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July 18, 2011

Know thy enemy: LSU

Mississippi State hasn't beat LSU in football, home, away or neutral since 1999, and that was the first win for the Bulldogs over the Tigers since 1991. Safe to say, LSU has had MSU's number the last two decades. Over the last two years, however, games have been closer and all who watched remember MSU coming up inches short of victory over LSU in 2009.

Now in 2011, LSU is hoping to make a title run and MSU is attempting to break through in the SEC West. When the two play in Starkville in September on a Thursday night on ESPN, there will be more on the line than just a mark in the win or loss columns. It will be LSU's first SEC game and MSU's second, coming five days after a matchup at Auburn.

Louisiana State Tigers

The Coach: If any coach needs no introduction, it is 'The Mad Hatter' himself, Les Miles. In addition to eating grass and mismanaging the final minutes of games, while still finding a way to come out on top, Miles has led the Bayou Bengals to an overall record of 62-17. Fifteen of those 17 losses have come from SEC opponents. Hired in 2005 to replace Nick Saban, Miles is 5-1 in bowl games with LSU and those teams have finished at least tied for either first or second in the SEC West in five of his six years as head coach. Prior to coaching LSU, Miles was the head coach at Oklahoma State, where he led the Cowboys to a 28-21 record and three bowl games in four seasons.

2010 In Review: By LSU's standards, 2010 was as close to a down season as it comes, as the Tigers tied with Arkansas for second in the SEC West. The Razorbacks went on to the Sugar Bowl (though that game technically didn't happen anymore) and LSU went west for a win in the Cotton Bowl. LSU won its first seven straight games of the 2010 season before losing to eventual national champion Auburn in October. They knocked off Alabama the next week but in the final week of the regular season, LSU lost 31-23 to Arkansas. The Tigers beat Texas A&M 41-24 in the Cotton Bowl to finish with an 11-2 record.

By The Numbers: Quarterbacked by junior Jordan Jefferson, LSU finished 11th in the SEC in total offense (86th nationally) with 341 yards per game while scoring 29.7 points per game. Stevan Ridley paced the running backs with 1,147 yards on the ground and 15 touchdowns. Senior Terrence Tolliver (579 yards, five touchdowns) and sophomore Rueben Randle (544 yards, three touchdowns) led the Tiger receivers. Jefferson completed 118 of his 209 passes for 1,411 yards, seven touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He was also the team's second leading rusher with 450 yards and seven touchdowns.

The LSU defense fared better in 2010, finishing third overall in the SEC and 12th in the country allowing 307.2 yards and 18.2 points per game. Senior middle linebacker Kelvin Sheppard paced the defense with 116 tackles, while the next closest was junior linebacker Ryan Baker with 87. Baker did, however, lead the team in sacks with seven, just ahead of senior defensive tackle Drake Nevis with six. Sophomore cornerback Morris Claiborne actually had one more interception (five) than all-everything corner Patrick Peterson (four).

2011 Preview: It may comfort some and worry others, but LSU is likely to go as far as Jefferson, now a senior, takes them. Word out of Louisiana is that Jefferson is a better and more focused player entering 2011, but the true test will be when he steps on the field. LSU lost its top rusher, top receiver, best defensive back, top tackler and reliable placekicker after the 2010 season, but Miles believes that a depth chart full of four and five-star players should prove to be adequate replacements.

Randle returns to anchor the receiving corps and junior Russell Shepard is expected to be a breakout player. Sophomore Spencer Ware is the presumptive starter at running back. He was quiet for most of 2010, but he grabbed his spot atop the depth chart when he racked up 102 yards in the Cotton Bowl. The Tigers return eight total starters on offense, and the offensive line is expected to be a strength for the team.

LSU returns seven starters from its stout defense of one year ago, including the leading sacker and intercepter in Baker and Claiborne. The Tigers are expected to start as many eight non-seniors on the unit, including a defensive line that may feature four first-time starters, though both starting ends from 2010 return. The Tigers also return two linebackers and two defensive backs from last year's defense.
LSU is one of the favorites to win the SEC and possibly the BCS National Championship, despite an unproven quarterback and big losses at key spots. Miles will need more of his seemingly endless luck to make a run through the SEC in 2011.


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