LSU-Mississippi St. Preview
By MATT BEARDMORE
(AP) -- Despite missing its starting quarterback and one of its top receivers, LSU is off to a quick start.
Even on a short week, coach Les Miles expects more good things from his team.
The third-ranked Tigers open SEC play Thursday night when they visit No. 25 Mississippi State.
Quarterback Jordan Jefferson is suspended indefinitely following an arrest stemming from a bar fight Aug. 19 and receiver Russell Shepard is suspended the first three games for an NCAA rules violation, but the Tigers haven't slowed down with senior Jarrett Lee under center.
After leading LSU to a 40-27 victory over then-No. 3 Oregon on Sept. 3 in Arlington, Texas, Lee completed 9 of 10 passes for 133 yards and a touchdown in the first half of Saturday's 49-3 home-opening win over Northwestern State.
Backup Zach Mettenberger replaced Lee for the entire second half, and other Tigers starters also took advantage of the rout to get some rest on a short week.
"Everyone knows what this team is capable of, and yes it is going to be difficult with that quick of a turnaround, but I'm confident we will be fine," said sophomore cornerback Tyrann Mathieu, who leads the team with 14 tackles.
Miles shares that feeling.
"I look forward to it, to be honest with you," he said. "I think the change in schedule will be good for us."
Miles had to be pleased with the Tigers holding the Demons' to minus-4 yards rushing, but LSU faces a Bulldogs team ranked sixth in the FBS with 321.0 rushing yards per game.
Senior Vick Ballard, who ran for a career-best 166 yards in a 59-14 season-opening victory at Memphis on Sept. 1, leads Mississippi State (1-1, 0-1) with 301 yards and four TDs.
Senior quarterback Chris Relf has carried a team-high 40 times for 157 yards.
"We have good balance," coach Dan Mullen said. "Our offensive line does a good job creating seams and gaps, and then we have good balance."
Mullen said the offensive line is one of the most experienced units on the team, but that group could be without senior center Quentin Saulsberry (sprained knee) and senior left tackle James Carmon (leg), who were both injured in Saturday's 41-34 loss at Auburn.
Carmon was on crutches for the second half and watched as Relf was stuffed at the goal line on the game's final play.
"We didn't come up with the big inch," Relf said. "I should have made the play."
The Bulldogs couldn't make a final play the last time LSU was in town, a 30-26 Tigers victory Sept. 26, 2009. LSU stopped Mississippi State three times inside the 3-yard line in the final minutes to win its fifth straight in Starkville.
The Tigers won their 11th in a row in this matchup last Sept. 18, 29-7 in Baton Rouge.
Mullen had to gameplan for Jefferson the last two times these teams met, but now his focus is on pressuring Lee, who has completed 19 of 32 passes for 231 yards with two TDs and no interceptions.
"He's a great manager of the game," Mullen said. "He makes all the throws he needs to throw in the key situations for them, and he puts them in a great position to win football games."
Covering wide receiver Rueben Randle (131 yards, TD) could be a challenge for the Bulldogs, who will also have to slow down the backfield combination of Michael Ford (168 yards, four TDs) and Spencer Ware (119 yards, three scores).
LSU is 68-33-3 versus Mississippi State.
Updated September 12, 2011