No. 21 Mississippi State at No. 7 LSU
Saturday, 7:00 p.m. ESPN
Line: LSU -14 ½
So seriously, have there ever been two 7-2 teams with less in common than Mississippi State and LSU, who’ll get together Saturday afternoon in Baton Rouge?
I mean, think about it.
For LSU, yes they’re coming off the second loss of their season Saturday, but it came in a truly valiant effort, against the No. 1 team in the country, in which no one (from fans, to media members, to Nick Saban himself) believes that Alabama was the better team. The Crimson Tide made the plays needed to win, but last Saturday LSU was the better football team.
Meanwhile, after a 7-0 start, Mississippi State has now lost back-to-back games, proving again that while this program is plenty capable of beating up on bad teams, they’re not nearly as capable of beating the good ones. Last Saturday’s loss to Texas A&M was especially tough; after all, on thing to lose to Alabama by 31 points (like the Bulldogs did two weeks ago). It’s quite another to lose by more than three touchdowns to Texas A&M, which joined the SEC about 15 minutes ago.
For Mississippi State to Win: They’ve got to stop the run. It was something they’d done effectively up until two weeks ago, and have been completely incompetent at since.
Again, it’s one thing to allow 179 yards to Alabama like the Bulldogs did two weeks ago in Tuscaloosa, but quite another to get gashed for 361, a week later at home, against the Aggies. Even worse, it’s not even like Mississippi State can just say, “Well, Johnny Manziel just killed us.” That’s because while yes, Manziel did have 129 yards on the ground, Ben Malena added 112 of his own. Point being, it was total domination by Texas A&M last weekend, not just one great game from one great player.
For Mississippi State have any chance to win it starts up front, and starts with this defense.
For LSU to Win: Well, to be blunt, they’ve just got to do what they did against Alabama last week. Had LSU played that particular game against anyone else in college football, they would’ve gotten the victory Saturday.
In that game, LSU outgained the Crimson Tide 435 to 331, and were especially potent on the ground, where freshman Jeremy Hill was once again spectacular with 107 yards rushing. Not to mention LSU also forced Alabama into an uncharacteristic two turnovers.
If the Bayou Bengals can avoid a letdown, and get any semblance of play like they did last week, they should cruise to victory Saturday.
Key Player, Mississippi State: The answer is running back LaDarius Perkins.
Look, you can’t blame Perkins for his poor stats the last few weeks; the Bulldogs offensive line got overwhelmed by Alabama two weeks ago, and last week fell behind Texas A&M so far and so fast that they couldn’t afford to run the ball if they wanted to catch up.
At the same time, when Perkins does get the ball, he’s got to be better. In the three games prior to the Alabama game Perkins rushed for 100 yards in each of those contests. He has just 80 yards total the last two weeks, in two games that ended in losses.
LSU is going to want to slow things down, and keep this game low-scoring, meaning there will be no blowout Saturday. It will also means Perkins has plenty of opportunities to touch the ball.
Now it’s up to him to take advantage.
Key Player, LSU: Zach Mettenberger, come on down!
Of course the answer here is Mettenberger, who had far and away the best performance of his LSU career last week, completing 24 of 35 passes for 298 yards and a touchdown score. Compare that to what Mettenberger had done up to that point (under a 58 percent completion percentage, never more than 238 yards passing) and it’s impossible to argue it was his best game in a Tigers uniform.
But with the bright lights off, and an equally potent secondary for Mississippi State, can Mettenberger put on another similar performance? More importantly, will LSU’s notoriously conservative coaching staff even let him?
We’ll see Saturday.
Key Stat: 1-10, which is what Mississippi State’s record now is against ranked opponents since the start of the 2010 season. The sad part was the Bulldogs sole win over a ranked opponent in that stretch came against Florida in 2010, which was Urban Meyer’s last year, and in the midst of the Gators fall out of the Top 25.
And if all that weren’t bad enough, you know what’s even worse? Not only is Mississippi State getting beat by good teams, they’re getting beat up. The Bulldogs have been beaten by an average 16 points a game in those 10 losses and by an average of 25 points in their last four against ranked opponents.
The point: Are we sure Mississippi State is a good football team? Or just good at beating bad teams?
Frankly, it might be the latter. And it might get ugly this Saturday in Baton Rouge.
For all his insight, analysis and opinion on college football, please follow Aaron on Twitter @Aaron_Torres.