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Pre-game at Tiger Stadium: Bulldogs try for first win in Baton Rouge since 1991




Matt Stevens


BATON ROUGE, La. - Good morning folks. The Dispatch MSU Sports Blog is LOOKING LIVE.....at well, a 6-hour drive from Montgomery, Ala., to Baton Rouge, La., in order to make it to Tiger Stadium for a prime matchup as the No. 22 Bulldogs travel to No. 9 Louisiana State University. 


Here's what we're going to do for our pre-game blog: The Dispatch MSU Sports Blog is going to review all the material we've assembled for you this week in our print edition. 




NOTE: Be sure to bookmark this page as we'll continue to update this post throughout the day (as long as I get to Baton Rouge safe and sound, fingers crossed) until kickoff as news continues to flow out about pre-game news for either team tonight. 




MONDAY - MSU football feature - Dan Mullen wants blame pointed at him - We looked into the Bulldogs head coach pointing the finger of blame directly at himself after MSU's 38-13 loss to Texas A&M University http://www.cdispatch.com/sports/article.asp?aid=20069&TRACKER=1 




TUESDAY - MSU football feature - LSU has been nearly unbeatable at night at home - We look into LSU's dominance in night games at Tiger Stadium - http://www.cdispatch.com/sports/article.asp?aid=20095 




MSU football feature - MSU will have to prepare for Zach attack - We look into the evolving quarterback play of LSU junior Zach Mettenberger - http://www.cdispatch.com/sports/article.asp?aid=20096#ixzz2BpAqmmae 




WEDNESDAY - MSU football feature - MSU running game needs lift against LSU - We look into the relationship between the team that wins the rushing battle and the team that wins this game historically - http://www.cdispatch.com/sports/article.asp?aid=20119 




THURSDAY - MSU football feature - Talent gap between MSU, LSU not shrinking fast enough for Mullen - We look into the evolving talent gap discrepancy between the two programs - http://www.cdispatch.com/sports/article.asp?aid=20153#ixzz2BpBZ6e9O 




5 Keys to the Game  




1. Can the Mississippi State University manage to bounce back from such a fundamentally poor performance against Texas A&M University? 




- Over 30 missed tackles and about that number of separate missed assignments is what MSU defensive coordinator Chris Wilson counted up when he watched the film of the Bulldogs painful 38-13 home defeat to Texas A&M last weekend. MSU (7-2, 3-2 in Southeastern Conference) seemingly couldn't get in the correct fundamental spot to stop Aggies quarterback Johnny Manziel and therefore gave up the most total yardage to any opponent since head coach Dan Mullen took over in Starkville in 2009. Manziel's 440 total yards from behind center allowed A&M to start the game with a 24-0 lead that they'd take into the halftime break. 


"Obviously we could have done a much better job as coaches of getting our guys in the right position," Wilson said. "Getting back to basics, tackling, being in position to make plays and being able to get to get to a quarterback. That is going to be really key." 




2. How does MSU hope to put together a solid rushing attack against the LSU defensive front seven? 




- Two weeks ago, MSU junior tailback LaDarius Perkins was leading the SEC in rushing but after just 80 combined yards over the last two weeks by the Bulldogs star in the backfield against No. 1 University 


of Alabama and No. 15 Texas A&M University, there's little doubt the confidence of the run game is in question. 


"They both did some things that were different and that we weren't expecting and we have to make sure that execute at a higher level," Perkins said Tuesday after practice. "I know more than a few times I 


missed some holes (the last couple weeks of play) and that's what practice is for." 


In the 12 straight games since 2000 that LSU have won, the Tigers have dominated the rushing yardage statistic by over a 2-to-1 ratio in those matchups. Mullen is 0-6 since taking the job in Starkville when 


the Bulldogs rush for less than 100 yards as a team. 


"It's going to be, what does Missouri say, grown man football?," MSU linebacker Geoff Collins said Monday. "That's what it's going to be, it's going to be grown man football at 6:00 on Saturday night. I'm excited about it, I think the kids will be too." 




3. Can MSU limit the pressure to quarterback Tyler Russell? 




- Dan Mullen says the offensive line is doing fine after surrendering just eight sacks in nine games. The amount of times MSU quarterback Tyler Russell is on the ground after a pass is let go from his right 


arm would suggest otherwise. Knowing MSU was in all-pass play mode last week after going down 24-0 at halftime, A&M defensive coordinator Mark Snyder allowed his defensive ends to dominate MSU's inexperience at the tackle position with sophomore Blaine Clausell and junior college transfer Charles Siddoway. 


