STARKVILLE, Miss. (AP) -- 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.