Keys to the Game: LSU vs. Mississippi State

By CODY WORSHAM
Tiger Rag Editor

LSU will win if…

Etling’s Accurate. For all the handwringing over LSU’s offense in the Cam Cameron era – hell, in the Les Miles era – the Tigers rarely struggle to move the ball when they have competent quarterback play. Danny Etling was more than competent in the start of his Tiger debut, hitting 6-of-8 passing for 100 yards and a score in the second quarter of Saturday’s win over Jacksonville State. He was less effective in the second half, as all six of his attempts were incomplete. If he can replicate even a fraction of his first half form, the Tigers should be able to balance the run and pass enough to keep Mississippi State on its heels.

Linebackers Cover. If there’s been one marked weakness in LSU’s defense through two games under Dave Aranda, it’s the ability of the linebackers to cover in space. Kendell Beckwith, Arden Key, and Duke Riley aren’t natural cover men, and Aranda’s scheme asks them to do more in the passing game than they’ve ever had to before. Mississippi State running back Brandon Holloway is his team’s second-leading receiver through two games, snagging eight receptions so far this season. Keeping the backs and tight ends in check in the passing game will help LSU focus on stopping the read option State ran so well in Week 2.

Mississippi State will win if…

It Generates Pressure. It’s a small sample size, but Mississippi State ranks second in the SEC through two games in sacks, averaging 3.5 per game. LSU’s offensive line, meanwhile, for all its struggles against Wisconsin, ranks a respectable fifth in the league in sacks allowed, giving up just 1.5 per game. The battle up front will be key in this contest, particularly if AJ Jefferson and the Bulldog defense can force Etling (or Brandon Harris) to get antsy in the pocket. Etling looked pretty calm in the face of the Jacksonville State rush last week, but Mississippi State’s front is a whole different beast.

It Controls the Clock. Wisconsin beat LSU – and Jacksonville put LSU on the ropes in the first quarter – by controlling the clock. LSU’s average time of possession in the first quarter this season is 2:11. That little ball control results from the offense going three and out, and it causes the defense to wear out quickly. State’s recipe to replicate that kind of game management will be to sustain drives with the run, and gear up against LSU’s run to make the Tigers move the chains through the air. If the Bulldogs can frustrate LSU’s offense and grind away at LSU’s defense early in the game, it could pay off later, should the game be tight in the fourth quarter.

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