LSU will have plenty to worry about when Mike Leach and the Mississippi State offense come to town for week one of the SEC season. It's why the conference and CBS found the matchup so intriguing, it was announced as the Game of the Week on Saturday afternoon.
Yesterday, we went into detail of some of the challenges the Bulldogs offense pose to the Tigers defense and today we're attacking why the personnel at LSU's disposal is enough to combat the aerial attack Leach will implement.
First and foremost, be multiple. Just running the same 4-2-5 (Nickel) or 4-1-6 (Dime) package will not lead to the best results versus the Bulldogs’ passing attack. Of course Orgeron knows this. So, a few things to look for from the Tigers.
Mississippi State will likely run what’s called “empty” or an empty formation, meaning no running back. Regardless of LSU’s backend coverage scheme, look for the front four to use an overload look, and possibly many other exotic defensive fronts.
Overload means a man over the center, a man between the guard and tackle, and an edge rusher lined up wide just outside Mississippi State’s offensive tackle, all of which are on one side of the formation. That leaves one pass rusher for the Tigers in a one-on-one match up with an offensive tackle on the opposite side of the formation.
Many teams use this defensive formation, including the Pittsburgh Steelers when facing teams that go empty. It’s a great scheme because it usually results in a great pass rush situation for the Steelers best pass rusher, TJ Watt.
LSU certainly has edge rushers, but there are many unknowns with K’Lavon Chaisson (6.5 sacks last season) now playing for the Jacksonville Jaguars, and really no proven pass rushers. Here are a few players that will likely receive a shot at being pass rushers versus the Bulldogs.
Senior Neil Farrell (3.5 sacks last year) opted back in for the 2020 season. He’s a wild card, but probably the most experienced Tigers defensive end. True freshmen BJ Ojulari and Phillip Webb will certainly be in the mix. Ojulari has allegedly impressed quite a bit in fall camp. Webb is built to be a 4-3 pass rushing defensive end as well. As for upperclassmen, there are four players to note along at defensive end.
Junior college transfer Ali Gaye, as well as seniors Andre Anthony and Travez Moore have all been battling for playing time. Anthony was not the best fit in the previously utilized 3-4 defense, but he’s reportedly adjusted to the 4-3 better and should contribute.
Moore has not done much at LSU to date, but like Anthony, could enjoy the change in scheme. Gaye is a long and athletic 6-foot-6, 270-pound athlete that can turn the corner to the quarterback. All three upperclassmen may be needed versus Mississippi State. One more Tigers player to remember, Jarell Cherry. The sophomore is another talented athlete to watch. Let’s move back to the second level of the defense.
Linebackers Will Be Key
Perhaps the biggest asset to LSU will be the size, speed and experience of Damone Clark, Jabril Cox, and Micah Baskerville. Cox in particular, could be the decoy or prime defender during any given play.
Cox’s speed is well known. The former North Dakota State stalwart can certainly play well in space. It’s his strength, in fact. He may be responsible for spying the slot receiver during one play while playing zone, and then going into man coverage during the next play, and finally blitzing during the very next play. He’s versatile, and LSU can utilize his skills to help confuse KJ Costello and the Mississippi State offensive line.
How well the three linebackers play in coverage may also dictate if LSU can stay in a nickel package or if it must go to a dime package and use just one linebacker. It would be very advantageous for LSU if they could keep two linebackers on the field, as the next segment is possibly the biggest threat for Mississippi State’s offense.
Next week we will get into some of the other Mississippi State skill position players and how LSU might try to defend the Bulldogs in different situations. For now, know that LSU really needs to focus on different strategies to create a pass rush, as well as defending Hill and Costello. The Bulldogs have some serious talent and Leach will place them in many situations to succeed.