Today’s game: No. 22 MSU (7-2, 3-2 SEC) at No. 9 LSU (7-2, 3-2), 6 p.m., ESPN (Brad Nessler play-by-play, Todd Blackledge analyst, Holly Rowe sideline), XM 85, Sirius 85.
BATON ROUGE | The last two days I’ve written about LSU’s passing game and then its running game. The latter has been solid all year, as the Tigers average 200.7 rushing yards per game. The passing was not so much a strength until last week, when Zach Mettenberger lit up Alabama for 298 yards on 24-of-35 passing. LSU lost that game, 21-17, but the breakout game for Mettenberger was a welcome sight after a season of frustration at that position.
So it appears MSU has to contend with a well-rounded offense. Even with Mettenberger playing well, the LSU offense still begins with the ground game.
“This week, there’s no doubt about it, it’s going to be a physical game for us. Personally that fired me up,” senior linebacker Cam Lawrence said. “That’s my style of football. They’ve got a big fullback, they’ve got some good running backs, and they’re going to be running downhill to us, and we plan on meeting them at the line of scrimmage.”
To back up Lawrence’s words, MSU will need to improve vastly in the tackling department. It has not done so well against the run at times, and you can bet LSU’s running backs won’t go down easy.
Something to keep an eye on offensively: MSU quarterback Tyler Russell can own the school’s single-season record for touchdown passes with one tonight. He’s got 16, which has tied the record Derrick Taite set in 1995.
• Remember to follow me on Twitter for updates during and after the game. Also, check out our college football page for updates from around the SEC and the country. Now, let’s review MSU’s three keys to victory, as found in our GameDay section.
1. Tackle. The defense’s biggest issue last week against Texas A&M was poor tackling, and that’s been a trouble spot for MSU at various times throughout the season. The Bulldogs had close to 30 missed tackles against the Aggies, which led to about 300 yards after contact.
Teams boasting depth in the run game have been hard for State to stop, most notably Tennessee and Texas A&M. The Volunteers had three players rush for 40 or more yards, while the Aggies had two runners eclipse 100 yards.
LSU’s backs bring a good mix of speed and power, and MSU can’t afford to get gashed like it has before.
2. Start faster. After scoring on its first possession in three consecutive games, MSU has had trouble getting out of first gear the last two weeks. In the first half of its games against Alabama and A&M, the Bulldogs punted a total of nine times, missed a field goal and turned it over on downs.
State found itself trailing 21-0 by early in the second quarter of both losses. LSU doesn’t have the most explosive offense, but if it finds a way to grab an early three-touchdown lead, it’s unlikely the Tigers’ defense will cough that up.
3. Keep Russell upright. Russell hasn’t been sacked a lot this year, but he’s taken several hard hits. MSU’s offensive tackles struggled last week against Texas A&M, and the task gets a little tougher today.
LSU has one of the nation’s best defensive end tandems in Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery. They’ve combined for 8.0 sacks and 14.5 tackles-for-loss. MSU must find a way to neutralize them so Russell can have more time than he did last week to go through his progressions and find the right receiver.
• Notable stat: LSU hasn’t lost back-to-back home games since 2001. It lost to Alabama at home last weekend.
• Weather: Should be about 68 degrees at kickoff with partly cloudy skies. Temps will dip into the low 60s as the night goes on.