LSU enters week one of conference play with a newfound confidence on both sides of the ball after a thorough dismantling of Central Michigan. The Tigers had answers for most of the questons that have hovered around the team since the UCLA opener.
But the one question that still needs answering is how this secondary will hold up to one of the more lethal passing offenses in the SEC. That question will get a huge test Saturday when the Tigers head to Starkville to take on Mike Leach and the Mississippi State air raid offense.
It's no small secret that LSU couldn't have done a worse job against the Bulldogs in what was Leach's first game as coach in 2020. Mississippi State quarterback KJ Costello threw for a conference record 623 yards and five touchdowns in the debut, giving the defending champs a punch in the mouth.
That game didn't have Derek Stingley nor did the defense look like it knew what it was doing most of the time. The Tigers were constantly out of position and the Bulldogs made them pay dearly. While LSU hasn't been perfect in its start to 2021 as busted coverages have crept in during every game thus far, the number of missed assignments has dramatically decreased.
Instead there are some more nuanced issues with this defense than just a lack of communication. This group has particularly struggled with defending crossing routes, an area that Leach will be well aware of and prepared for this weekend. That responsibility and communication falls on the linebackers and defensive backs and is an area the purple and gold acknowledge they need to improve on.
"We're gonna get it corrected so that it won't happen during the Mississippi State game," edge rusher BJ Ojulari said after the game.
Taking a look at this version of the Bulldogs offense, quarterback Will Rogers certainly has the skills to air the ball downfield and has opened the season completing 74.8% of his passes for 1,083 yards and eight touchdowns. He has built a strong rapport with receivers Makai Polk and Jaden Walley, who have combined for 392 yards and four touchdowns.
This Mississippi State team does seem to be running the ball a bit more, averaging 25 carries a game after averaging just over 20 carries a game in 2020. The focus will have to be on the passing game but the LSU defensive line proved this week that even rushing four, the unit can get pressure on the quarterback.
Through three games, the Tigers lead the country in sacks with 14 but senior Andre Anthony, who had accounted for 3.5 of them, went down against Central Michigan and his prognosis doesn't look good according to Orgeron. LSU might get edge rusher Ali Gaye back after a two game absence and Ojulari has really established himself as a force this season.
Getting Rogers uncomfortable will need to be a big part of the defensive strategy and the other part will be remaining disciplined in the secondary. As far as must wins go, this is up there for the purple and gold, who can't afford another sluggish start to conference play out of the gate.