Three LSU Football Players to Watch Against Mississippi State

Stopping the Mississippi State passing game will require pressure at all three levels of defense
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LSU's offense should be able to put up points against the Bulldogs but the bigger question is how this defense will hold up a year removed from its "embarrassing" performance against Mike Leach and company. 

With new and returning players on this defense, here are three we feel will have major impacts in deciding whether or not the Tigers come away with a win in Starkville.

Maason Smith (DE)

All eyes will be on the freshman, who will play his first full game at defensive end after starting the season on the interior. Smith's athleticism makes him a polarizing option for the Tigers on the edge. 

Moving Smith to the outside to his more natural position should work out in his favor according to coach Ed Orgeron, who sees him as future left defensive end in the NFL. With the gameplan likely switching a bit this week to more zone coverage, the Tigers are going to need Smith, Ali Gaye and BJ Ojulari to be sound in stopping the run game so the team can drop as many players back in coverage as possible. 

"Maason can play anywhere along the line, that's what makes him so verdsatile," defensive tackle Neil Farrell said. "He can pass rush, can take on double and sigle teams, he can do it all so I'm excited to see he plays out there."

Smith is quickly becoming one of the most impactful players on this roster and getting pressure up front on quarterback Will Rogers will be a must if the defense hopes to create problems on Saturday.

Damone Clark (LB)

Clark is one of the more difficult players on this defense to figure out. He's made significant strides in coverage and is still a tackling machine. But there are still times where he gets out of position and isn't able to make a play in the middle of the field.

Through three games he has 27 tackles, almost twice as many as the next two tacklers in Micah Baskerville and Major Burns (14). Responsible for the middle of the field, one of the areas that has just killed this linebacker group has been the crossing routes, with Central Michigan having a little success along the way as well. 

It's an area that Ed Orgeron said would be a primary focus and why you could see an extra linebacker or safety out there patrolling the middle so there isn't much space. The communication will need to be there as LSU will likely play more zone this go around and knowing who to hand off a receiver in the middle of the field to will be the best way to keep the crossing routes from being an issue. 

"Knowing the down and distance and knowing the coverage. Knowing our assignment and communicating," Orgeron said on Off the Bench. "There are very few of them right now, but those that we miss our very glaring. We have to stop that."

Jay Ward (S)

LSU feels good about Ward's chances to play for the first time since the first quarter against UCLA. The cornerback turned safety over the offseason is a critical part to a secondary that has had a few lapses in coverage breakdown during the three weeks of the season and Ward's presence will surely improve the communication.

The play of the secondary will be of utmost importance, with the communication in the back half of the unit needing to be perfect, especially in front of a hostile crowd. Remember, this is the first time in two years where the players will be walking into a fully packed SEC stadium. 

Though it was a small sample size, Ward was all over the field in the two drives he did participate in against the Bruins, both three and outs, and drew rave reviews during fall camp. 

"Jay Ward is definitely a guy you want behind you," edge rusher BJ Ojulari said. "He's gonna come up and stop the run, he's gonna drop back, make big plays, intercpetions and everything in the back half of the defense. He's a guy we want back there and can't wait to get back."