Miles says team has rebounded; Mullen talks challenge of playing LSU

LSU coach Les Miles, speaking in his customary lead off spot on Wednesday’s weekly SEC teleconference, said his team has responded well from the emotional toll of last Saturday’s 21-17 loss to No. 1-ranked Alabama and is eager to get back in the win column this Saturday against No. 22 Mississippi State.

“Our football team is very capable and has a need, a need to win,” Miles said. “A weekly need, and one they’ll play to Saturday night.

“I can tell you our practices have been good. They continue to improve and if they continue to do that we’ll finish this season strong.”

Miles was asked about the contributions, or lack thereof, from senior wide receiver Russell Shepard and sophomore tailback Kenny Hilliard.

Shepard had three carries for 22 yards against Alabama but no receptions. Hilliard didn’t have a carry against Alabama and rushed just three times for 5 yards against Texas A&M.

“We expect to get him more involved,” Miles said of Shepard. “There’s a number of snaps where we can play him. He’s a willing participant who will do anything we ask him to do. He’s important in every game plan.”

Miles was asked if the recent ascendency of freshman tailback Jeremy Hill – now LSU’s leading rusher with 429 yards and the first Tiger tailback with three straight 100-yard games since 2008 – has hurt Hilliard’s playing time.

“I think Hill is certainly coming,” Miles said. “Kenny Hilliard is a very quality back and had had some reasons for his slowed improvement. I don’t think there are any issues at this point and I look forward to him taking some snaps and getting more carries as we go forward.”

Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen spoke of the challenge of playing LSU on a Saturday night in Tiger Stadium, its stable of running backs and a suddenly hot Zach Mettenberger at quarterback.

“Obviously it’s an exciting challenge for us,” said Mullen, who is 0-3 against LSU. “Playing in Baton Rouge on a Saturday night is a tough challenge. We have to have a great week of practice.”

Mullen said LSU has the running backs to get an opponent “out of the gap” and “hit the home run. They have guys who can overpower you.”

Mullen said he has had his eye on Mettenberger since he was a high school quarterback in Watkinsville, Ga.

“He’s a very talented quarterback with a big arm,” Mullen said. “He’s getting used to the speed of the game in the SEC and he got hot (against Alabama). You take a talented guy and he gets hot, watch out.”

Though State has lost 19 of its last 20 to LSU, the Bulldogs have been more competitive under Mullen versus the Tigers.

They nearly pulled off an upset in 2009 in Starkville, losing 30-26, were beaten 29-7 in Baton Rouge in 2010 and made LSU grind out a 19-6 victory in Starkville last year.

“Our kids play hard,” Mullen said, “but we still haven’t closed the gap like I want. We still don’t have a win.

“In this league everyone knows LSU is loaded with talent from top to bottom. We have pretty good talent here, and if you play hard you have a shot.”

After a 7-0 start, State (7-2, 3-2 SEC) has lost its last two by a combined score of 76-20 to Alabama (38-7) and Texas A&M (38-13). No. 9-ranked LSU is also 7-2 and 3-2.