Published September 17, 2014
Baton Rouge, LA – Baton Rouge, LA (SportsNetwork.com) - A pair of undefeated squads will play their SEC opener at Tiger Stadium on Saturday night, as the eighth-ranked LSU Tigers play host to the Mississippi State Bulldogs.
Mississippi State's early-season slate of games has hardly been daunting, but it has nonetheless done what it needed to do in coming away victorious each time. After collecting a pair of home wins over Southern Miss (49-0) and UAB (47-34), the Bulldogs went on the road last week and made easy work of South Alabama, 35-3.
Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen knows his team is in for a tall task and has emphasized strict focus with his team leading up to kickoff.
"Every game we have ever played there has no impact on this game," he said. "It is all about this week and our focus on this one game...We are going to have to play at a very, very high level to find a way to win."
LSU started its season off with a bang in the AdvoCare Texas Kickoff in Houston by coming from behind to defeat nationally-ranked Wisconsin, 28-24. Things have been much easier for the Tigers in recent weeks, as they have pitched a couple of shutouts over Sam Houston State (56-0) and ULM (31-0) to move to 3-0. The squad boasts an incredible 33-3 record in September during head coach Les Miles' tenure.
"We are still needing to improve and take strides but I like where we are at," Miles said. "I think we will enjoy game week in preparation to play again in Tiger Stadium."
LSU has a 71-33-3 advantage over Mississippi State in the all-time series. Les Miles has never lost to the Bulldogs in nine tries, and the program has won 14 in a row in the series dating back to 2000.
The Bulldogs' explosive offense has posted some gaudy numbers (43.7 ppg, 526.7 ypg) this season.
The unit is paced by one of the most electric dual-threat quarterbacks in the nation. Dak Prescott might not be the most accurate passer (.597 completion percentage) but he makes the most of his throws by racking up 696 yards with nine touchdowns and just two picks. Adding into account his dynamic rushing ability (273 yards, two TDs), he's becoming a dark horse contender for the Heisman Trophy.
In the backfield, Josh Robinson has benefitted from Prescott's versatility, and he has taken advantage of ample running room by picking up 288 yards and three touchdowns on 46 attempts.
Prescott does an outstanding job distributing the wealth in the passing game, as seven players have at least 70 receiving yards while no one has more than 110. Jameon Lewis (10 receptions, 107 yards) in the top option and has a hand in several aspects of the game with 26 rushing yards, 70 return yards and even a 24-yard touchdown pass.
MSU's defense has been nearly as impressive as its offense, shutting down opposing teams to the tune of just 12.3 ppg while forcing eight turnovers.
Benardrick McKinney has his eyes set on an All-SEC season at linebacker with 20 tackles, 5.0 TFL, 2.0 sacks and a fumble recovery. Preston Smith has two of the team's five interceptions and has contributed all over the field with 3.0 TFL, 2.0 sacks, two blocked kicks and a forced fumble.
LSU's offense has been a well-oiled machine in its own right, as the unit has scored 38.3 ppg, while displaying excellent balance between the rushing (226.3 ypg) and passing (214.0 ypg) attacks.
After a murky offseason in which no one ran away with the starting gig, Anthony Jennings has emerged as the primary quarterback in Miles' offense. He's completing less than 52 percent of his passes, but he's thrown for 566 yards, five touchdowns and one interceptions, while adding 61 rushing yards. Brandon Harris (76 passing yards, 53 rushing yards, two TDs) is also actively involved.
The Tigers are notorious for employing a stable of running backs, and the 2014 version of the squad is no different. Kenny Hilliard is the primary beneficiary with 215 yards and three touchdowns. Freshman and top recruit Leonard Fournette has impressed with 162 yards and two scores, and Darrel Williams (102 yards) is often called upon in the red zone with three touchdowns.
Travin Dural has a modest 12 receptions, but as one of the most explosive wide outs in the nation he's managed to pile up four touchdowns and 370 yards for an eye-popping 30.8 yards per reception.
As impressive as LSU's offense has been, its defense is the main reason it remains one of the top teams in the country, and it yields a mere 8.0 ppg and 205.7 ypg. The unit has shut out back-to-back opponents for the first time since 1985.
The Tigers have no shortage of talented playmakers on the defensive side of the ball, as 12 players have recorded at least nine tackles. Leading the way is Dwayne Thomas with 16 stops to go along with 1.5 TFL, 0.5 sack and a pick. Jermauria Rasco (2.0 sacks), Sione Teuhema (2.0 sacks) and Danielle Hunter (15 tackles, 2.5 TFL) anchor a talented front line.