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LSU Tigers at Mississippi State Bulldogs (+3.5, 49)
THE STORY: No. 25 Mississippi State has had increased success in coach Dan Mullen’s tenure, but has not been able to ascend in the brutal Southeastern Conference West Division. After last week's disheartening loss at Auburn, the Bulldogs have yet to beat anyone other than Ole Miss in their division under Mullen.
No. 3 LSU hopes to keep that streak alive and solidify its reputation as a top-tier national title contender. But the Tigers will have to do it in what will be a raucous, cowbell-infused atmosphere in Starkville, Miss. LSU had five interceptions and kicked five field goals to beat the Bulldogs 29-7 last season in Baton Rouge. LSU has won 11 straight against Mississippi State by an average score of 39-13.
LINE MOVES: This spread opened with MSU as field-goal underdogs Thursday. That number has since been bet up to as high as 4.5 at some books. The total opened as high as 49 points and has dropped to 48.5.
ABOUT MISSISSIPPI STATE (1-1, 0-1 SEC): Two starting offensive linemen, left tackle James Carmon and Quentin Saulsberry, went down in the Auburn game. Carmon (leg) is questionable for Thursday; Saulsberry (knee) is probable. The line is a major concern against an LSU run defense that is tops in the SEC. If the Bulldogs can’t get star running back Vick Ballard going on the ground, quarterback Chris Relf will be forced to attack through the air. He was responsible for two of last year’s five picks against LSU.
ABOUT LSU (2-0, 0-0 SEC): QB Jarrett Lee has thrown only 32 times this season, mostly because the Tigers have mauled their opponents on the ground, averaging 175 yards. Lee became the starter when senior Jordan Jefferson was suspended indefinitely after being charged in a bar brawl a week before the season opener. Lee stepped in and led the Tigers to an impressive win over Oregon. The senior was an ultra-efficient 9-of-10 for 133 yards and a touchdown in Saturday’s 49-3 win over Northwestern State.
1. LSU has enjoyed a 9-1 advantage in turnovers in its last two games against Mississippi State.
2. Russell Shepard, LSU's top receiver, will miss the third and final game of his three-game suspension for violating NCAA rules.
3. Mississippi State is 15-5 in home openers since 1991, including three straight wins. Its last loss in a home opener, however, came against LSU 45-0 in 2007.
- Tigers are 7-1 ATS in their last eight meetings in Mississippi State.
- Over is 6-1 in the last seven meetings.
- Tigers are 11-3 ATS in their last 14 meetings.
- Favorite is 7-3 ATS in their last 10 meetings.
LSU and Mississippi State collide in an SEC showdown. Here’s the tale of the tape for Thursday’s game in Starkville:
LSU Tigers at Mississippi State Bulldogs (+3.5, 48.5)
With long-time backup QB Jarrett Lee earning the starting gig over Jordan Jefferson, who was suspended for the season opener versus Oregon, Les Miles is keeping the offensive load light for his senior by leaning heavily on the rushing attack. LSU runs on 67 percent of its offensive snaps, the fifth highest mark in college football.
Despite averaging just 3.6 yards per attempt, Louisiana State has averaged 175 yards per game on the ground (41st in the country), getting the bulk of the work from RB Michael Ford. The sophomore has 168 yards and four touchdowns on 27 carries heading into Thursday.
The Bulldogs are also a run-reliant team, ranking sixth in the land in rushing offense and third in rushing yards per attempt (6.4). Mississippi State is averaging 321 yards on the ground through its first two games, including plowing over Auburn for 333 yards on 63 carries in a Week 2 loss to the Tigers.
Running back Vick Ballard has run for 301 yards and four touchdowns this season, however, two key cogs on the offensive line are injured. That could slow down the MSU ground game Thursday. The Bulldogs stomped Memphis 59-14 in Week 1 and fell to Auburn 41-34 last Saturday.
MSU gets the edge on offense because it's passing game is respectable (13.3 yards per completion, 20 pass completions per game, 147.8 team QB rating) whereas LSU's aerial attack is almost nonexistent (9.8 yards per completion, 10 pass completions per game, 97.8 team QB rating).
Louisiana State’s defense is arguably the finest in the land. The Tigers slowed down Oregon’s up-tempo attack, giving up just 95 yards on the ground to a Ducks offense that averaged almost 288 rushing yards per game in 2010. Against the Bulldogs last season, LSU gave up 152 yards on 44 carries but did the most damage against the pass game. The Tigers snagged five interceptions and allowed just 167 yards through the air.
Mississippi State’s defense didn’t look SEC-ready in last weekend’s loss to Auburn. The Bulldogs gave up 41 points to the defending national champs, getting pounded on the ground for 235 yards on 36 carries – allowing 6.5 yards per run to the Tigers. Mississippi State also struggled against the pass, watching Auburn QB Barrett Trotter go 16 for 23 for 146 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.
Both LSU and MSU rank at the bottom of the SEC in kick returns to start the season. The Tigers average only 15 yards per return while the Bulldogs average just 13 yards per kick return. They haven’t done much better with punt returns either, with MSU ranked seventh and LSU eighth in the conference.
On the other side of the ball, the Tigers special teams have been stellar. They’re holding opponents to -2.20 yards per punt return and 17.63 yards per kick return. The Bulldogs return defense is allowing 20.53 per kick and only nine yards per punt return through two games.
In last season’s meeting, LSU kicker Josh Jasper booted five field goals in the win over MSU. This year’s kicker, Drew Alleman is 2 for 3 on field goals. Bulldogs kicker Derek DePasquale is 3 for 4 including two versus Auburn in Week 2.
WORD ON THE STREET
"It just got landed on. I'm feeling fine, walking fine. We're just trying to be smart." – LSU QB Jarrett Lee, talking about his ankle injury suffered against Northwestern State in Week 2. He is expected to start Thursday.
“I don’t know where you’re at if you’re dominant against the No. 3 team in the country. Where does that rank you? We’re going to have our hands full against them. We’ll have to play 60 minutes of really good football to find a way to win.” – MSU head coach Dan Mullen, talking about LSU’s Week 1 win over Oregon.