Here’s everything you need to know about Saturday night’s showdown between Mississippi State and LSU in Baton Rouge.

When: Saturday, Sept. 20
Where: Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Game Time: 7 PM ET
Current Line: LSU (-10.5)

Game Buzz: Mississippi State travels to Baton Rouge for a difficult night game in Death Valley against No. 8 LSU, and both teams have plenty at stake. The Bulldogs are seeking their first win over LSU since 1999 and their first win in Baton Rouge since 1991. They have a chance to score a statement win in the first month of the season, perhaps vaulting the Bulldogs into next week’s Associated Press Poll. LSU, meanwhile, has a chance to earn a critical SEC West showdown and advance itself in a loaded division with five top 10 teams.



Players to watch

  • QB Anthony Jennings
  • RB Kenny Hilliard
  • RB Darrel Williams
  • WR Travin Dural
  • WR John Diarse
  • LT La’el Collins
  • C Elliott Porter
  • DT Jermauria Rasco
  • DE Danielle Hunter
  • LB Kwon Alexander
  • S Jamal Adams

Keys for LSU

  • Soften up Mississippi State’s run defense. LSU has been a grind-it-out team on offense this year. Other than some big plays down the field, the passing game hasn’t established any rhythm. For the Tigers to move the ball effectively, they’ll have to do it on the ground. The problem is, that’s where the Bulldogs have been best on defense so far this year. LSU’s offensive line will have to perform better than it did a week ago to open up the requisite holes.
  • Hit big plays through the air. Yes, the running game is vital, but to relieve some of the pressure Anthony Jennings is going to have to connect on some passes down the field. Mississippi State is very vulnerable in the secondary, and the Tigers have the big-play receivers to take advantage. Travin Dural and John Diarse can both make defenses pay for any lapse, and if they get the opportunity they’re going to have to do just that this week.
  •  Stop the run. Since the first half of LSU’s season opener against Wisconsin, no one has been able to run the ball against the Tigers, and their last two opponents have barely tried. That’s going to change against Mississippi State, as they rank No. 5 in the conference in rushing yards per game and No. 7 in yards per carry (both better than LSU). Dak Prescott might look to throw the ball first, but if he can’t find anything open down the field — and he might not, considering the strength of LSU’s secondary — he can pick apart a defense with his legs.

Glaring weakness to watch: Offensive line play. The line was supposed to be a strength coming into the season, but it has not played up to expectations through three weeks. Part of that has to do with Elliott Porter, the highly regarded senior center, who played his first game of the season last week and looking rusty in doing so. They’re going to have to win the battle with MSU’s defensive front if they want to come out of Tiger Stadium 4-0. The Bulldogs have Preston Smith, winner of the first three SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week awards, playing like an absolute madman, plus pass-rushing phenom Chris Jones. This game will be a huge test for LSU’s big uglies.

Most interesting part of this game: Anthony Jennings’ play under center. After open talk of a two-quarterback system before the season kicked off, Jennings has taken a firm grasp of the Tigers’ reins. Despite ideal circumstances to trot out freshman Brandon Harris last week, Jennings stayed in the game until late in the fourth quarter, once things were well in hand. Jennings has been uneven at best; he has great chemistry with Dural, but hasn’t been consistent moving the ball through the air. He’s still clearly the best option, but if he struggles against Mississippi State, LSU could be in deep trouble.

Team buzz: LSU’s defense is good. How good? We’re about to find out. Les Miles definitely respects this quality opponent, but he’s got to be confident in John Chavis’ unit. Mississippi State is a great test to start SEC play and will provide a good barometer to how good this LSU team can be.


Players to watch:

  • QB Dak Prescott
  • RB Josh Robinson
  • WR De’Runnya Wilson
  • WR Jameon Lewis
  • DE Preston Smith
  • DT Chris Jones
  • LB Benardrick McKinney
  • LB Beniquez Brown

Keys for Mississippi State:

  • Remain balanced on offense. Prescott discussed the importance of a balanced offense with the media earlier this week, and that balance begins with his play at quarterback. The redshirt junior has passed for 200 yards and rushed for 100 yards in consecutive weeks, and will need to establish both his arm and his legs early in the game against LSU. The Tigers defense hasn’t allowed a single point in more than 140 minutes of game time, and it is impossible to attack that defense with only one threat on offense. If Prescott can make a few safe throws and break a few runs early in the game, he could have LSU’s defense guessing all night.
  • Run a few gadget plays for wide receiver Jameon Lewis. The shifty Mississippi State wideout can attack defenses a number of ways, and can even throw the ball, as he showed with his touchdown pass to Prescott last week. Whether it be a reverse, a quick screen or a double-move to stretch the field, the Bulldogs need to find creative ways to get Lewis the ball, forcing LSU’s defense to remain aware of his presence whenever he takes the field. At that point, the Bulldogs’ offense can attack in other areas, opening up the field against a fierce Tigers’ defense.
  • Force the LSU offense to operate through quarterback Anthony Jennings. Mississippi State’s front seven must silence the Tigers’ rushing attack in the first half, forcing the LSU offense to move the ball through the air. The Tigers are 11th in the SEC in passing offense, averaging just 214 yards per game through the air. If LSU is forced to throw the ball regularly against the Bulldogs, especially in long third down situations, it will struggle to sustain long drives when it possesses the football.

Bulldogs’ glaring weakness to watch: The Mississippi State secondary and its tendency to allow big plays from opposing wide receivers. The Bulldogs have already allowed six pass plays of 40-or-more yards through three weeks, which ranks 119th in the FBS. The Tigers’ pass attack has lacked consistency this season, but it has managed its fair share of big plays, led by wideout Travin Dural. Dural is among the nation’s leaders with 12 catches and four touchdowns, and he has averaged more than 30 yards per reception in LSU’s first three games. He is a prime candidate to expose one of Mississippi State’s greatest weaknesses, which could hurt MSU’s chances at an upset Saturday night.

Most interesting part of the game: Can Preston Smith continue his streak of game-changing plays in 2014? The Bulldogs’ senior defensive end has made just nine tackles in three games, yet has won all three SEC Defensive Player of the Week honors awarded this season. How has he done it? He’s pulled in two interceptions, blocked two field goals, recorded two sacks, forced a fumble and scored a return touchdown this season. No big deal, right? It will be interesting to see if Smith can continue making huge plays now that the are Bulldogs beginning SEC play. In a difficult road game under the lights at Death Valley, Smith’s ability to make a game-changing play will be even more vital for Mississippi State.

Team Buzz: Mississippi State has historically struggled in its rivalry with LSU, but the Bulldogs are hoping to rewrite history Saturday night in Baton Rouge. A Mississippi State win would likely launch the program into next week’s AP Top 25, while a loss would cause many fans to doubt the Bulldogs due to their struggles against ranked teams under Dan Mullen. If the Bulldogs come out on top in Death Valley, it could be the start of a Cinderella story in Starkville. However, if they lose, it could be the start of another disappointing run through the SEC.