If LSU is going to be a serious contender in the SEC, it will likely have to get its offense playing as well as its defense.
The seventh-ranked Tigers begin a tough three-game stretch Saturday when they visit Mississippi State.
LSU (3-0, 1-0) has outscored opponents 85-35 but hasn’t had a clear dominating offensive performance against three seemingly overmatched foes.
That trend continued during last Saturday’s 31-3 win over Louisiana-Lafayette, as Jordan Jefferson completed 16 of 25 passes for 165 yards with two touchdowns and an interception.
The sophomore has struggled to throw the ball down field and hasn’t reached the 200-yard plateau in any of his 10 career games - five starts.
“He’s a young quarterback,” coach Les Miles said. “He’s still getting comfortable in his mechanics and understanding where he needs to put the football.
“He’s managing the game better. He pulls it down and runs at times. I think he can throw the deep ball a little bit more accomplished, and I think we’re going to work on that again and again, but he manages our game and really gets us out of trouble with his feet and does, in my opinion, a good job there.”
The Tigers are entering a three-game stretch that sees them visiting Mississippi State (2-1, 1-1) this week and No. 21 Georgia on Oct. 3 before an Oct. 10 home matchup with top-ranked Florida.
“Playing on the road is going to be difficult and we know that we are going to have to play better if we want to win,” Jefferson said. “We are just so close to busting some really big plays you can see that on the playing field. You really can. We are getting really close and I think it is going to come really soon.”
LSU’s defense has been solid and is coming off a dominating performance against the Ragin’ Cajuns, forcing three turnovers and allowing 272 yards. It hasn’t given up a touchdown for six quarters, with the last coming in a 23-9 win over Vanderbilt to open SEC play Sept. 12.
Safety Chad Jones played a key role against Louisiana-Lafayette, picking off a career-high two passes. The junior’s first interception led to an 11-yard TD run by Trindon Holliday before his second ended a long fourth-quarter drive by the Cajuns in Tigers’ territory.
“I definitely feel like I am more in the flow now,” said Jones, who was a reliever on LSU’s 2009 national champion baseball team and a member of the 2007 title-winning football team. “I’ve been trying to watch a little extra film with the coaching staff to try and have the best season I could possibly have. I’m looking forward to that.”
The Tigers have won nine in a row against the Bulldogs, outscoring them 374-105 dating to a 17-16 loss at Starkville on Oct. 23, 1999. They’ve won four in a row there since and took last year’s meeting 34-24 at home.
“They’re loaded with future NFL players and five-star recruits,” Bulldogs first-year coach Dan Mullen said. “There’s a reason they’re a top-10 team, so we are going to have to bring our A-game, play with tremendous effort, and have the support of our fans to win this game.”
Mullen, who was the offensive coordinator for the Gators’ last two national title teams, has Mississippi State off to a strong start after going 4-8 last year and finishing at the bottom of the SEC West with a 2-6 mark.
The Bulldogs won again last Saturday, surprising the Commodores 15-3 on the road as they allowed 157 yards—33 on the ground.
Their offense is centered around a quarterback rotation with senior Tyson Lee and sophomore Chris Relf.
Lee has completed 23 of 38 passes for 216 yards and a touchdown, and his 22-yard TD run sealed the win at Vanderbilt. Relf has rushed for 178 yards and a touchdown on 28 carries while going 14 of 25 for 167 yards with three scores and two INTs.
“I don’t think it has any effect on the players, because that’s the way we practice,” Mullen said of the rotation. “I think it has worked pretty good from a learning-curve standpoint.”