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September 27, 2008

Mississippi State braces for No. 5 LSU

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) _ Watching the way Mississippi State unraveled last week didn't make Les Miles feel any better about No. 5 LSU's prospects against the Bulldogs this weekend.

Mississippi State looked lost in a 38-7 defeat at Georgia Tech, whose option rolled up a whopping 438 yards rushing. The fact that MSU (1-3, 0-1 Southeastern Conference) seemed to have trouble stopping the run should be good news for LSU (3-0, 1-0), which has been riding the emergence of bruising running back Charles Scott to a team average of 220 yards rushing per game.

Miles, however, sees MSU as a conference foe that won a bowl game last season, held No. 15 Auburn without a touchdown a couple weeks ago, and now will be looking for redemption on Saturday night.

"We're not going to run the same offense that Georgia Tech ran. They run a nice little option offense ... that is very difficult to get ready for in a week," Miles said. "Certainly, our opponent had a very difficult time defending them. I can only tell you that they did not have that difficulty defending a very potent Auburn offense."

Mississippi State anticipated a better start after going 8-5 last season with a victory in the Liberty Bowl, which helped earn coach Sylvester Croom a two-year contract extension.

Suddenly, Croom is feeling some heat again after the Bulldogs lost three of their first four games, including 22-14 upset to Louisiana Tech and a 3-2 defeat to Auburn.

"Our players are frustrated, our coaches are, I am frustrated, and I think our fans are - matter of fact I have no doubt that our fans are frustrated and I understand that," Croom said. "We all expected to be in a better situation than we are in right now. The only thing that I can say is that we had some awfully good things happen to us last year. We got some breaks last year. We are having some things go against us right now.

"Maybe this is what we need. I think the guys have got pride and I think they'll respond to the challenge."

And a challenge it will be.

LSU has won eight straight and 15 of 16 against Mississippi State, not to mention that the Tigers haven't lost a Saturday night game in Death Valley to anyone since 2002, when Nick Saban was the coach.

Miles is undefeated against Mississippi State, including a 45-0 victory in Starkville last year. And the last time the Bulldogs walked out of Tiger Stadium in triumph was back in 1991.

The oddsmakers certainly don't expect this game to be close. LSU is favored by a little more than three touchdowns.

LSU had its share of doubters after Miles dismissed Ryan Perrilloux and was forced to open this season with a pair of inexperienced quarterbacks competing for the starting job. Andrew Hatch has excelled as a scrambler, running the option and completing short, high-percentage throws. But his running got him in trouble last week; a heavy hit gave him a concussion and put him out of the Auburn game. Miles said he hopes to get Hatch back on the field this week, but LSU also wants to see if Jarrett Lee can continue what he started in the second half at Auburn, when he seemed to conjure a newfound sense of composure and led LSU to a 26-21 comeback victory.

Lee looked indecisive and erratic late in the first half of that game, when his screen pass was intercepted for a touchdown that gave Auburn a 14-3 lead.

But after Hatch was shaken up early in the second half, Lee was 11-of-17 passing for 182 yards and two touchdowns during the final 22 minutes.

"Lee certainly had a great second half and showed leadership and did some good things," Miles said.

Mississippi State also plays two quarterbacks in Wesley Carroll (51-of-95, 528 yards, 3 TD, 6 INT) and Tyson Lee (30-of-45, 291 yards). MSU may need both the way LSU's defensive front, backed by an array of frequent blitzes, has been applying pressure in the backfield. Croom will need Anthony Dixon to play well to force LSU to respect the run and take pressure off of the passing game.

Croom also is concerned about LSU kick and punt returner Trindon Holliday, who had a 92-yard punt return for a touchdown against North Texas. Holliday mishandled a couple punts at Auburn, but Croom seemed to think that was an aberration.

"I just got through watching a horror film. It was called the returns of Trindon Holliday and it was very scary," Croom said earlier this week. "As good as LSU is, this guy is probably the most frightening aspect of this football team. ... When he has the ball in his hands we don't have anybody that can catch him. I don't think anybody in the country has someone that can catch this guy. So we are going to have to do an excellent job in the kicking game to make sure that the ball is put in a place where he can't get his hands on it"


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