LSU begins SEC West title defense against Mississippi State

LSU Tigers quarterback Jayden Daniels (5) runs the ball against Mississippi State Bulldogs
Photo credit © Scott Clause-USA TODAY Sports

14th ranked LSU begins defense of its SEC West title when they meet Mississippi State in Starkville at 11 a.m.

It’s the 117th meeting between the two schools. The Tigers have played the Bulldogs more than any other SEC opponent and it’s unknown when they will meet again. With divisional play going away, Mississippi State is not on LSU’s schedule for 2024.

According to LSU Coach Brian Kelly, a big key is being patient with the running game. In the season opening loss against Florida State, the Tigers did not seem interested in establishing a running game and that was before the game got out of hand in the second half.

Kelly says they can’t abandon the run in this game, even though Mississippi State’s defensive scheme tries to force the opponent to throw the ball on every play. And LSU has its full complement of running backs with John Emery making his season debut and Logan Diggs looking like the Tigers top running back based on his performance against Grambling.

But LSU may not have one of its better offensive weapons as tight end Mason Taylor is questionable. Kelly said the sophomore is making progress after leaving the Grambling game with an injury. It sounds like it will be a game time decision on if Taylor will play.

If Taylor can’t go, LSU will have to rely on freshmen tight ends, Mac Markway, Ka’Morreun Pimpton and Jackson McGohan.

On the defensive side of the ball for LSU, linebacker Omar Speights is doubtful. He’ll travel to Starkville, but Kelly is not too optimistic he will play.

Kelly said if Speights can’t play, they’ll keep Harold Perkins on the outside and move him around. Greg Penn will likely get a start, but there’s also a good chance  West Weeks, Whit Weeks and freshman Christian Braithwaite will get some playing time.

Going up against a Mississippi State run first offense, means the Tigers defensive tackles will need to be up to the task. Maason Smith should be a little more disruptive after knocking the rust off last week against Grambling. This will also be a big game for Jordan Jefferson and Jacobian Guillory. Kelly said on his radio show Thursday night they were the two best defensive tackles against the run last week.

Kelly also mentioned defensive end Da’Shawn Womack as another player he hopes can make an impact. Womack is one of the top players in LSU’s 2023 recruiting class. He had 26 tackles for a loss and 15 sacks during his senior season at national powerhouse St. Frances Academy in Baltimore. Womack didn’t play against FSU but had four tackles against Grambling.

Mississippi State’s ground game has been very effective so far, averaging 222 yards a game in two contests. Over the last three years combined, State only averaged 64 yards on the ground under Mike Leach’s air raid offense.

Jo’Quavious Marks leads the SEC in rushing with 250 yards and he has three touchdowns. But Marks is also a great pass catcher. He has 199 receptions and needs one more catch to become Mississippi State’s all-time leading receiver.

Mississippi State forced five turnovers in last week’s overtime win over Arizona. Four of those turnovers came on the Wildcats first four possessions. But despite all of those turnovers, MSU scored 31 points and needed overtime to get that many points.

There’s a belief from those who cover the Bulldogs in Starkville that Mississippi State will look to throw the football more. Quarterback Will Rogers is State’s all-time leading passer and he is the only quarterback in SEC history with over 1,000 career completions. MSU may use Rogers experience to take advantage of an LSU secondary that’s struggled.

Featured Image Photo Credit: © Scott Clause-USA TODAY Sports