By Trey Mongrue
Things do not get much more sobering than what the LSU Tigers experienced last weekend. Having used Mississippi State as a Southeastern Conference doormat since the turn of the century, the Bulldogs finally got the best of LSU, knocking off the Tigers 34-29 in front of a stunned Tiger Stadium crowd.
Some of that had to do with Dak Prescott turning in a performance that reminded many LSU fans of what Cam Newton did to the Tigers in 2010. But even without the Heisman performance from the Bulldogs Quarterback, it became quite clear that LSU has many things to work on if it wants to make this season notable for the right reasons.
Thankfully for the Tigers, they will likely get a chance to rebound this weekend as they welcome New Mexico State to Baton Rouge this Saturday before going on a two game SEC road trip.
Through four games, the Aggies have yet to record a win over a team that has been in the Football Bowl Subdivision for more than two seasons and are coming off of losses to Texas-El Paso and in-state rival New Mexico. Bad news for second year coach Doug Martin is that he now must face an LSU squad that is out to prove something after a loss.
“First and foremost, look at me. I have to improve and be a better head coach,” said LSU coach Les Miles. “This is a team that has a great attitude and I think that there is still an emphasis on this season.”
LSU Offense vs. New Mexico State Defense
Many LSU fans were noticeably frustrated against Mississippi State when it seemed like the Tigers were hell bent on establishing the run game when the Bulldogs boast one of the best front seven’s in the country. The Tigers should find much more success on the ground this season going up against a NMSU defense that gave up 344 rushing yards to UTEP and 432 against New Mexico last week. This game has all the makings for Leonard Fournette’s long-awaited breakout game. While he hasn’t exactly lived up to the lofty hype yet, the heralded freshman running back has led the Tigers in rushing yards in each of the last three games. To get the full Fournette affect, though, the offensive line will have to play its part. Even against smaller teams like Sam Houston State and UL-Monroe, there were times when the veteran-laden line had trouble opening up lanes for the bevy of LSU running backs. On top of that, Brandon Harris has seemingly reignited the quarterback battle with Anthony Jennings, so that will be going on as well.
LSU Defense vs. New Mexico State Offense
Even in the midst of that 31 possession shutout streak that was almost immediately shattered into oblivion by Prescott, there were some questions about LSU’s defense, specifically up front. For all the defensive tackles that practiced during Fall Camp, it seems defensive coordinator John Chavis only trusts three to see game action. Against the Bulldogs, LSU mainly used Christian Lacouture, Quentin Thomas and Davon Godchaux on the interior with Maquedius Bain also making a handful of appearances. What’s worse is that those four didn’t pose much of a threat to MSU’s offensive line – a large reason why the Bulldogs ran for 302 yards. Not do those already in the rotation need to improve but one of the seldom-used guys needs to step up, whether that’s Bain, Frank Herron, Greg Gilmore or Travonte Valentine when he is cleared to play. Outside of live game reps, there may not be much room for improvement against NMSU. The Aggies leading rusher, Larry Rose III is averaging just 89.7 yards-per-carry and much of that is inflated from a 149-yard performance in a win over Cal Poly that saw him score his first and only touchdown.
Jamie Keehn has been quite an enigma since he took over the punting duties last season. Not that it did much good, but Keehn did a fantastic job of flipping the field position and pinning Mississippi State inside its own territory. Of his eight punts last Saturday, he averaged 51.1 yards, including a long of 62 and had three punts downed inside the 20-yard line which included one that went inside the one-yard line. As far as the Aggies being a threat for a threat on special teams, they average just 3.3 yard per punt return and 17 yards on kick returns.
In a similar fashion to the way Georgia made quick work of Troy last weekend following its loss to South Carolina, LSU may use the overmatched Aggies as a cathartic release and beat up on them pretty badly. The Tigers’ deficiencies on both lines will likely not show up in this one, so it will be tough to see if any improvements were made in that area. The main thing to watch for in this game will, of course, be who gets the most snaps at quarterback, but beyond that this should be a walk in the park for the wounded Tigers. It’s a good thing too, because the schedule becomes ridiculously brutal after Saturday.
LSU 48, New Mexico State 3
#18 LSU Tigers (3-1) vs. New Mexico State Aggies (2-2)
Tiger Stadium (102,321); Baton Rouge, LA
Saturday, Sept. 27; 6:30 p.m.
TV: SECN; Radio: 98.1 FM