Mississippi State 2017 Football Opponent Previews: Scouting LSU Tigers


To prepare for the upcoming football season, we’re previewing each of MSU’s 2017 opponents.  In the 3rd edition of our opponent previews, contributor Andrew Miller takes a look at a familiar foe: the LSU Tigers.

Opponent Overview

Team: LSU Tigers (Baton Rouge, Louisiana)

Conference: SEC, West Division

Home Stadium: Tiger Stadium; capacity 102,321

Head Coach: Ed Orgeron; 1st season (6-2 as an interim in 2016)

Last Year’s Record: 8-4 (5-3); Won Citrus Bowl vs Louisville

Game Info

Date: September 16, 2017

Time: 6:00 (CT)

Location: Davis Wade Stadium (Starkville, MS)

TV Channel: ESPN or ESPN2

A Look at the Tiger’s Offense

By today’s standards, LSU’s offense was rather mediocre in 2016, finishing in the bottom half of the SEC in both yards and points per game (423.1 and 28.3, respectively).  The Tiger’s offensive deficiencies stemmed from a passing attack that averaged just 190.1 yards per game.  That number was “good” for just 101st in the nation.  In an attempt to correct that problem, now-permanent head coach Ed Orgeron hired former NC State and Pitt offensive coordinator Matt Canada.  Canada has a reputation of making average QBs look like superstars, so perhaps he’ll do the same in Baton Rouge.

After inept starts in the first two games, former 4-star Brandon Harris was benched for Purdue-transfer Danny Etling.  Etling remained the starter for the remainder of the season, passing for 2,123 yards with 11 TDs and 5 INTs. Harris has since transferred to North Carolina, leaving Etling as the only experienced QB on the roster.

Etling, while efficient, was far from spectacular last year, but despite that, it appears that Orgeron is going to stick with him as the starter — at least for now.  Should that not work, Coach O could turn to either of a pair of 4-star freshmen in Myles Brennan or Lowell Narcisse.

It may be difficult for LSU to show any real improvements in the passing game, considering the hit they’re taking in the receiving corps.  The Tigers return just one of their top-six pass catchers from a year ago.  That one is senior DJ Chark, who hauled in 26 passes for 466 yards and 3 TDs in 2016. Outside of Chark, LSU will need at least one of their many 4-star recruit WRs to step up to fill the voids left at the position.  Canada has a history of heavily featuring the tight end in his offense, so expect junior Foster Moreau to play a big role.

BATON ROUGE, LA – OCTOBER 01: Derrius Guice
BATON ROUGE, LA – OCTOBER 01: Derrius Guice /

One area LSU won’t have to worry about is the run game.  The Tigers return the SEC’s leading rusher from 2016 in Derrius Guice.

Guice began the year backing up LSU star Leonard Fournette, but with Fournette battling injuries for most of the season, Guice took over.  And took over he did.  Guice finished 2016 with 1387 yards and 15 TDs.  Even though Matt Canada was brought in to modernize the LSU offense, it’s fair to assume that Guice and the run game will still be the focal point of the offense.  Along the offensive line, LSU returns three starters, including left tackle KJ Malone and center Will Claap.  The line, as usual, should be a strong point.

Related Story: WATCH: Bryce Harper talks Dak during MLB All Star Game

A Look at the Tiger’s Defense and Special Teams

LSU made what was perhaps the best hire of 2016 when they brought in defensive coordinator Dave Aranda from Wisconsin.  LSU has always been great defensively, but after having a slight drop-off under Kevin Steele in 2015, Aranda returned the squad to it’s typical elite form.  The Tigers ranked in the top-10 nationally in both yards and points allowed per game, yielding just 314.4 yards and 15.8 points per game.

Despite his early success, Aranda’s unit may take a bit of a step back in 2017.  The Tigers return just four starters on the defensive side of the ball, and they lose their top-five tacklers from a year ago.  Also, of their seven players who recorded an interception, only two return (3 combined picks).  The good news for LSU is that, given their years of recruiting at an elite level, there’s plenty of talent on the roster to prevent any major decline.

The other good news for LSU is that one of their returning starters is Arden Key, who many consider to be the best defensive player in the SEC.  An edge-rusher, Key is the SEC’s leading returner in sacks after recording 12 last season.  He also the team’s top returning tackler with 56 in 2016.  There are some concerns with Key, though, as he missed all of spring practices due to personal reasons and is also rehabbing from a recent shoulder surgery.  Coach O stated at media days that is optimistic about Key making a return, but he’s uncertain about how long it will take.

BATON ROUGE, LA – NOVEMBER 19: Austin Appleby
BATON ROUGE, LA – NOVEMBER 19: Austin Appleby /

Also returning along the defensive front are tackle Greg Gilmore and end Christian LaCouture, who chose to return to LSU after missing all of last season due to injury.  Neither player has made a huge impact throughout their time in Baton Rouge, but both are solid players who could turn out big senior seasons.  Linebacker could be a position of concern for the Tigers as they lose both Duke Riley and Kendell Beckwith, both of whom went over 90 tackles in their final season.  Senior Donnie Alexander is expected to try and fill the void left at the position.  As a backup in 2016, Alexander made 45 tackles and one pick.

LSU returns a pair of starters in the secondary in corner Donte Jackson (2 INTs and 8 PBU) and safety John Battle (39 tackles), but they lose two 1st round draft picks in Tre’Davious White and Jamal Adams.  One of the players expected to step-up is junior corner Kevin Toliver.  Toliver excelled as a freshman in 2015, and he was named a freshman all-American.  Injuries plagued his sophomore season, causing him to miss the majority of the year.  Now healthy, Toliver will be a key part of the Tiger’s defense this fall.

LSU will have to find a replacement for kicker Colby Delahoussaye, who went 11-15 as a senior.  It’ll be a three-way battle for the position between senior Cameron Gamble, sophomore Jack Gonsoulin, and freshman Connor Culp.  At punter, Australian Josh Growden returns as the starter (41.4 yards per punt in 2016).  Donte Jackson will likely handle return duties.


Even with a new head coach and offensive coordinator, this team screams classic LSU.  Strong defense, physical run game, and inconsistent quarterback play.  While Matt Canada was hired to fix the problem at quarterback, it’s unlikely to see any major improvements in 2017.  Danny Etling simply isn’t going to be a game-changer, and there isn’t enough proven depth in the receiving corps to help the cause.

The Tigers should be able to “out-talent” and “out-physical” most of the teams they face, but those who can match-up with them and stop their run game (i.e. Alabama) will have success against them.  That doesn’t necessarily bode well for MSU, as they don’t have the talent to match-up with the Tigers at almost every position.

The one spot MSU will have a major advantage at is at quarterback.  Nick Fitzgerald gives the Bulldogs an edge, and against an LSU defense that may still be piecing things together in week 3, State will need him to have a big game if they want any shot at a victory.

This game may be the most important on MSU’s schedule.  A win could catapult State into a 2014-like run.  A loss likely means another average season.  Under Mullen, MSU has typically played well against the Tigers. Despite that, he still has beaten them just once.  2017 presents him with a good opportunity to grab another elusive win versus the boys from Baton Rouge.  LSU will likely still be in a rebuilding mode that early in the season, and a trip to Starkville could prove troublesome.

Next: Mississippi State lands Alabama's Mr. Football

The game plan should be rather simple for MSU.  The Bulldogs need to contain Guice and the running game, and Fitzgerald will need to capitalize on whatever opportunities LSU allows.  If they can do that, State will at least give themselves a chance at a win and a special season.  If they can’t do that, Bulldog fans will likely witness an all too familiar result.