Friday, November 9, 2012
For Tigers, no time to mope
By Gary Laney
BATON ROUGE, La. -- So you're LSU and you woke up Sunday morning feeling sorry for yourself.
Your goal for back-to-back SEC championships and your fifth league title in 11 years were dashed when Alabama drove for a last-minute touchdown and a 21-17 win Saturday night in Tiger Stadium. You won't be able to go to the BCS championship game for a second straight year and for the fourth time since the 2003 season.
That's tough, sure.
But at least you aren't Mississippi State.
LSU will have to account for Mississippi State's Johnthan Banks, one of college football's top cornerbacks.
The Bulldogs have never -- not once -- won an SEC championship game since the league has gone to divisions (they only played in it once), and the Bulldogs haven't won an SEC title since 1941. MSU played its final game of that season a day before Japan dropped bombs on Pearl Harbor. One could say they haven't won a conference title since before World War II.
So don't feel sorry for yourself, Tigers. At 7-2, 3-2, LSU could still add a BCS bowl berth to its résumé this season, most likely the Sugar Bowl, a game which MSU has never participated in despite being an SEC member in good standing since it began in 1933. The Bulldogs, in fact, have never played in a BCS bowl game and haven't played in one of the games that would eventually become BCS bowls since it beat Georgetown in the 1941 Orange Bowl.
And here's the thing LSU has to worry about today when the Bulldogs come to Baton Rouge hoping to snap a 12-game losing streak to the Tigers: MSU is also 7-2, 3-2, and despite back-to-back lopsided losses to Alabama and Texas A&M, the Dogs still have a shot at, by their standards, a historically strong season. By sweeping their remaining three games to finish 10-2 and second in the SEC West, they could contend for that elusive Sugar Bowl spot or possibly a Cotton Bowl bid.
One team's consolation might be the other's grand prize.
Three Bulldogs to watch
CB Jonthan Banks: A preseason All-American by some publications, he has lived up to it with four interceptions and nine passes defended. He forms a lethal pair of cornerbacks with Darius Slay, who also has four interceptions. The Bulldogs, however, have been torched in the passing game lately.
RB LaDarius Perkins: Third in the SEC with 804 rushing yards, Perkins is a workhorse (17 carries a game, second-most in the SEC) capable of keeping a defense honest.
QB Tyler Russell: The SEC's fifth-leading passer, Russell will likely get to 2,000 passing yards against the Tigers (he enters with 1,954) and has an impressive touchdown-to-interception ratio of 16 to 3.
Three Tigers to watch
RB Jeremy Hill: Hill is the first LSU running back since Charles Scott in 2008 to record three straight 100-yard rushing games. He leads an LSU rushing attack that has had seven individual 100-yard rushing games, the most of the Les Miles era.
CB Tharold Simon: Mississippi State has a good deep threat in Chad Bumphis (seven receiving TDs), so LSU's top cornerback will have to be at the top of his game.
DE Sam Montgomery: Sonic Sam has five sacks and 10 tackles for loss, both team highs. He'll need to lead the charge in pressuring Russell into mistakes.
LSU QB Zach Mettenberger versus MSU's secondary: Mettenberger is coming off his best game, a 24-for-35, 298-yard performance against Alabama. Even after such a solid performance, he remains ninth in the SEC in passing (1,717 yards) and 12th in efficiency. The question is, has he and the passing game turned the corner, or were they one-hit wonders? If he can put together another strong performance against a talented-but-struggling Bulldogs secondary, that would be a sign that, indeed, the results are finally matching the talent.
By the numbers
8: The number of third-down passes for first down against Alabama by Mettenberger, which, according to ESPN Stats and Information, is tied for the most against a Nick Saban-coached Alabama team.
54: The number of rushes of double-digit yards allowed by Mississippi State, the most in the SEC, according to ESPN Stats & Info.
5: The number of touchdown passes allowed by LSU while blitzing, including T.J. Yeldon's game-winning 28-yard touchdown catch from A.J. McCarron in Alabama's win last week. LSU has two interceptions while blitzing. When not blitzing, the Tigers have 11 interceptions and have allowed just three touchdowns.