November 6, 2012 11:04:46 PM
Matthew Stevens - firstname.lastname@example.org
STARKVILLE -- The Mississippi State University football program has what is commonly referred to as a two-fold problem this weekend when they face Louisiana State University.
The Bulldogs have now had two straight weeks where they've struggled to run the ball efficiently and now face one of the nation's most effective run defenses led by Tigers defensive coordinator John Chavis.
Two weeks ago, MSU junior tailback LaDarius Perkins was leading the Southeastern Conference in rushing but after just 80 combined yards 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.
"It's going to be, what does Missouri say, grown man football?," MSU linebacker coach 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."
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 (7-2, 3-2 in SEC) offense as the team's head coach, it has been widely considered based on speed and athleticism but also features high production tailbacks.
Mullen has never beaten LSU on the road in a night game but came the closest to knocking off the Tigers in his first matchup in 2009 when the Bulldogs won the running yards battle 151-30 thanks to 106 yards and two touchdowns from then-senior Anthony Dixon.
"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."
In his first three years in Starkville, Mullen has led the first (2009), second (2010) and fifth-best (2011) rushing attacks in the SEC by handing the football to tailbacks that were eventually drafted into the National Football League in Dixon and Vick Ballard.
"We're a pretty physical unit -- that's one thing we're kind of always known for, being physical and kind of smashing people," Mullen said Monday.
LSU (7-2, 3-2) 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.
The scary issue for MSU's defense is the Miles, who is 36-2 in Saturday night games in Tiger Stadium, thinks the Tigers can do much better in the offensive rushing department.
"I think we can rush the football better and I just think that we can execute that part of our game a little bit better than we did in that (Alabama) game," Miles said Monday. "I think that Jeremy Hill is a very capable back. I liked my young offensive line. We're playing a lot of young men that really stepped up, played hard and played with the style of play that we expect from LSU's offensive lines."
The major problem for MSU is they've been down by a combined 48-0 in the first half of its last two losses against Alabama and Texas A&M. These back-to-back 24-0 deficits at halftime have forced the Bulldogs to turn to an aerial attack quicker and more prevalent than they would've preferred. Mullen is currently 0-for-16 when his team is behind after three quarters of play.
"I think it's a matter of the complexion of the game and you try to keep going, keep moving," MSU offensive coordinator Les Koenning said.
Part of the reason for those slow starts in the two games against ranked opponents are because of the Bulldogs being a dismal 6-for-24 (25 percent) in third down situations to force the defense back onto the field.
"If we put ourselves in manageable third-down situations we're going to be in good shape," Koenning said. "You start getting into unmanageable third-down situations it becomes a hard situation to get (out of) and I think that's what we have to be aware of, especially in this game."
Mullen tried Monday to put the lack of a running game and slow starts in simple terms that fans could understand with the word "execution".
In short, the Bulldogs offensive line is simply not winning the battle at the line of scrimmage in early downs and therefore allowing defenses to dictate tempo and execution.
Mullen is 0-6 since taking the job in Starkville when the Bulldogs rush for less than 100 yards as a team.
"If you're a student of the game and study the game, it's simple, you see minor breakdown here and a minor breakdown there," Mullen said Monday when asked about the run game. "When you make a mistake against quality teams it costs you."