The LSU Tigers face a massive moment this Saturday in Starkville. They face a stark reality: If they lose, they are looking at another year of pushing the boulder uphill in the SEC West.
By Matt Zemek
If they lose to Mississippi State and Mike Leach for a second straight season, how will they possibly expect to compete with Alabama, Ole Miss, and Texas A&M at the top of the division? LSU, if it loses to MSU, would be staring at a 7-5 season as a BEST-CASE scenario. Bama, Lane Kiffin’s revved-up Rebels, and A&M would all seem to be obviously better. Arkansas MIGHT be better, with Sam Pittman clearly sustaining last year’s gains by continuing to develop players in Fayetteville. This is a low-end SEC West game, a game LSU should win without question if the program is in reasonably good shape.
Is it? We will find out soon enough.
1 – Offensive line
This is a game where the LSU offensive line has to get mad, get angry, and get even. Kicked around by UCLA a few weeks ago and unable to create an imposing ground game, the LSU offensive line has played well below par. If there is any consolation at all for this group, other prominent programs are also getting deficient offensive line play: Ohio State, Clemson, Oklahoma, Washington, Wisconsin, Notre Dame. Bad offensive line play seems to be sweeping through the country in this first month of the 2021 season, but LSU has to find a way to rise above this problem. Guys need to fire off the ball and show more competitive pride. Mississippi State does not have an elite defense, though it did play well against North Carolina State a few weeks ago. If LSU’s offensive line can take control of the line of scrimmage, this game becomes a million times more winnable for the Tigers. If not, it’s likely to be a very long day of cowbell ringing in the Magnolia State.
2 – Max Johnson
The offensive line has to help him and give him a running game which sets up the pass, but Max Johnson has to find ways to make plays – and not turn the ball over – if his offensive line is less than dominant. Great quarterbacks make their teammates better. They also adjust to the weaknesses of their offensive line by finding receivers quickly and getting the ball out before the pass rush gets home. Johnson’s blind backhanded flip of a pass against UCLA was Brett Favre, only blindfolded. It was a careless, reckless play which calls into question Johnson’s readiness to lead this team on the field. It could have been an isolated, anxious moment in a big game. Fair enough. Now Johnson needs to show he has learned from that game and LSU’s two recent scrimmage-level cupcake games. LSU needs a leader to stand tall and manage this game, which figures to be close and difficult.
3 – Linebackers
LSU’s linebackers looked slow and out of position against UCLA. More recent games haven’t really shown us if this position group is ready for SEC football. We just have to see what happens, but this is a game which will show us if the linebackers (and the football program) are on the right track.