No. 14 LSU, Mississippi State open SEC play, with Tigers beginning West Division title defense
Thu, Sep 14, 2023
NCAAF News (AP)
Unbeaten Mississippi State knows it must improve, entering a stretch of SEC games that could determine its chances of contending in the SEC West.
There's certainly no margin for error against No. 14 LSU, which visits Starkville, Mississippi, on Saturday primed to defend its division title after a dominant bounce-back win.
The Bulldogs (2-0) enter encouraged after gutting out a 31-24 overtime victory over Pac-12 foe Arizona. Satisfying as it was to top a Power 5 opponent, they know more will be needed against a Tigers squad that poses a threat in all phases.
"You've got to get better each and every week," MSU safety Marcus Banks said. "We said from the first game, you've got to get better for Arizona and now we have to get better for LSU. It's just going to continue to get tougher, especially when we come into SEC play."
That's for sure. The Bulldogs visit South Carolina next week before hosting No. 10 Alabama, which is smarting from a loss to Texas but remains a West heavyweight they must beat.
First up is LSU (1-1), which regrouped from an opening-game loss to Florida State with a 72-10 shellacking of FCS foe Grambling State. Their wide margin of victory was expected, but the Tigers' all-around crispness pleased coach Brian Kelly.
LSU scored touchdowns on its first 10 possessions - five each passing and rushing. Their 627 yards offensively were similarly balanced, and the defense improved from a slow start to shut out Grambling the final three quarters.
"We're growing as a team," said Kelly, whose squad leads the SEC in total offense (540.5 yards per game). "I thought we came out with a really good mindset in Week 2 in terms of the way we played with a sense of urgency for four quarters.
"This is a team that certainly can compete for the SEC West title again and we've got to go on the road and prove that."
Improvement was certainly needed after a second-half collapse against FSU. They'll need it even more in trying to repeat in a tough division and at a venue that figures to be loud and hostile as always with clanging cowbells.
MSU running back Jo'Quavious "Woody" Marks needs one reception to become the Bulldogs' career receptions leader. Tied with Fred Ross at 199 catches, his record-breaking reception would move him into 12th all-time in the SEC. Currently, Marks leads SEC rushers with 250 yards and three TDs after the first 100-yard games of his career.
LSU quarterback Jayden Daniels is coming off a career-best five-TD passing performance against Grambling that has put the senior among the top league passers. He's averaging 307.50 yards per contest through the air and leads with 354 yards total offense. Daniels' 45 starts rank third among active QBs behind Oregon's Bo Nix and Notre Dame's Sam Hartman. He's 11-5 as the Tigers' starter.
GOOD HANDS, TOO
Already known as one of the SEC's top defenders, Bulldogs linebacker Jett Johnson showed he can also receive opposing passes by intercepting two Arizona passes. That effort complemented yet another imposing performance with double-digit stops (11) that led the team and earned SEC defensive player of the week honors on Monday.
STILL A FORCE
Will Rogers keeps adding to his collection of MSU passing records, albeit more conventionally in a new pro-set offensive scheme compared to the explosive Air Raid approach of late coach Mike Leach. He ranks in the top 10 among SEC QBs, having completed 33 of 46 attempts for 389 yards and five TDs. Rogers is just 76 yards away from passing Georgia's Eric Zeier (11,153) for sixth place all-time in SEC passing.
Series history poses a big obstacle for MSU, which enters as a 9.5-point underdog according to FanDuel.com Sportsbook. LSU leads the series 77-36-3 and has won 20 of 23 meetings, including the past two.
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