Mississippi State vs. LSU: Keys to Bulldogs Avoiding Third Straight SEC Loss

Ethan Grant@DowntownEGAnalyst INovember 10, 2012

TUSCALOOSA, AL - OCTOBER 27:  Tyler Russell #17 converses with head coach Dan Mullen of the Mississippi State Bulldogs against the Alabama Crimson Tide at Bryant-Denny Stadium on October 27, 2012 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

After a 7-0 start, the Mississippi State Bulldogs ran into two ranked opponents. After Alabama swept the floor with them, the Bulldogs then went out and weren't able to do much of anything in a loss to Texas A&M in Week 10.

If they want to have any chance this weekend, head coach Dan Mullen and Mississippi State have to take lessons from those two losses. They face a third-straight ranked opponent, the No. 7 LSU Tigers, this week on the road in Baton Rouge.

To avoid a third-straight loss, there's a lot this team needs to fix before Saturday's game. Starting with all three phases of the game, you can bet Mullen and the coaching staff have used the last two game films as points of emphasis for this weekend.

Here's a look at three ways the Bulldogs must dominate the game if they want to pull off the stunning upset. Their 7-0 start is in major jeopardy of falling under the "didn't play anyone good" category, so this is a pivotal week both for pride and BCS standings toward a potential bowl berth.

Take LSU's Defensive Ends Off Their Game

Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery are two of the best ends in the country. Both are potential first-round draft picks, and both have a way of getting to the QB that rivals few in the entire country.

Offensive coordinator Les Koenning has to have a game plan to help neutralize these two guys from being the sole reason that the Bulldogs can't run the football, and the reason QB Tyler Russell is running for his life.

Screens and draws for LaDarius Perkins will be a premium, as will running on odd downs and keeping the LSU defense guessing. There's no doubt that this defense is dangerous and not built around these two, but if Mississippi State can throw the front seven off then it has a good chance to move the ball with some success.

Avoid Reckless Turnovers

As many as one turnover could ruin the Bulldogs' chances. They had three against Alabama, but managed to limit it to one against the Aggies.

Russell has only thrown three interceptions all year, so he's been relatively good at keeping the ball away from the defense.

Still, for this upset to come to fruition, the offense has to play a near spotless game. It can't afford to give up the ball in its own territory, because the LSU athletes and running game will quickly take over. Mississippi State must finish drives and capitalize when given the opportunity, and that includes not giving LSU any momentum-shifting turnovers.

Tackle Well

Mississippi State got a rude awakening with QB Johnny Manziel running all over them in Week 10. He made people miss, kept plays alive when nothing was there and virtually beat the Bulldogs all by himself.

They won't have to worry about that with Zach Mettenberger, but they will have to worry about stopping a running game that's averaging 200 yards per game on the ground.

LSU has five backs that could carry the ball at any given time, complete with a different set of strength and weaknesses with each back. Jeremy Hill leads the way right now with 429 yards and six touchdowns, but Alfred Blue could just as easily make an impact by the time the game is over.

To contend with this monster defense, Mississippi State has to get off the field on third down and limit an offense that isn't anywhere near the top of the SEC. If they start giving up points due to poor tackling and a bad third-down percentage, this one could be over very quickly.

There's a lot of things this team needs to do to contend with a BCS Top 10 team, but that's the price you pay when you play in the SEC. Mullen and his team wouldn't have it any other way, but they will have their hands full if these keys go LSU's way.

Ethan Grant is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report's Breaking News Team.