Smith, who starts at right guard for the Bulldogs, began his career at LSU but transferred prior to the 2019 season.
This is the 116th time these programs will meet. LSU leads the series 76-36-3. The Bulldogs are 20-49-1 when playing in Baton Rouge.
Mississippi State is 9-2 when they score first with Mike Leach at the helm.
Mississippi State has four players who have already caught 10 balls or more this year.