Mississippi State vs. LSU 2020 Preview

Mississippi State LSU

The defending national champions will finally begin their quest to repeat. LSU will open its season at home against Mississippi State. The Fighting Tigers have opened a season against the Bulldogs twice (2007 and 2015) in the past 13 seasons.

History And Recent Developments

Mississippi State fired Joe Moorhead after only two seasons. He had compiled an overall record 7-9 in SEC contests. His teams did beat Ole Miss twice but lost both bowl games.

The Bulldogs will arrive with a new head coach, Mike Leach. He bolted from Washington State after eight years. He compiled an overall record of 55-47 and 36-36 in the Pac 12. While in Pullman, his teams accomplished one season with double-digit wins although four years ended with more losses than wins. He directed the Cougars to a 2-4 tally in bowl games.

LSU leads the all-time series against Mississippi State, 73-37-3. For games played in Baton Rouge, LSU holds the advantage, 48-20-1. The Tigers have won 18 of the last 20 meetings. However, the Bulldogs have upset ranked LSU teams twice in the past six seasons. Mississippi State is LSU’s most frequently played opponent while LSU is Mississippi State’s second most played.

LSU’s Challenges On Offense

LSU will feature only two starters from last year’s lineup. The sole returning lineman, right tackle Austin Deculus, returns after starting 13 games in 2019. Wide receiver Terrace Marshall finished third on last season’s squad in terms of receiving yards (671) and fifth in receptions (46) after starting 12 contests. Additionally, replaced passing game coordinator, Joe Brady, who left for the Carolina Panthers.

Despite the plethora of new faces, there is some experience from 2019 among the first-team offense. Running back Chris Curry rushed the ball 38 times for 189 yards, ranking in top five on the team in both categories. Wide receiver Racey McMath caught 17 passes for 285 yards, sixth most on the team for both statistics, plus three touchdowns. Quarterback Myles Brennan completed 24 of his 40 passes for one touchdown and one interception. The other four linemen have game appearances: Dare Rosenthal (five with three starts), Ed Ingram (25 in his career with 15 starts), Chasen Hines (10) and Anthony Bradford (three).

Mississippi State’s Challenges On Offense

Leach is relying on some new additions to kick-start his offense. The presumed starting quarterback, K.J. Costello,  transferred from Stanford to Starkville. Two wide receivers arrived from junior colleges: Caleb Ducking (Holmes Community College) and Malik Heath (Copiah-Lincoln C.C.). Offensive tackle Scott Lashley left Alabama to play for Mississippi State. These players have been working with a new staff of assistant coaches, slowing their integration into Leach’s system.

Leach does have some notable contributors from 2019. Leading rusher Kylin Hill had 242 carries for 1,350 yards and ten touchdowns plus 18 receptions for 180 yards and a touchdown. Wide receiver Osirus Mitchell had the second most receptions (29) on the team and led the Bulldogs for the most receiving yards (430) and touchdowns (six). JaVonta Payton caught nine passes for 147 yards. Austin Williams had 11 receptions for 119 yards and two touchdowns.

Which Defense Is More Prepared?

Mississippi State retained some of its key defensive contributors from last season. Middle linebacker Erroll Thompson returns after leading the Bulldogs in total tackles (84). However, only four of the others in the top eleven in that category are back for MSU. Those four are strong safety C.J. Morgan (fifth place with 59 tackles), defensive end Marquiss Spencer (ninth place with 37 tackles), cornerback Martin Emerson (10th place with 31) and defensive end Kobe Jones (11th with 30). Jones, Spencer and Thompson finished in the top seven for tackles for a loss with seven, six and a half and three and a half respectively. Of those five returners, only Thompson, Morgan and Emerson accounted for any takeaways as they each contributed one.

LSU only managed to keep a few of its experienced defenders from 2019. What the Tigers lost in quantity, they kept in quality. Strong safety JaCoby Stevens finished in the Tigers’ top five in total tackles (92), tackles for a loss (nine), interceptions (three) and passes defensed (six). Cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. led the team in interceptions (six) and passes defensed (15) plus in 10th place for total tackles with 38. Middle linebacker Damone Clark had the sixth most total tackles (50) and ninth most tackles for a loss (four). Defensive end Neil Farrell recorded 46 total tackles, seven of those for a loss, for eighth and fifth best respectively.

Altered Atmosphere In Death Valley

One must question to what effect will the crowd in Tiger Stadium have on this contest. This game will kick off in the mid-afternoon. Typically, daytime games in Tiger Stadium are noticeably less raucous. Compounding that presumably subdued environment will be the restricted number of fans. Social distancing regulations will limit attendance to approximately 25,000 fans in the stands.

Prediction

Viewers should expect a rather sloppy game as it serves as the season-opener for teams with so many new components. Both teams definitely needed a complete spring practice session. LSU has fewer new coaches and is not trying to install a radically different scheme on offense. Leach needs more time and different players to switch from the Bulldogs’ ground-and-pound mindset to his wide-open air-raid scheme. Therefore, the  advantage goes to the Tigers.

LSU 23, Mississippi State 13 


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