When Tashawn Bower wrapped his arms around thick-framed Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott, a question flashed through the LSU defensive end’s mind.
“Geez,” he said he thought to himself, “this is a quarterback? Really?”
Bower is bracing for an even better Prescott when the 14th-ranked Tigers visit No. 25 Mississippi State on Saturday at Scott Field.
“I can’t imagine if he put on weight or (improved) his game speed this year,” Bower said Tuesday.
Bower and the Tigers defense rarely stopped Prescott and the Bulldogs in a 34-29 loss last season, the first defeat to State since 1999.
Prescott, a native of Haughton, accounted for 373 yards and three scores, and State rolled up 570 as a team, the most an LSU-coached Les Miles squad has ever given up. The loss, and the fashion in which it happened, sent the Tigers spiraling.
They lost 41-7 to Auburn two weeks later and finished the season 8-5, tied for the worst record under Miles. Not to mention that the defeat sent shock waves through college football. After all, LSU had won 14 straight games over State and never had allowed so many yards in more than a decade.
Revenge time, right?
Miles didn’t dance around the question Tuesday, though he answered in his own way.
“Our guys recognize having finished second,” he said.
So how do the Tigers plan to stop the Bulldogs on Saturday night in Starkville?
First off, tackle Prescott, the 6-foot-2, 230-pound Heisman Trophy hopeful. It’s no easy task. Just ask the guys who tried, and failed, to do it last season.
“I wrapped around him, thought I had him for a sack. I brought him down, but he threw the ball,” defensive tackle Christian LaCouture said. “Just got to make sure we’ve got to prevent those big-time plays and collapse the pocket and make him feel uncomfortable back there.”
That’s mostly on the shoulders of defensive tackles LaCouture, Davon Godchaux and Greg Gilmore, expected to be the No. 3, rotating tackle. The group struggled last season in this game.
Prescott danced around and pummeled his way to 105 yards. Overall, State ran for 270 yards and 12 first downs between the tackles, according to ESPN stats and info. That’s right at guys like LaCouture and Godchaux, LSU’s starting tackles.
“That’s one of the biggest things for me and Godchaux, to push it up the middle and get off blocks,” LaCouture said.
The reasons for LSU’s defensive woes last season extended beyond the inside guys. LSU had 19 missed tackles against State, many of them from defensive backs, and the communication between the line, linebackers and secondary broke down several times, players said.
“If someone’s calling out what they think the play might be and it turns out to be that play and no one else hears it, it’s going to cause a huge run or huge pass,” Bower said.
State had plenty of those.
Prescott, running back Josh Robinson and the rest of the offense had 10 plays of 20 yards or more against John Chavis’ defense. Nearly half of State’s plays went for 5 yards or more, according to ESPN stats and info.
Plenty has changed since then, of course. Kevin Steele has replaced Chavis as LSU’s defensive coordinator. Robinson has been replaced by Ashton Shumpert and speedster Brandon Holloway, who returned a kick 100 yards for a score in State’s win last week at Southern Miss.
Nothing’s much different, though, about Prescott.
“He’s as good a college quarterback as there is,” Miles said. “I think the key piece to what we’re going to try to do this week is prepare tackling. If we do that, I think it will make a difference.”
That’s not always easy — no, definitely not against a guy like Prescott.
“He’s not one of those guys … 180, 175 pounds guys where you can hit him and he’ll probably go down,” LaCouture said.
Said linebacker Kendell Beckwith: “It’s like tackling a fullback.”
Follow Ross Dellenger on Twitter @DellengerAdv.