State’s run defense should concern LSU more than its passing game
Mississippi State will not pass for 623 yards against LSU on Saturday in Starkville.
You read it here first.
The visiting Bulldogs did pass for 623 yards (and 5 touchdowns) when they upset the Tigers 44-34 in the home team’s first game after winning the 2019 CFP championship.
“It was embarrassing,” LSU coach Ed Orgeron said in stating the obvious.
State’s passing total was the biggest by any team in any SEC game ever.
So the law of averages is working against a repeat performance. But there are other reasons favoring improvement by the Tigers’ defense.
“We’ve been looking at Mississippi State ever since we couldn’t stop them last year,” Orgeron said.
LSU was really confused by the Bulldogs’ scheme in Bo Pelini’s first game as defensive coordinator. Pelini continued to play man-to-man virtually the entire game and State coach Mike Leach and quarterback KJ Costello continued to take advantage.
On the rare occasions that an LSU defender was close enough to tackle a State pass recipient, the Bulldogs’ skill at piling up yards after the catch produced more big plays.
New Tigers defensive coordinator Daronte Jones has played roughly as much zone defense as man-to-man, so that alone should cut down on the big plays.
On top of that, All-America cornerback Derek Stingley Jr., who missed last year’s game because of illness, should be available this time to lead a more experienced secondary.
Additionally, LSU’s defensive line has been dominant the past 2 weeks, totaling 15 sacks against outmanned foes in McNeese State and Central Michigan, though the pass rush did manage to squeeze in 5 sacks amid all of those Costello completions last season.
The loss of end Andre Anthony to a season-ending knee injury is unfortunate, but Ali Gaye is returning from a 2-game absence and Orgeron said freshman Maason Smith, who has already had a significant impact, will move from tackle to end and join Gaye and BJ Ojulari in the rotation at end.
So rest assured, Tigers fans, Will Rogers isn’t throwing for 600-plus on Saturday.
But the State passing game shouldn’t be LSU’s biggest concern against the Bulldogs.
LSU’s defense has shown the ability to periodically yield big plays in the passing game in the first 3 games, but it hasn’t become an epidemic as it did last season.
The pass rush will make Rogers less comfortable than Costello was, and the coverage won’t break down as much as it did last season.
But here’s what should be LSU’s biggest concern: State is allowing just 74 rushing yards per game, and that’s even lower than the paltry 86 yards per game that the Tigers have been rushing for through 3 games.
LSU ranks 13th in the SEC in rushing yards per game and yards per rush. Before you take solace in the fact that the Bulldogs rank last, remember they ran for a total of 9 yards against the Tigers last season. State doesn’t try to run. LSU does.
Perhaps left tackle Cameron Wire will return from injury so LSU can have its starting offensive line intact for the first time since the opener.
Perhaps running back Armoni Goodwin is expected to return from injury and fellow freshman Corey Kiner is coming off a pretty good performance against Central Michigan. Those two could form a 3-man rotation with starter Ty Davis-Price.
But the Tigers had running-back depth and its starting line intact for the opener against UCLA and couldn’t run the ball effectively.
Max Johnson has played well, throwing 5 touchdowns last week after throwing 3 in each of his previous 4 starts dating to last season, and a bunch of freshman receivers emerged as complements to Kayshon Boutte.
We can only guess how effective Johnson could be with an effective and consistent running game because he hasn’t had one this season.
The statistics suggest that this game against State isn’t a likely candidate for the running game to break out.
But no one saw that 623-yard passing game last season coming, either.