By JOEL COLEMAN
At some point late last Saturday night as Mississippi State was finishing up its win over Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg, LSU was down in Baton Rouge packing up to go home.
The Tigers’ game against McNeese State was cancelled after just a few short minutes of play due to ongoing storms in the area, so when No. 14 LSU heads to Starkville this week for its Top 25 matchup against the 25th-ranked Bulldogs, it’ll serve as the season opener for the Tigers.
As MSU head coach Dan Mullen met with members of the local media on Tuesday during his weekly press conference, the Bulldogs’ seventh-year leader said he wasn’t sure which team the unique circumstances favored.
“I don’t know that there is an advantage or a disadvantage,” Mullen said. “The advantage for us is that our guys played in a very tough road environment against, to me, what is an in-state rivalry. For our younger guys it is great to get a game under our belt. (LSU) also has the advantage that they are fresh. They didn’t have to play last week. Their players are all fresher and ready to go. They have a new defensive staff and you don’t get to see what they are doing on defense. You don’t get to see where all of their new guys are positioned. They have a bunch of new starters and you don’t get to see how they are going to utilize those players. I think there are probably advantages and disadvantages on both sides. I don’t know that one really outweighs the other.”
While LSU will have the ability to examine every snap of MSU’s 34-16 win over the Golden Eagles, the Bulldogs won’t have the luxury of similarly breaking apart the Tigers. Such creates a challenging scenario for Mullen and company, but that doesn’t mean the Bulldogs won’t have any means to prepare.
Current LSU defensive coordinator Kevin Steele spent last year as a linebackers coach at Alabama. Likewise, LSU defensive line coach Ed Orgeron is no stranger to coaching college football. Mullen says part of getting ready for Saturday is looking back at last year’s meeting between MSU and LSU, and studying the past tendencies of the Tigers coaches.
“You are going through last year’s films to watch personnel,” Mullen said. “You are going through Alabama’s stuff to look at more scheme of where they came from. You can peek at USC stuff with Ed Orgeron as the defensive line coach. You are not real sure what they are going to draw from it schematically and then personnel, you’re watching the players play but you do not know how they are going to do something in a different scheme. On that aspect of us on the offensive side of the ball, it is really hard to prepare for. Most of our focus has to be on ourselves and our own execution. We have to do what we do well.”
- Calhoun expected to play
Mississippi State senior cornerback Taveze Calhoun did not play against Southern Miss last Saturday while recovering from a knee injury. Though Mullen said Calhoun could have gotten on the field, the decision was made to hold him out as a precautionary measure.
This week, it appears Calhoun is on track to make his season debut.
“(Calhoun) should be cleared right now, he’s just got a little extra swelling and (the trainers) want to make sure he’s 100 percent,” Mullen said. “Hopefully he heals up the right way this week and he’s ready to play.”
- Nick James impresses
In his first career start last Saturday, senior defensive tackle Nick James impressed Mullen. Though James recorded just one tackle for the night, Mullen said James was at the top of his game.
“I think that’s the best I have ever seen (James) play, including practice,” Mullen said. “I really was pleased with a lot of the way he played. There is a lot that he can grow off of. Obviously we need him to play at a much higher level than that. When he gets to watch himself on tape, he can see how he needs to play with the effort he needs to play with and do a lot of things better. Hopefully that will be a huge stepping stone for him moving forward.”
James did receive a personal foul penalty in the game, and Mullen said James might could have been flagged for another. Mullen said part of James’ progression is getting him to reel in his emotions.
“He is so emotional that he gets carried away with things sometimes,” Mullen said. “I don’t want him to lose his emotion because that is who he is, but I think he has got to learn how to channel his emotions into positive playmaking things instead of some silly stuff at times on the field.”
- Mullen recounts lessons learned
In last year’s meeting, Mississippi State was cruising towards a blowout win over LSU before the Tigers made a late charge to tighten things up to just a 34-29 MSU victory.
Mullen said the night was a learning experience for him as a coach as he recalled the events on Tuesday.
“I don’t think, for me as a coach, that I put us in the best situation in the fourth quarter,” Mullen said. “There were a couple of things that I could have done. We had a drive in the red zone late and I had our backups in. We could have used one more score in that situation. We ended up giving up a quick touchdown against our backups, then I left our backups in another series. I really should not have done that, especially on the road in that environment with a team as talented and explosive as LSU. We have to make sure we finish the game. I thought our guys competed the entire 60 minutes. It was much more me than our players. I put us in a poor situation.”