LSU can’t afford letdown against Mississippi State
LSU will try to handle its first post-Alabama opponent better than Mississippi State handled its when the Tigers and Bulldogs meet Saturday night in Tiger Stadium.
Ninth-ranked LSU (7-2, 3-2 in the Southeastern Conference) will try to bounce back a week after losing in the final minute to the No. 1-ranked Crimson Tide 21-17 in Tiger Stadium.
No. 22 State (7-2, 3-2) was in a similar position a week ago. After going into Tuscaloosa, Ala., two weeks ago and getting whipped by the Tide 38-7, the Bulldogs came up short in their bounce-back effort, losing at home to Texas A&M 38-13 last week.
So State is trying to put the brakes on a losing streak before it reaches three games, and LSU is trying to avoid what would be just the second set of consecutive losses in coach Les Miles’ eight seasons. The Tigers lost back-to-back games in 2008, but haven’t lost back-to-back games in Tiger Stadium since 2001.
“We’re fortunate that it’s a very quality opponent beyond the Alabama game because our team needs to play a team that has ability,” Miles said.
“If they play like (they did against the Crimson Tide), I will be happy.”
State would be happy if it could win for the first time in three weeks. The game against Bama was the ultimate measuring stick for a team that built its 7-0 résumé and No. 13 ranking against three SEC teams — Auburn, Kentucky and Tennessee — that are still winless in the league and against nonconference foes Jackson State, Troy, South Alabama and Middle Tennessee.
Since then, the Bulldogs have been outscored 76-20 and gave up 693 yards to A&M, yielding an estimated 300 of those yards thanks to 30 missed tackles.
State’s slide has raised doubt about whether it is as good its unbeaten start suggested. On the other hand, the Tigers’ last-minute loss to Bama in some ways validated a team that had been inconsistent.
“We’re two 7-2 teams going to play here in the middle of November on a Saturday night in Baton Rouge,” State coach Dan Mullen said. “That makes it a pretty big game at this time of the season. If you can’t get up for it, you’ve got a lot of problems. You must not love football.”
Although LSU hopes there’s no hangover from the loss to the Tide, it does hope there’s a carryover from its breakout passing performance.
Zach Mettenberger had season-bests of 24 completions, 35 attempts and 298 yards. He threw a 14-yard touchdown pass to Jarvis Landry and had his second consecutive turnover-free game after having at least one turnover in the first seven.
“Watching Zach all the way back to the high school days, he was a very talented passer with a big arm,” Mullen said. “What you’re seeing out of him now is he’s getting comfortable within the offensive system. He’s getting comfortable with the speed of the game and being back out there playing in the Southeastern Conference. You saw him get hot last week. When you take a talented guy and he gets hot, you better watch out. And he did that last week and made a lot of big plays for them.”
Miles suggested the passing output wasn’t a passing fancy.
“We have to play like that every time,” he said. “Let’s go throw for 300 or more and rush for 200 or more. Let’s be that style of offense.”
Tackle Josh Dworaczyk said, “Don’t come out in the game this weekend any different than we did last weekend” though teams will be more geared up for the pass attack.
“Now it’s on film,” Dworaczyk said. “Everybody in the nation saw what we can do and what Zach’s capable of doing and we have to make sure we go out there and play like that, and I think that would be huge for us as a team and we can be more successful in the future with that.”
Despite the success of the passing game last week, it seems unlikely that 30-plus attempts will become the norm for a team that has the No. 3 rushing offense in the SEC.
“We’re in a system that we’re forced to believe in and we’re going believe in the system whether we win or we lose,” Landry said. “From here on out, we want to put our foot down and make a statement against the rest of these teams and show that we can move the ball on the ground and through the air.”
Both of these teams’ dreams of winning the West all but evaporated when they lost to Bama. But the winner of this game can use it as a springboard — and claim sole possession of second place in the West if the Tide does to A&M on Saturday what it did to these guys the past two weeks.
“We’ve got to bounce back,” Bulldogs quarterback Tyler Russell said. “A lot of teams are facing that adversity right now. We’re facing adversity, and the great teams can bounce back and make something out of the rest of the season.”