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LSU set to play home opener against Mississippi State

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With two road games to start the 2010 season, the LSU Tigers finally get to play a game in front of the home crowd in Tiger Stadium. The Tigers picked up two wins in their time away from home and look to keep that winning streak alive against their first SEC Western foe on Saturday night. Mississippi State comes in with a 1-1 record after a tough loss to Auburn last week. The Bulldogs are well-coached and will look to finally knock off the Tigers after coming so close last year.

Keys to the game

LSU needs to get off to a fast start. The offense has sputtered except for some homerun plays by Russell Shepard, Rueben Randle and Stevan Ridley. Quarterback Jordan Jefferson has taken a lot of heat through the first part of the season and deservedly so. Jefferson had his worst game as a Tiger last week against a weak Vanderbilt team and has struggled to move the chains so far this year. He will need to get on track or the home crowd will begin to get restless. There’s too many weapons at his disposal not enjoy some success.

Get the ball to their playmakers. WR Russell Shepard has three touchdowns in two games this year, two of which have covered over 30 yards on end-arounds, where he simply outran every person on the field. He has got to touch the ball at least 10+ times a game because he is such a threat every time he touches the football. Starting running back Stevan Ridley got off to a rough start in the opener with fumbling problems, but made up for it last week against Vanderbilt with 17 carries for 159 yards and 1 TD. He has proven to be a workhorse back and gives the Tigers their best combination of speed and toughness in the ground game.

On the outside, Rueben Randle and Terrence Toliver are two of the best wideouts in the SEC. Other than one touchdown catch by Randle in the opener, both receivers have had a hard time getting the football. Jordan Jefferson has got to pick up his game and get these receivers the ball on the run and in space to make plays.

Continue to play lights out defense. Through the first three quarters of game one against UNC and all four against Vandy, this LSU defense has been lights out. The defensive line is getting after the quarterback and shutting down the running lanes. On the back end, the secondary was much improved in game two, albeit against a run-oriented Vandy team. After blown assignments in the fourth quarter against UNC, it was good to see the secondary play better. But, the test is still yet to come, and it probably won’t be this week against Mississippi State.

Defensive tackle Drake Nevis is playing like a man amongst boys and the youth movement is starting to get their feet wet. Ends Sam Montgomery and Kendrick Adams have both been impressive, with Montgomery recording a sack in each of the first two contests. The linebacking corps welcomed back Ryan Baker, who was out with a broken jaw, and you could see the immediate impact that he made when he came back into the lineup.

Continue to bust loose on special teams. Game one saw Patrick Peterson set a new record for return yardage for LSU and scored on an 87-yard punt return. Against Vandy, there wasn’t as much room to run and teams are beginning to kick away from Peterson after what he showed he’s capable of doing. LSU’s kick coverage has always been solid and should continue to tighten the clamp on opposing return men. This week should be no different as LSU’s kicking game gives the defense quite the advantage with the field position battle.

Give the crowd something to cheer for. You have to admit it, LSU fans are really hard to please. The Tigers are 2-0 after two road games and are coming home for the first time this season. Yet, why does it seem like everybody is unhappy? The obvious is the quarterback issues and, for a lot of fans, the coaching staff.

While you can’t please everybody, the fans in Tiger Stadium on Saturday night are looking for more to cheer for. Another offensive struggle will strike a nerve with many because fans see the meat of the schedule on the horizon. Armchair quarterbacks will yell for Jarrett Lee and Michael Ford to get in the game and maybe they deserve to. But the idea is to win. That is in the hands of the coaches, like it or not, and so far the team is winning. The fans need to give them the benefit of the doubt and trust that the staff knows what they are doing.

So let’s cheer for victory, not a backup getting into the game. LSU 31 MSU 14

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