BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen has sought to drive home to his players that LSU’s past dominance of the Bulldogs shouldn’t mean a thing this Saturday night in Death Valley.
LSU coach Les Miles has been delivering much the same message to the eighth-ranked Tigers (3-0), warning them that they’ll have to ”earn the victory” over the unbeaten Bulldogs (3-0).
The Tigers have been listed as more than one-touchdown favorites, but they seem more comfortable taking their cues from Miles than from odds makers.
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”This is probably the best Mississippi State that I’ve seen,” LSU senior offensive tackle La’el Collins said. ”They have a great quarterback that’s mobile, that can do a lot of different things. I think that defense is going to come out really strong.”
LSU has won its past 14 games against Mississippi State and 21 of the past 22. The Bulldogs’ last victory in the series came in 1999 in Starkville, not in LSU’s Tiger Stadium, which is expected to be louder than ever thanks to the addition of new end zone seating that has increased capacity to more than 102,000.
”That is the loudest stadium in the conference,” Bulldogs running back Nick Griffin said. ”It’s crazy and their fans are crazy and full of energy. You just have to be prepared and tune all of that out.”
Much like Mullen wants the Bulldogs to tune out talk of their unflattering record against LSU during the past couple decades.
”Every game we have ever played there has no impact on this game,” Mullen said.
Led by dynamic quarterback Dak Prescott, Mississippi State hasn’t had any close calls in its first three outings, outscoring opponents 131-37 combined.
LSU had a rough first 33 minutes of its season, falling behind Wisconsin 24-7. Since then, however, LSU has outscored its opponents 108-0, starting with 21 consecutive points in a second-half comeback over the Badgers.
Now the stakes rise as both teams open Southeastern Conference play.
”If we win this game we are going to be where we want to be in the SEC race,” Mullen said. ”It is always important to win your first game in conference play because that really gives you a big jump start.”
The road to the top of the SEC West looks daunting. LSU is one of five teams in the division ranked in the top 10 in the nation. Mississippi State is unranked, but Miles insists the Bulldogs should be in the Top 25 as well. Certainly, that should be the case if they improve to 4-0 by beating LSU.
Here are some things to know about Mississippi State’s latest incursion into Death Valley:
LIGHTS OUT: The LSU defense has shut out two straight opponents, not allowing a point in nearly 10 quarters. The shutouts are a source of pride, even if they’ve come against seemingly overmatched opponents in Sam Houston State and Louisiana-Monroe. ”We don’t downplay it,” LSU safety Rickey Jefferson said. ”We definitely notice what we did and know that it’s a hard thing to do.”
RUNNING WILD: Mississippi State’s offensive strength is the run game, which has averaged 260.3 yards over the first three games. Josh Robinson leads the team with 288 yards on the ground with three touchdowns, but Prescott isn’t far behind with 273 yards and two touchdowns. He’s averaging nearly seven yards per carry. ”We still haven’t shown all of our offense yet,” Mullen said.
PASSING FANCY: While LSU’s offensive play-calling consists predominantly of runs, the Tigers have been explosive through the air, thanks in large part to quarterback Anthony Jennings’ chemistry with receiver Travin Dural. The pair have connected 12 times for 370 yards – an average of 30.8 yards – including touchdowns of 94 and 80 yards.
STELLAR SMITH: MSU defensive end Preston Smith has been a big-play machine for the Bulldogs lately. The 6-foot-6, 270-pound senior has grabbed two interceptions, returning one for a touchdown, and has consistently been disruptive in the backfield during wins against Southern Mississippi, UAB and South Alabama. He’s the first player in SEC history to win the league’s defensive lineman of the week three weeks in a row.
FRESH FACES: LSU has played 17 true freshmen, and they’ve accounted for seven of LSU’s 15 touchdowns scored. Running back Darrel Williams leads all LSU freshmen with three TDs, followed by fellow running back Leonard Fournette with two.