Mike Leach and the Mississippi State Bulldogs found out the hard way this past Saturday that the Memphis Tigers are on the rise. A 31-29 loss by Leach’s Bulldogs this past Saturday was a gut punch which blunted the momentum of this team in 2021.
By Matt Zemek
Now Mike Leach faces the daunting task of beating LSU, but the Bulldogs get this game at home. They will need to learn from the Memphis game if they hope to overcome the Bayou Bengals a second year in a row without the added benefit of LSU overlooking Miss State like they might have done last year. Here are the keys to Leach and MSU as they try to grab a critical victory over an LSU team whose quality is very much in question entering Week 4.
1 – Don’t underestimate LSU
This might seem unnecessary to say on its face, but look at the struggles the Tigers have had over the past few seasons. Then stop to consider how easy it would be to overlook LSU or not take the Tigers as seriously as they need to be. Ed Orgeron might be on the way out as LSU’s head coach if the program keeps sliding. He likely will be on the hot seat with another year like he had last year. He will probably get 2022 no matter what, but if the slippage is rapid and dramatic, don’t make any guarantees about what will happen this December.
That said, LSU is still a very capable program which still has its most recent national championship under Orgeron. While fans give Joe Brady and Dave Aranda most of the credit, and they should, Orgeron was still the head coach. He now has to break in a new offensive and defensive coordinator in the same offseason. Jake Peetz takes over on offense and Daronte Jones is the new defensive coordinator. This is Peetz’s first go as an offensive coordinator and it is also the first time Daronte Jones has ever been a defensive coordinator. Take from that what you will. Mississippi State could take the field believing LSU is weak, but remember: Fans and pundits can play that game. The coaches and players on the field cannot. LSU should be treated as a national championship program and receive ultimate respect. MSU won’t win this game with a complacent attitude.
2 – The Air Raid has a different run game, but a running back needs to emerge
Dillon Johnson had 49 yards on seven carries with one score last week against Memphis. That won’t cut it for Mississippi State. Remove sacks from the equation and MSU had only seven rushing yards on six carries from people not named Johnson. Teams simply will not win in the SEC without a quality run game, or at least the threat of one. While Memphis doesn’t count as an SEC opponent, these stats from last week aren’t that different in the Bulldogs’ other two games. This might just be what the Bulldogs are as a team, and it’s not going to go very far against SEC opponents. The Bulldogs have to find something better if they want to compete in the conference.
3 – Get after Max Johnson and make him work on every throw
Speaking of run games, LSU is also struggling in this component of football. In three games thus far in 2021, LSU has gone over the century mark one time, and it was against McNeese State. Even then, the Tigers mustered only 124 rushing yards against the Cowboys. LSU hasn’t been able to establish much on the ground this year. If the Bulldogs can get after Max Johnson and force the Tigers into a one-dimensional offense, it should help them overcome their own flaws and limitations in this game.