Tigers prepare for SEC opener against Mississippi State

Kyle Riviere
Receiver Russell Gage hurdles a defender during LSU's 45-10 victory over Chattanooga. Photo by LSUsports.net.

Oh, how time flies in college football.

It wasn’t that long ago when LSU was chomping at the bit to wrap up their fall camp and officially start the 2017 season. Now, they’re all set for their first SEC game of the year.

The Tigers have had an impressive start to the season under their revamped coaching staff—winning their first two games by a combined score of 72-10.

LSU’s defense has been dominant, their passing game has shown it can be explosive, the running game is as strong as ever and they already have a special teams touchdown, thanks to D.J. Chark.

Though, two glaring weaknesses have presented themselves during the first two weeks.

The Tigers have been hampered by penalties. They have committed 21 for 160 yards during their first two games.

In addition to those infractions, LSU’s kicking game has proven to be a serious concern. Between kickers Jack Gonsoulin and Connor Culp, the Tigers have gone just 3-6 in field goals over the past two weeks.

LSU will try to sure up all of these deficiencies as they head into SEC play this week with a tough road matchup against 2-0 Mississippi State.

The Bulldogs have played the Tigers tough the past three seasons. They beat beat LSU in Tiger Stadium in 2014. The Tigers have won the past two matchups, but the two victories have come by a combined margin of 4 points.

Last season, LSU led, 23-3, before Mississippi State reeled off 17 unanswered points. They recovered an onside kick late that gave them an opportunity to tie or win the game, but a big sack by Arden Key allowed LSU to survive, 23-20.

The Bulldogs have hit on all cylinders through the first two weeks, winning their two games by a combined score of 106-21.

Last week, they dismantled a Louisiana Tech team that won nine games last year, 57-21.

Of course, it’s their high-powered offense that is getting a lot of the hype, but it’s their defense that has made the biggest impact so far in 2017.

The Bulldog “D” is being led by former Georgia and Louisville defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, and they have been downright dominant through two games.

They are giving up a mere 174 total yards. This includes just 89 yards passing and 85 yards rushing per game.

In their opener against Charleston Southern, the Bulldogs gave up just 33 total yards and two first downs.

Though, the Tiger offense will be the best Mississippi State has faced so far this season.

In two weeks under new offensive coordinator Matt Canada, the Tigers are averaging 36 points and 467 yards per contest.

The Derrius Guice and Darrell Williams-led LSU rushing attack is every bit as good as last year. Guice has eclipsed 100 yards in each of the first two weeks, and the Tiger ground attack has averaged 259 yards per game.

Though quarterback Danny Etling has only thrown 31 passes through two games, he has completed 22 of those passes for 398 yards.

In week two against Chattanooga, his eight completions went for 227 yards and a score.

In addition to returning a punt for a touchdown last week, Chark has been a big-play threat for Etling. He is averaging a gaudy 26 yards per catch.

The LSU defense has been every bit as good as they were last season, when they only surrendered 16 touchdowns in 12 games.

They have only allowed 10 points in two games. They’re giving up just 32 yards rushing per contest.

They will have to be stout against the run when they make their trip to Starkville.

Mississippi State’s rushing game is averaging 304 yards per contest. Much of this success hinges on the running ability of quarterback Nick Fitzgerald.

Fitzgerald is a big-time duel threat for the Bulldogs. He has thrown for 363 yards and five touchdowns, while rushing for 152 yards and three scores. Fitzgerald is averaging 8.9 yards per carry.

Running back Aeris Williams has also been dangerous. He has 190 yards rushing and a touchdown through two games, and he’s averaging 7.6 yards per carry.

As dangerous as Fitzgerald has been these past two years, LSU was able to have success against him last season.

In the 23-20 victory, Fitzgerald went just 12-24 for 120 yards through the air, and he was limited to just 13 yards rushing on 13 carries.