The play that defined the combination of confusion and physical intimidation brought to Russell was the fourth down call where the MSU junior quarterback was nearly sacked by A&M defensive end Julien Obioha and had to heave the the football near a covered receiver. Mullen had a simple explanation for why that call didn't work. 


"Well yeah - we had five protectors and they brought seven guys," Mullen said Monday confused at the question. "So yeah you gotta get rid of it quick when you don't have enough guys to block their guys coming." 




4. Which team is going to be more physical at the line of scrimmage? 




- The major compelling factor to the offenses that will face each Saturday night (6 p.m., ESPN) is the physical philosophy despite the vast formations difference. In its last two LSU head coaches (Nick 


Saban and the current Les Miles), the offensive schemes have been more pro-style and strong inside the tackles power. Since Dan Mullen took over the MSU offense as the team's head coach, it 


has been widely considered based on speed and athleticism but also features high production tailbacks. LSU (7-2, 3-2) is the same way in how much they value the run game. LSU has four different running backs (Jeremy Hill, Kenny Hilliard, Michael Ford and Alfred Blue) leading the team in rushing in at least one game this season and averaging over five yards per carry through first nine games. 


"Everybody knows (LSU has) got just a stable of running backs and a big, giant offensive line that pounds you," Mullen said. "And then they just continue to pound you play after play after play after play." 




5. Has the light bulb of leadership finally been turned on for LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger? 




- The Tigers junior lit the University of Alabama up for a career-high 298 yards in a 21-17 defeat last week and now the question becomes was that an anomaly or can LSU fans expect that kind of performance every week? Mettenberger recognized the Alabama blitz in a much more efficient way Saturday by only taking three sacks and completed 25-of-34 passes with a touchdown. Before the game against Alabama, Mettenberger had only two games over 200 yards passing (vs. the University of Idaho and Towson University) and had only completed 46 percent of his passes in 


SEC games. 


The only key MSU can point to and know they'll likely have success is if they can get Mettenberger in a 3rd-and-long situation. When LSU's offense is in third down with over 10 yards to go, Mettenberger is currently just 10-for-25 for 154 yards and has conducted just five first downs out of that situation. 


"It's taken us a while to get to that level," Mettenberger said. "We've seen success against a very good defense, and it's all about continuing that success against the remaining defenses we have to play." 




Players to Watch 








Sophomore LT Blaine Clausell 


The third-year sophomore has been abused the last two weeks and now must encounter one of the nation's best defensive lines in the most intimidating road environment in the SEC. If the Mobile, Ala., native can keep the pass rush away from quarterback Tyler Russell, then the Bulldogs offense has a chance to move the ball and possibly pull off an upset. If not, and MSU fans will likely know early the answer to that question, then it'll be another long day for the MSU passing attack. 




Senior CB Johnthan Banks 


Teams are just flat out avoiding the Jim Thorpe Award semifinalist. Texas A&M ran six pass plays to Banks has been named a midseason All-American by ESPN, Sports Illustrated, CBS Sports, Sporting News, Phil Steele and Scout.com. As a result of offenses avoiding him, MSU is near the top nationally in the country in turnover margin, while he and his teammate Darius Slay both have four interceptions. 








Junior QB Zach Mettenberger 


LSU's 296 passing yards Saturday were its most since Matt Flynn threw for 353 in 2007, a span of 53 games. It's the element Miles wanted the Tigers offense to have after struggling through inconsistent 


quarterback play for the last four seasons. The Tigers passing attack - which still ranks only 11th in the SEC - has transformed into something MSU's dynamic secondary has to prepare in detail for before kickoff on Saturday night thanks to the big arm of Mettenberger. 




Junior DE Sam Montgomery 




The Tigers All-American defensive end has been the recipient of SEC defensive lineman of the week honors twice this season. Montgomery had three tackles including two sacks and a forced fumble in LSU's 23-21 win over No. 3 University of South Carolina. He had a sack for an 11-yard loss on a third-down attempt for South Carolina late in the fourth quarter to help preserve the LSU victory. For the season, Montgomery leads the Tigers with 8.5 tackles for loss and four sacks. Montgomery is now tied for 10th in LSU career sacks with 28. 








The last time LSU lost a game when scoring 20 or more points came in 2010 when the Tigers dropped a 31-23 decision to Arkansas in the regular-season finale. 




All of the Dispatch MSU Sports Blog readers: feel free to follow me on Twitter at http://twitter.com/matthewcstevens for up-to-date Mississippi State coverage.



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