Mississippi State eyes upset over LSU

Published 12:01 am Thursday, September 15, 2011

STARKVILLE (AP) — Mississippi State hasn’t been able to beat anyone in its division other than Ole Miss since Dan Mullen arrived.

With No. 3 LSU in Starkville Thursday night, now would be a good time to start.

For all the good the third-year coach has done since his arrival, Mississippi State is just 2-9 against Southeastern Conference Western Division foes — with both wins against their in-state rival. The Bulldogs are winless against Arkansas, Auburn, Alabama and LSU.

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But No. 25 Mississippi State could take a huge step toward becoming a serious SEC contender with a win against the Tigers.

It won’t be easy. LSU has won 11 games in a row against Mississippi State dating back to 1999.

But the Bulldogs have possibly their best team in years, with a spread offense led by quarterback Chris Relf and running backs Vick Ballard and LaDarius Perkins. The trio was largely responsible for MSU gaining 333 rushing yards in last week’s 41-34 road loss to Auburn, and the ground-based plan will be the same against LSU.

Mississippi State also will have the advantage of a sold out Davis Wade Stadium, filled with fans and their trademark cowbells that will create a deafening atmosphere. The Bulldogs have been nationally ranked for nine straight weeks dating back to last season, the program’s longest streak since 1999.

LSU tight end DeAngelo Peterson said the Tigers are well aware that Mississippi State will be desperate to stay in the Western division race.

“I think they’ll come out there 100 percent because they know they can’t lose another SEC game,” Peterson said. “That’ll put them out of it. So we know they’re going to come in and give us their all, so we’ve got to come give them our all.”

It’s a quick turnaround for the Bulldogs, who play just five days after losing to Auburn. Mullen called the loss “devastating” in the aftermath but was also encouraged by the MSU fanbase’s response — hate mail.

“The last time we lost a game on a goal-line stand, I got a lot of praise in emails from people all really excited,” Mullen said. “I’ve gotten a lot of hate emails in the last couple of days. I guess that’s a very positive culture change. Our people expect us to win games now. Before, they were just impressed maybe we competed. Now, they expect us to win, and I think that’s good.”

LSU has had just five days’ rest, too, but the Tigers had a considerably easier game, pounding FCS opponent Northwestern State 49-3.

The Tigers won’t be surprised by Mississippi State’s offense.

LSU’s defense already has played well against one spread offense this season, beating Oregon 40-27 in the season opener. Though cornerback Tyrann Mathieu said Mississippi State’s spread is much different.

“Mississippi State’s version of the spread is really just downhill,” Mathieu said. “Those guys are not really trying to get to the sidelines, so it’ll start up front with our front seven. In our secondary we don’t want to let anything get by us.”

The Bulldogs aren’t calling this a must-win game, but two losses to start the SEC schedule certainly isn’t a textbook way to win the division. Mullen joked earlier in the week that LSU might be good enough to “win the NFC East,” but MSU’s players are taking LSU’s talent seriously.

Mullen “might be right — they’re really good,” Perkins said. “They got a lot of talent over there — lot of speed and they’re strong. LSU is a great team. If you can run against them, you can run against anybody in the United States.”