STARKVILLE, Mississippi - The real season starts now. No. 11 LSU (2-0) opens the Southeastern Conference season at 6 p.m. Saturday here against Mississippi State (2-0) on ESPN.
Then it ends for two weeks, though, as the Tigers host Syracuse and Troy before seven SEC opponents in eight weeks. So this will be more of a soft opening, but it will not be easy for the Tigers.
Here are five items to keep your eyes on:
1.THAT STARKVILLE SOUND: Only in the SEC, can one of the sleepiest towns in the league be the loudest on game day. AC/DC's "Hells Bells" sounds like a nursery rhyme next to this place. And it's not just the cowbells, which can be deafening and just plain irritating. And it's not just the fans. Davis Wade Stadium seats only 61,337. That's a bad crowd at Tiger Stadium. It's the speaker system. Starkville may be not much to see. But it is definitely heard on game days and nights seemingly throughout the delta and beyond.
It will be LSU quarterback Danny Etling's first time amid the Call of the Cows. Same for right guard Ed Ingram and most of the Tigers' receivers. They will literally have to read Etling's lips.
"We have to get the snap count down," said LSU coach Ed Orgeron, who used a John Deere tractor to put speakers right behind Etling and the offense at practice this week. "We played their fight songs and crowd noise and cowbells and all that stuff. I got tired of it. We need to get the offense going, because that's when it's going to be the loudest."
2.MISSISSIPPI STATE DEFENSE: The Bulldogs' defense of first-year coordinator Todd Grantham could be as bothersome to Etling and company as the noise. State is No. 1 in the SEC in pass defense with just 89 yards allowed a game and is fourth in sacks with five. LSU center Will Clapp and company will have to contain defensive tackle Jeffery Simmons - all 6-foot-4 and 307 pounds of him. In the 57-21 win at Louisiana Tech last week, Simmons blocked a punt and recovered it in the end zone for a touchdown and he returned a fumble 90 yards for a touchdown. He already has 10 tackles on the season. LSU did fare well against Grantham when he was defensive coordinator at Louisville last season. The Tigers totaled 394 yards in a 29-9 win.
3.DANNY ETLING: The LSU quarterback is No. 3 in the SEC in pass efficiency at 189.5 on 22-of-31 passing for 398 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions. Yes, that came against BYU and Chattanooga, but it is still rare air for LSU quarterbacks. Etling leads the SEC in yards in the air per attempt at 13.9, according to @CFB Film Room on Twitter. He has also looked very good in new offensive coordinator Matt Canada's play action passing game.
"Danny is hiding the ball very well," Orgeron said. "And he's hitting them on the money."
4.ARDEN KEY - The LSU outside linebacker makes his 2017 debut after missing the first two games recovering from shoulder surgery last May. Key is a bit overweight after a curious leave of absence last spring, which meant he missed spring drills. He needs to show sooner rather than later that he still has his 2016 form when he set a school record with 12 sacks, or his high first round draft stock could plummet as quickly as it rose last year. It will be fun to see if LSU defensive coordinator Dave Aranda puts Key, his backup K'Lavon Chaisson, who has two sacks, and Corey Thompson, the outside linebacker on the other side who has 3.5 sacks for second in the SEC, on the field at the same time.
5.NICK FITZGERALD - The Mississippi State quarterback is a legitimate dual threat as he is No. 3 in the SEC in total offense with 257.5 yards a game - 181.5 passing and 76 rushing. Good thing Key is back. LSU could also use top defensive lineman Rashard Lawrence, who is expected to miss the game with an injured ankle. But he has made the trip, so maybe he'll get in if needed.
PREDICTION: So far so good. We picked LSU to beat BYU, 23-17. It was 27-0. We picked LSU to beat Chattanooga, 47-7. It was 45-10. This week, LSU recovers from a slow start amid the clangs and reverb to overpower the Bulldogs, 20-16, as tailback Derrius Guice gains 156 yards on 22 carries with a 47-yard touchdown run.
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