Mississippi State and LSU both enter Saturday's matchup 2-1, with the Bulldogs looking to return to the win column after a 31-29 loss to Memphis.
The Tigers come off a 49-21 victory over the Central Michigan Chippewas, and will aim to continue in the right direction with a third consecutive win, picking up some steam after dropping the season opener 38-27 to UCLA.
LSU doesn't quite look the like the formidable power that it has at times throughout recent history, but this is sure to be a test for a Bulldogs teams that has been up-and-down as they prepare to open SEC play.
We spoke with Glen West of the LSU division of Sports Illustrated to preview just what exactly the Bulldogs are going up against this weekend.
1. What is your evaluation of where this team is at quarterback, and how is it affecting them?
GW: As this team enters SEC play, it feels confident with sophomore Max Johnson at quarterback and for good reason. Johnson, who has made just five career starts dating back to the end of last season, has thrown at least three touchdowns in his first five starts, the first LSU quarterback to ever do that. Additionally he seems to be gaining confidence in the pocket and with his receivers as the weeks have gone on, which all came to a head when he tossed for 378 yards and five touchdowns against Central Michigan. He hasn’t been perfect in the face of pressure, which there has been plenty of in the Tigers 2-1 start to the season, but Johnson is proving to be a dangerous SEC quarterback. If LSU can get the run game off the ground and protect him better as the season moves along, watch out.
2. The LSU offense looks sluggish this year compared to the expectations — how do you view it and where does the team need to improve?
GW: There’s definitely been some choppiness out of this offense as first-time play-caller Jake Peetz settles into his new role. The offensive line has battled injury and poor play up front certainly hasn’t helped matters, but this offense did show some signs of life against Central Michigan. Freshman running back Corey Kiner rushed for 74 yards on 12 carries and a trio of freshmen receivers combined for 266 yards and three touchdowns. An up-tempo style with far less gazing over to the sidelines seemed to really help get this offense in a flow and it’s something that will only improve as time goes on. If last week is any indication, this offense seems to be hitting its stride but must prove it in SEC play.
3. Headed into Week 4, what is this team’s biggest strength and biggest weakness?
GW: The biggest strength and weakness of this team lies on opposite ends of the line of scrimmage. The defensive line leads the country in sacks with 14 through three games and has consistently proven to be able to get after the quarterback. While there were some issues week one with the run game, this group played extremely well against a Central Michigan team that had averaged 230 yards on the ground coming into the game, with the Tigers holding them to just 56 yards for the game. Obviously how this secondary holds up against the air raid will be the biggest focal point this week. As for the biggest weakness, the offensive line showed some glimpses of improvement but it has to show out in conference play after an overall disappointing start to the season. LSU can’t get much of anything going on the ground and Max Johnson has faced plenty of pressure off the edge and through the middle, which has forced him into questionable decisions at times. If there’s one area where this team needs to show up on Saturday in Starkville it’s up front.
4. What is the biggest challenge LSU presents to MSU?
GW: The biggest challenge is the sheer number of weapons the Tigers could substitute in and out on both sides of the ball. LSU has as many as eight receivers it trusts at the moment to see playing time on the field which keeps everyone fresh throughout the course of the game. The freshmen Deion Smith, Jack Bech and Brian Thomas are three names in particular to keep an eye on.
5. Final score and prediction for this game?
GW: I see this game going a number of different ways but I do believe Mississippi State will be able to have success through the air, particularly on crossing routes which has been an issue for this defense so far. How much pressure LSU can get on Will Rogers could ultimately say how high scoring this game is but I’m thinking 38-34 in the Tigers favor.