LSU football: Mississippi State will be the latest to try and crack Tigers' run defense. Good luck with that
Mississippi State rushed for 285 yards against LSU last season.
The Bulldogs’ running game in particular and their dominance on both lines of scrimmage in general were the keys to their 37-7 rout of the Tigers.
“(They) out-physicaled us last year on both sides of the football,” LSU coach Ed Orgeron said Monday.
But since that game the rushing yards have been a lot harder to come by against LSU, especially this season.
Only two teams have rushed for 200 yards since then – Troy (206) two weeks later and Florida (215) two weeks ago.
So far this season, the Tigers are allowing just 120.4 rushing yards per game and in their 36-16 beating of then-No. 2 Georgia last Saturday, they held the SEC’s best rushing team to 113 yards on the ground, less than half of its average (245).
Orgeron praised the play of the defensive line in holding Georgia’s running game in check.
“I thought they played good against a very good offensive line,” Oregeron said, “one of their better games.”
The play of nose tackle Ed Alexander, who has been battling a leg injury since preseason camp, was a key to LSU’s success. Orgeron said he’s still not 100 percent but that’s obviously not slowing him down.
Alexander didn’t practice Monday but he is expected to play Saturday when State and LSU meet in Tiger Stadium.
Orgeron also singled out Breiden Fehoko, Glen Logan and Rashard Alexander for their play on the line, saying Logan and Alexander had their best games of the season.
The play of linebackers Devin White and Jacob Phillips, who missed the game against Florida because of injury, was also significant in the effort against the run.
The challenge against State’s running game is very different than the one offered by Georgia’s.
The biggest difference, obviously, is at quarterback. Georgia’s Jake Fromm isn’t a running threat. Mississippi State’s Nick Fitzgerald just broke Tim Tebow’s SEC career record for rushing yards by a quarterback.
“This is totally different,” Orgeron said. “(Georgia is) more of a pro-style attack. It wasn’t a dual-threat attack. They run what we call a zone read option, power read option. These guys are different in formations. They spread you out, try to run the ball up the middle, around. This is a different attack. It’s RPO, check with me, look over. This is a totally different scheme.”
But, Orgeron said, it’s more similar to the one State ran last season, even though former Penn State offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead has replaced Dan Mullen as the Bulldogs’ head coach.
Last season against LSU, Aeris Williams rushed for 146 yards and Fitzgerald rushed for 88 and two touchdowns. Williams has just 29 carries for 201 yards, but Fitzgerald is coming off his best game of the season — 195 yards rushing against Auburn in Week 6.
That was Fitzgerald’s 3rd 100-yard rushing effort this season and 16th in his career. For comparison’s sake, Leonard Fournette had 19 100-yard rushing games for the Tigers.
“He is a very dangerous runner,” Orgeron said of Fitzgerald. “He can pick and choose his holes. He likes to run them between the tackles – big, strong, quarterback.
“We watched his runs especially against Auburn. He’s very dangerous. He can get up the field, can make you miss, very smart with the football, makes decisions. This is going to be one of the best quarterbacks we see all year.”
The Bulldogs struggled in the run game in consecutive losses to Kentucky (56 yards) and Florida (104) yards before turning things around against Auburn in a 23-9 victory two weeks ago.
Moorhead blamed himself for that, saying he forgot to take his “coaching pills.” Instead of continuing to ask Fitzgerald to throw, Moorhead is instead calling plays that showcase what Fitzgerald does best.
The result: Fitzgerald threw a season-low 17 passes against Auburn and State had season-highs of 57 carries and 369 rushing yards in that game before having an open date last week.
“They switched up their offense a little bit against Auburn,” Orgeron said, “dominant effort by them.”
Fitzgerald had season-highs of 28 carries and 195 yards and scored two touchdowns. Kylin Hill added 146 yards on 23 carries.
“They always have tough running backs,” Orgeron said. “I’ve played them many times. This is a tough, physical team. (Hill) is another tough, physical running back.”
Perhaps State’s running game is regaining the form it showed against LSU last season, but it will be hard pressed to approach that kind of rushing success against this LSU defense.
LSU held Miami to 83 rushing yards and Southeastern Louisiana to 65 before Auburn became the first team to reach 100, but finished with just 130. Louisiana Tech ran for 87 and Ole Miss for 150 before Florida broke out for 215 on 43 carries, the most by a Tigers opponent.
The longest run from scrimmage for an LSU opponent this season is 25 yards.