GAMETIME PREVIEW: Mississippi State
Tigers, Bulldogs look to rebound from home losses
By CODY WORSHAM
Tiger Rag Editor
A wounded animal is a dangerous animal.
If that’s true, then there will be plenty of danger to go around Tiger Stadium on Saturday night, as two top-25 teams will square off a week removed from difficult home losses.
Fresh off a stunning last-minute loss to No. 1 Alabama, ninth-ranked LSU (7-2, 3-2) welcomes to Death Valley No. 22 Mississippi State (7-2, 3-2), whose 38-13 loss to No. 15 Texas A&M on Saturday was their second straight. Alabama handed State its first loss of the season the week prior, a 38-7 dismantling in Tuscaloosa.
For both teams, this contest is the back end of a brutal SEC-stretch. LSU will mark State’s third straight opponent ranked in the top 15, while State will make five straight opponents in the top 25 for LSU.
State’s problem in its last two losses has been getting out of the gates slow. The Bulldogs have faced halftime deficits of 24-0 in both games, a problem Bulldog head coach Dan Mullen knows needs immediate correcting.
“We’ve got to come out and we’ve got to execute right from the beginning,” Mullen said.
LSU, meanwhile, needs to work on its finishing, particularly at the end of each half. Two of Alabama’s three touchdowns came with less than a minute left on the clock in the first and second halves, and the Tiger ‘D’ has let up in the fourth quarter against teams like Texas A&M and Towson.
In fact, LSU has allowed 76 percent of its points in the second and fourth quarters of games this season. The 33 combined points the Tigers have allowed in the first and third quarters is still less than the Tiger D has allowed in either the second quarters (57) or fourth quarters (48) of all games.
“We’ve got to remember not to mess up so much when we’re tired,” linebacker Kevin Minter said earlier this season.
Physical issues aside, LSU will have to overcome the emotional wounds suffered in the heartbreaking 21-17 loss to Alabama on Saturday night.
“We’re hurt, we’re definitely hurt,” said quarterback Zach Mettenberger, just moments after the loss. “We’ll sulk about it for 24 hours, then get prepared for next week’s game.”
The Tigers, playing in their homecoming game, will look to build on a passing attack that shined against the Tide’s top-ranked defense, accumulating 298 yards through the air. LSU also picked up 80 yards more on the ground than the Tide had allowed on average all season, thanks to Jeremy Hill’s third straight game over 100 yards rushing.
“Even though we didn’t come out and get the victory we wanted, we were still able to break through some things on offense,” said senior tackle Josh Dworaczyk. “We were able to do it against the best team in the country.”
They’ll look to do it again against State, who, despite their two straight losses, are a formidable foe. Quarterback Tyler Russell is a mobile, accurate passer who was among the SEC’s most efficient passers prior to the two losses. Running back LaDarius Perkins, meanwhile, is the SEC’s third-leading rusher, averaging 89.3 yards per game.
Most importantly, State takes care of the ball, ranking second in the SEC in turnover margin.
LSU, as a result, will have to protect the ball themselves, and continue to build on the offense’s success against Alabama. They’ll also need a better effort from the Tiger defense late in halves, when fatigue sets in.
But most vital to LSU’s success will be how the team prepares during the week. With national and conference titles all but eliminated from possibility, the Tigers must find motivation to finish the season strong and get a homecoming victory.
“The season’s still right there in front of us,” Dworaczyk said. “It’s up to us as a team to refocus our energy, set some new goals, and go out and achieve them.”
And that starts Saturday, when the wounded Tigers and wounded Bulldogs look to inflict some wounds of their own.