Ed Orgeron is encouraged and cautiously optimistic about LSU's outlook following consecutive blowouts by the Tigers.
There are some bad memories lingering for LSU heading into the Tigers' Southeastern Conference opener at Mississippi State on Saturday.
Orgeron remembers how the Bulldogs rang up a record 623 yards passing on the Tigers’ home field nearly a year ago, and returning the favor won’t be easy in Starkville, Mississippi, with cow bells loudly clanging in the stands.
“We could not stop them last year because (coach Mike) Leach did a great job,” Orgeron said of the 44-34 loss in LSU’s opener following an unbeaten national championship season. “Our defense, we’re up for a big challenge but we’re going to continue to work up until game time.
“We have to get up ready to play.”
The Tigers (2-1) have followed a season-opening 38-27 loss at UCLA with blowouts of FCS McNeese State (34-7) and Central Michigan (49-21). But in their dominating performance against the Chippewas, LSU allowed a 78-yard touchdown pass and 20-yard interception return for another TD.
Avoiding similar breakdowns are a must for LSU to beat MSU (2-1) and compete in the tough SEC West.
“We’re going to get tested this week,” Orgeron added. “We still had a mental error and gave up a free touchdown with nobody in coverage. So, those things still concern me that there’s going to be more of a challenge in all those areas, as far as protection and coverage.”
Not only that, the Bulldogs come in with a chip on their shoulders following a 31-29 loss at Memphis after a questionable 94-yard punt return for a Tigers touchdown. MSU still had a chance to tie the game late after a Will Rogers touchdown pass, but the two-point conversion failed.
The SEC later acknowledged the play should have been reviewed. Leach and the young Bulldogs have turned their focus to beating LSU for the second consecutive season.
A lot has changed for both programs since Leach’s MSU debut last September,
Rogers now runs the Air Raid offense instead of K.J. Costello and has different targets to throw to. The scheme remains proficient, as the Bulldogs lead the SEC in passing at 361 yards per outing with a 75% completion rate.
Leach is looking for consistency from his team in all phases of the game to avoid a repeat of last week’s situation. He doesn't want to leave any doubt about the outcome — and would like to show that last year’s win at LSU was no fluke.
“We are where we are, so we just have to try to improve every day and get better at it,” Leach said. “I think sometimes they don’t fully appreciate where they are and where they’ve developed in the last year. We’ve got to somehow create that vision with them a little bit, too.”
Some other things to watch as LSU visits Mississippi State in the teams' SEC opener:
The Bulldogs quarterback has a tough act to follow after completing 50 of 67 passes for 419 yards in the Memphis loss. Rogers broke school and SEC marks for completions along with a career high for attempts, which rank second in MSU history. He's averaging a FBS-best 41 completions per game.
The bright spot in LSU's running game for LSU – albeit against non-Power Five teams – has been the play of freshman Corey Kiner. He’s relatively small but demonstrates good instincts for finding running room, drawing comparisons to Clyde Edwards-Helaire, the top rusher for the Tigers’ unbeaten 2019 team. LSU eagerly awaits the return this week of fellow freshman Armoni Goodwin, who broke a 21-yard run against McNeese State, but missed last week’s game with an undisclosed injury.
MSU held Memphis to 246 yards last week after the Tigers came in leading FBS at 633 per game. The Bulldogs’ effort included just 87 yards rushing allowed and 12 first downs.
A season-ending leg injury to senior defensive end Andre Anthony has brought a quick assignment change for highly touted freshman defensive lineman Maason Smith. The 6-foot-6, 292-pound Smith, who has three sacks and seven total tackles, has played mostly at defensive tackle. He’s now expected to play more at end in a rotation that also includes B.J. Ojulari (4.5 sacks) and Ali Gaye.
INSIDE THE SERIES
LSU is 9-5 against MSU in SEC openers, though the Bulldogs are 3-1 against the Tigers since 2010.
AP Sports Writer Brett Martel contributed to this report.
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