The Tigers travel to the Golden Triangle to face Mississippi State this weekend. It will be the first time, this year, LSU and Mississippi State are put to the test, and it will be against each other. It is the initial conference game for both teams.
The Bulldogs return 48 lettermen and 13 starters, seven on offense and six on defense.
Sophomore Leo Lewis is one starter at linebacker. As a freshman Lewis led all SEC freshmen defensive players with 79 tackles. However, after two games this season, senior linebacker Dez Harris leads the team in tackles with 11 total and six unassisted, and two tackles for losses (tfls). The Bulldogs have four other lettermen returning at the linebacker position.
The defensive line is short on returning starters, but long on people with playing time. Jeffrey Simmons started three games last season for the Bulldogs. The sophomore garnered SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week honors last week for his performance in the MSU win over Louisiana Tech. Simmons scored a touchdown returning a blocked punt and had another touchdown returning a fumble 90 yards for a score. Sophomore Fletcher Adams played in 11 games last year with no starts. Sophomore Marquis Spencer played in 12 contests last season. Adams and Spencer have seen considerable action this year on the defensive line.
The defensive backfield has four returning starters from last season. They are seniors Tolando Cleveland and Lashard Durr, and juniors Mark McLaurin and Brandon Bryant. However, this season, at least eight players have seen considerable playing time in the secondary. The Bulldogs returned nine lettermen in the secondary from last year.
The Bulldogs blocked two punts and an extra point attempt last Saturday. So, their special teams were good or the Louisiana Tech specialty teams were bad, or both.
The Bulldog quarterback is junior Nick Fitzgerald. In two games he has thrown five touchdowns. Fitzgerald has completed 59.6 percent of his passes and is the second leading rusher on the team with 152 yards, averaging 8.9 yards per run. Last year in Tiger stadium, after starting, Fitzgerald was benched for being ineffective. He went on to lead the SEC in total offensive yards for the season. He has more combined 300 yard passing and 100 yard rushing games than anyone in school history, including Dak Prescott.
The leading rusher on the team is junior Aeris Williams with 190 yards after two games. Freshman Kylin Hill is the third leading rusher on the team with 124 yards after two contests this season.
The quarterback and running backs work behind an experienced offensive line. Five lettermen return to the team. Senior Martinas Rankin is a tackle who has played center in his career at State. Juniors Deion Calhoun and Elgton Jenkins are the guards. Calhoun played both guard and tackle last season due to injuries on the line. Jenkins was primarily a guard.
Senior Donald Gray and sophomores Keith Mixon and Deddrick Thomas return as receivers. Gray was second on the team with 41 catches for 709 yards last year. The Bulldogs returned seven lettermen at the receiver position this season.
This could be a potentially treacherous meeting for the Purple and Gold. It is early in the season, and it is not known how good Mississippi State is, but the Tigers will find out. The Bulldogs do not have the problems upper echelon teams have in the SEC, with many players making a beeline for the NFL after their junior seasons. They are able to stockpile players, as evidenced by the number of lettermen returning, and the amount of players with a lot of playing time. They are also beginning to sprinkle their roster with more highly recruited players, like Simmons the defensive lineman, and freshman quarterback Keytaon Thompson.
This is an important early season league matchup. The losers will likely find themselves in a big hole as far as trying to win the SEC West.