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Mississippi State's passing woes hinder Hill's production

(AP Photo/Butch Dill, File)

By PAUL JONES

Associated Press

STARKVILLE, Miss. (AP) Mississippi State's lack of a consistent passing attack is hampering running back Kylin Hill's production.

With opposing defenses loading up to stop the ground game, Hill hasn't gained as many as 50 yards in either of the Bulldogs' last two games - steep drop from his 100-plus yards in each of his first four games this season.

Next up is No. 2 LSU (6-0, 2-0 Southeastern Conference), which has the SEC's second-ranked run defense.

Hill opened the SEC season with a bang, rushing for 120 yards and three touchdowns in a 28-13 victory over Kentucky last month. But it's been a different story lately as Mississippi State (3-3, 1-2) has dropped two straight games. In a 56-23 loss to No. 11 Auburn, Hill was held to 45 yards on 17 carries. The regression continued last week with 13 yards on 11 carries as Mississippi State fell 20-10 to Tennessee.

"There were some schematic things we could've done better," Mississippi State head coach Joe Moorhead said. Tennessee "didn't do anything out of the ordinary from what we had seen on tape. But I think we have to play with more physicality, play with more strain and more finish. Then there's things we should do to get Kylin more on the perimeter, and that is something I point to myself that we can get done better."

An inconsistent passing game hasn't helped, either.

The Bulldogs have dealt with injuries and inexperience at quarterback, whether it's senior Tommy Stevens or freshman Garrett Shrader. Moorhead has said Shrader will start against LSU.

In their first four games of the season, the Bulldogs were completing 72 percent of their pass attempts. But that number is barely over 50 percent in the past two games, allowing opponents to creep more defenders closer to the line of scrimmage.

"Kylin is still over 600 yards (rushing) and over 100 yards a game," Moorhead said. "Obviously the last two games have not been up to standard, but that's going to happen."

Hill could have a tough time finding running room against LSU. The Tigers are yielding just 91.8 yards rushing per game and 2.8 yards per carry and are as healthy as they've been all season.

Last week, defensive linemen Rashard Lawrence and Glen Logan returned after each missing three games. They rejoined K'Lavon Chaisson, who'd returned a week earlier after missing two games. In the meantime, reserves gained valuable experience. Some, like Justin Thomas, demonstrated that they belonged in the regular rotation even after the starters returned.

"With us all back it just gives us a boost in confidence. We need each other a lot," Logan said. "Everyone's getting the same amount of snaps, same amount of reps at practice."

During Moorhead's offensive coordinator days at Penn State, defenses tried various ways to slow down All-America running back and eventual first-round draft pick Saquon Barkley. But Penn State often responded effectively through the air.

"There were games at Penn State where we arguably had the best player in the country," Moorhead said. "Defenses were trying to do some unique things to try to keep it down. But the difference was, when that was happening, we were able to create explosive plays down the field in the pass game.

"That's something I've talked about in the past," Moorhead continued. "When they are bottling up the run game, we got to find a way to take advantage of it and move the ball."

While the Bulldogs have been less successful doing that, LSU's defense has been vulnerable to giving up chunks of yardage - and points - against the type of spread out, run-pass option offense Moorhead runs. The Tigers allowed four 75-yard touchdown drives against Florida and trailed 28-21 early in the second half before pulling away late. In LSU's only other game against a major conference opponent, the Tigers gave up 530 yards and 38 points at Texas .

LSU coach Ed Orgeron said his defense's performance in a back-and-forth, 21-all first half against Florida was "not acceptable," and that he called a staff meeting Monday morning to address it.

"We're looking at things we're doing structural, technique-wise," Orgeron said. "We got to get better."

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AP Sports Writer Brett Martel in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, contributed to this report.

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Updated October 17, 2019

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