How the Mississippi State pass rush can help Bulldogs upset LSU
Mississippi State is on the road against LSU as a 14-point underdog, which makes sense when you consider that the Bulldogs lost the season opener against South Alabama. That being said, they rebounded with a much better performance and a win against South Carolina, and have a pair of pass-rushers that can make life very difficult for Danny Etling, if he does indeed start at quarterback for the Tigers. If Mississippi State is to score the upset, it will be because A.J. Jefferson and Johnathan Calvin are able to get the better of K.J. Malone and Toby Weathersby.
Why Jefferson and Calvin can win
In short, Jefferson and Calvin can and will win if they are as productive as they were last week. Both made out SEC Team of the Week, and Jefferson made the national one too, because they were two of the very best pass-rushers in the nation last week. Jefferson was outstanding against the run, but made a big impact as a pass rusher too, racking up a sack, a hit and two hurries on 36 pass rushing snaps.
Calvin didn’t have the same impact against the run, but was outstanding as a pass-rusher. Rushing the passer 29 times, he picked up a sack and five hurries. Our pass rushing productivity rating measures pressure on a per snap basis, with weighting towards sacks and hits. In Week 2, Calvin’s 13.8 PRP rating was tied for the 10th best rating among all 3-4 linebackers in the nation. He got started early, beating left tackle Mason Zandi on 3rd-and-7 with 14:15 left in the first quarter.
The concern for Bulldogs fans will be that last week was just an outlier for Calvin, after a poor performance where he was shut out as a pass-rusher against South Alabama. This, after managing just one sack, seven hits and 12 hurries on 154 pass rushing snaps in 2014. That worked out at an average of a pressure once every 7.7 pass rushing attempts. That’s still better than average, but is a considerable step behind the top pass rushers in the conference, with Texas A&M’s Myles Garrett averaging a pressure every 5.4 pass rushing attempts. Thankfully, Jefferson has been more consistent, and graded well in both games so far this year.
Why Malone and Weathersby can win
Left tackle K.J. Malone has his ups and downs in the opening game of the year against Wisconsin, allowing a sack and three hurries on just 22 pass blocking snaps against Wisconsin. Against lower opposition in Jacksonville State he was much improved though, and didn’t give up a single sack hit or hurry on 23 pass-blocking snaps. Obviously the level of competition played a factor there, but it’s definitely encouraging that he was able to show improvement from a tough first week.
Weathersby did allow a sack and a hurry against Jacksonville State, but didn’t allow a single pressure against Wisconsin in Week 1. Most of those snaps came against T.J Watt, who is our 23rd highest graded edge rusher so far this season, so he has shown himself capable against more than solid opposition.
The concern for LSU fans for both tackles is inexperience. Including this season, Malone has played just 237 snaps in his career while Weathersby has played only slightly more at 262. For tackles sometimes experience can have a huge impact, so this is an area that Mississippi State can exploit.
What the grades say
Based on last week, this is a matchup that strongly favors the Mississippi State pair. Calvin had an overall grade of 83.4, giving him the edge over left tackle Malone at 74.0. On the other side Jefferson has the edge over Weathersby, out grading him 87.0 to 69.1 last week. It’s worth noting that Jefferson and Calvin do switch sides, but with both out-grading the LSU tackles, this is a matchup that could turn the Bulldogs from 14-point underdogs to upset victors on Saturday afternoon.