Opposite Beat Writer Q&A: Wilson Alexander, LSU

Mississippi State has a huge opportunity waiting for them Saturday in Baton Rouge.

The Bulldogs (2-0) can win their Southeastern Conference opener with a victory over LSU (1-1) at 5 p.m. Saturday.

For more on the Tigers, The Dispatch spoke with Wilson Alexander of The Advocate/The Times-Picayune. Alexander is in his fourth season covering LSU football and his second as senior editor of the LSU football newspaper.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

LSU started 1-1 with a loss to Florida State and a win over Southern. What do the Tigers’ expectations look like right now?
Alexander: They’re not that changed from what they were coming into the season. Of course, every LSU fan wants to win that opener against Florida State because it seemed like a game LSU could get, and obviously it was just a one-point loss at the end of one outing. messy. Everyone understood that this was going to be a year of ups and downs. It could be quite rocky. You look back at the bowl game last season, and LSU had less than 40 scholarship players available in the Texas Bowl. It was a lot for Brian Kelly to change, and I don’t think anyone reasonably expected him to be able to overhaul LSU in just one year. This thing takes time. I had a conversation with the sporting director during pre-season, and he said: “It’s not going to be a Picasso out of the box”. You have to be patient with that. It’s not that different from what LSU expected in the year, although he was less disciplined in that first game than you might think with Brian Kelly.

Mississippi State just beat a Pac-12 quarterback named Jayden — Arizona’s Laura Jayden. What have you seen so far from Arizona State’s Jayden Daniels transfer, and what challenges does he present for the Bulldogs’ defense?
Alexander: He is really fast. We knew this when we arrived because it hit 21 mph on a GPS number in practice at one point. The way he creates with his legs is really dynamic and quite effective for LSU. He had 114 rushing yards against Florida State and really backed up the whole offense and then really kicked it late in the second half. He’s now led eight straight touchdowns, which is pretty impressive. He was efficient. He always starts running a little earlier than maybe he should and looks down and stops making progress sometimes, but he and (wide receiver) Kayshon Boutte are definitely the guys that keep this offense going.

LSU lost Mason Smith for the Week 1 season but will return BJ Ojulari for this game. Can LSU pressure Will Rogers and make him uncomfortable, or will Rogers have time to separate LSU?
Alexander: We will see. LSU didn’t necessarily create a great pass rush, and it struggled to wrap up Jordan Travis in Game 1 against Florida State. The South game was their first without Mason Smith, but it’s hard to really take anything away from a game like this when you’re up 51-0 at halftime. We will have to see. LSU is going to find a lot more answers on really everything now that we come to the SEC game and especially in this opener against Mississippi State. It’s still a deep defensive line. Ali Gaye and BJ Ojulari are exceptionally talented rushers. Jaquelin Roy is a solid tackle. Even Mekhi Wingo, who replaces Mason Smith, was an all-SEC freshman last year at Missouri. They have talent, but whether they can actually go quarterback has largely been off-season talk. Now we’ll find out if what we’ve all suspected throughout the offseason is actually achievable.

What do you think are the biggest shifts in this game in favor of either team?
Alexander: Certainly, when you look at Mississippi State and this Air Raid offense, the fact that he’s up against a secondary that doesn’t get a lot of playing time together is a plus for Mississippi State. LSU’s corners felt like they proved something in Game 1 against Florida State. Other than getting beat on a flea flicker, they were really stuck on receivers in coverage and not allowing anything deep. It was a plus for them and they felt like they had proven something, but they weren’t faced with this kind of trick. They struggled a bit with communication in the first game. Brian Kelly thought they could solidify that by making some tweaks in terms of personnel, but they don’t have a lot of shots on the pitch together. That looks like an advantage for Mississippi State in this game as well as an experienced defensive front going up against LSU’s offensive line, which is still going strong. There’s a lot of shuffling there – again, there’s not a lot of cohesion on the offensive line. Those seem like two pretty big assets for the state of Mississippi. For LSU, playing at home is huge. It’s kind of a night game at Tiger Stadium. Who helps. The same goes for the fact that they start to click on the attack a little bit, using a certain tempo. They’ll get John Emery back. It remains to be seen what he will do in his first game in over a year. He was absent 643 days and did not play a football match. He’s a talented ball carrier who could give them more in attack.

If you’re comfortable making a prediction, how do you see Saturday’s game going?
Alexander: I don’t know a score yet, but I think at this point in the week, Mississippi State is going to win. It’s a talented team. I was surprised they weren’t in the top 25 like a lot of people earlier this week. It’s a game where they can prove they belong in that top 25. It seems to be Mike Leach’s best team since he’s been there, and they have a lot more experience. LSU is still figuring things out in a lot of different places, and it’s a tough place to be in the middle of a football season against a team that’s already cohesive and already has answers everywhere. While LSU tries to find those answers, Mississippi State already has them. I would say Mississippi State wins the game.

Theo DeRosa reports on Mississippi State sports for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter at @Theo_DeRosa.

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