Mississippi State’s stellar run game meets LSU

In a conference that prides itself on a bruising, physical brand
of football, Mississippi State and LSU do it better than most.

There’s nothing fancy about the Bulldogs’ offense, which
consists of a heavy dose of option plays and punishing runs between
the tackles. But don’t confuse simplicity with effectiveness –
Mississippi State has rushed for a combined 642 yards in games
against Memphis and Auburn.

Then there’s the LSU defense, which is one of the nation’s best.
The Tigers are giving up just 45.5 yards per game on the ground in
victories over Oregon and Northwestern State. After watching the
Oregon tape, MSU coach Dan Mullen joked that LSU might be too good
for the SEC.

”I’m sure they would win the NFC East this year,” Mullen
deadpanned.

With those numbers in mind, there’s no doubt where the most
valuable real estate will be at the line of scrimmage on Thursday
night when No. 25 Mississippi State (1-1) hosts No. 3 LSU (2-0) at
Davis Wade Stadium. Both teams seem to almost rejoice in the hard
hits to come in the SEC opener for both teams.

”Our guys are going to have to take the line of scrimmage,”
LSU coach Les Miles said. ”The nature of (Mississippi State’s)
offense is a physical brand. I think our guys will enjoy that
piece.”

The stakes in this Western Division showdown have rarely been
higher. LSU and Mississippi State meet as top 25 teams for the
first time in the 105-year history of the series. The Tigers have
won 11 straight games in the series dating back to 1999.

The Bulldogs hope they can end that streak thanks to an offense
that’s averaging 46.5 points per game. Mississippi State crushed
Memphis 59-14 in its season opener, but it was hard to tell how
impressive that was considering Memphis was coming off a 1-11
season. But the Bulldogs kept on piling up impressive offensive
numbers last weekend against Auburn – rushing for 333 yards and two
touchdowns in a 41-34 loss.

Vick Ballard rushed for a team-high 135 yards and a touchdown
against the Tigers while quarterback Chris Relf added 106 yards on
27 carries. LaDarius Perkins added 78 yards and a touchdown on 11
carries. The Bulldogs were able to consistently pick up big chunks
of yards with option running plays, which Perkins said has been the
result of hours of practice.

”We’ve been working on it a lot during camp and in the
spring,” Perkins said. ”At first, it was kind of hard with the
timing, but now we’ve got it down pat. It’s all about timing and
speed and knowing how to make the reads for the quarterbacks. When
you’ve got a great quarterback like Relf he knows how to make those
reads.”

Mullen said Mississippi State’s running game is more complicated
than most because it involves the quarterback, multiple running
backs and even receivers on occasion.

”Hopefully, we’ll keep defenses off balance because they don’t
know exactly where it’s coming from,” Mullen said. ”If we get
them to slow down because they’re not sure what’s happening with
the option, we get our offensive line rolling … that’s who we
depend upon and we can knock some people off the ball, get them to
play a little slower, and then we can hit some gaps and we’re able
to run.”

But LSU won’t be intimidated. Oregon had one of the most
explosive offenses in the nation last season but ran into a brick
wall against the Tigers in the season opener. Mullen said LSU’s
defense is so effective because of its speed, which often negates
the advantages that come with running a spread offense.

Still, LSU defensive tackle Michael Brockers said Mississippi
State’s run game is an entirely different animal.

”Oregon tried to run east and west and get you out of your
gaps. (Mississippi State) doesn’t really care where you are;
they’ll try to move you out of your gaps,” Brockers said. ”That’s
the biggest difference, them being more physical than Oregon was
trying to zone you out of your gaps. These guys are really trying
to power you out of there.”

Notes: Mullen said he expects center Quentin Saulsberry (knee)
to be available for the LSU game after leaving the Auburn game in
the second half. Mullen was not as optimistic about left tackle
James Carmon (leg), who left in the first half of the Auburn game
and didn’t return. Carmon’s backup is redshirt freshman Blaine
Clausell. … Cornerback Corey Broomfield (thumb) had a cast on his
right hand but said the injury is just a sprain and he expects to
play against LSU. … Mississippi State has been in the top 25 for
nine straight weeks dating back to last season, which is the
program’s longest streak since 1999.

AP Sports Writer Brett Martel contributed to this story.

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