The best Thursday night game of the season thus far—perhaps even the best game overall thus far, goes tonight in Starkville when LSU visits Mississippi State (8 ET, ESPN) in a crucial SEC West battle. LSU is ranked third in the country behind Oklahoma and division rival Alabama, while Mississippi State is 25th and coming off a heartbreaking loss at Auburn. The Projected Vegas Score on this game (combination of pointspread and over/under) says it’s LSU 27 Miss State 23 tonight. Let’s take a look at how these teams match up.
Penalties were a critical factor for both teams in their first early season tests. LSU was on the right side of the mistake battle on Labor Day weekend against Oregon. The Ducks committed 12 penalties on top of four turnovers and negated an otherwise strong offense effort, as LSU won 40-27. The Bulldogs meanwhile were flagged 10 times at Auburn. It’s absolutely imperative that Mississippi State have this problem fixed tonight. Beating a top-flight SEC foe is hard enough when you’re not shooting yourself in the foot.
The Notebook was high on Mississippi State when the season started and certainly coming up a yard short at Auburn isn’t going to change that. But I was disappointed with the defensive performance in the 41-34 loss. The Bulldogs were a very good defensive team a year ago and have experience in the line and the secondary. What they are missing is last year’s coordinator Manny Diaz. While head coach Dan Mullen promoted from within, one wonders if the loss of Diaz will be bigger than some of us may have counted on. Tonight will go a long way in telling us, because State must first stop a ground attack, where LSU features Spencer Ware and Michael Ford. Both ran well against Oregon. But the Tigers did not throw the ball well, with Jarrett Lee getting the start after all of Jordan Jefferson’s off-season troubles. And even if Jefferson had played, he’s been no more consistent than Lee. The bottom line is that State should be able to trust their secondary and stack the box to stop the run. If they can’t do it here, than we have to assume serious problems are ahead for the Bulldogs.
LSU needs to play better defensively itself, as they face an opponent who’s offense was not a problem in the loss to Auburn. The Bulldogs will challenge the Tiger defense on the ground with Vick Ballard running the ball and Les Miles’ team needs to show they can control the point of attack.
I’m sticking with Mississippi State at home to win this one and shake up the national Top 5. It’s been a brutal five-day stretch with games against Auburn and LSU, but if the Bulldogs survive with a split they’re in good shape to make a run at a 10-win season and major bowl game. For LSU, winning on the road on national television against a jacked opponent, gives them a strong case to be the early #1, following up the Oregon game. If nothing else, it suggests the West is a two-team race between them and Alabama. The greatness of college football is that no other sport has games this big, this early and the atmosphere should be raucous in Starkville.
Check back tonight for baseball and NFL talk, as the Notebook continues it’s All-Star tour, checking on third base in both leagues, and we see if the Redskins & Bills can build off surprising Week 1 wins.
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