On the surface, it looks like it's going to be a rough game for Mississippi State against LSU. After all, LSU has beaten the Bulldogs 13 straight times and 20 out of the last 21.
There's the other big factor—LSU is a better team. For one, they are ranked 10th in the nation, and there's a reason. The Tigers have two good wins against TCU and Auburn, and almost beat Georgia in Athens.
They're also an offensive juggernaut, and Zach Mettenberger has really benefited from the tutelage of Cam Cameron. LSU averages nearly 43 points per game, which is 18th in the nation. Mettenberger, after having a number of ups and downs last season, is really coming into his own. The senior has thrown for 1,398 yards, 13 touchdowns and only one interception. He passes a gaudy average of 10.92 yards per reception, and he completes 64.1 percent of his passes.
The running game has been on point all season. Jeremy Hill averages 6.9 yards per carry, while Terrence Magee averages seven yards per carry.
This is a varied and diverse offense that is going to give Mississippi State fits.
So how can the Bulldogs win? It's actually pretty simple.
The one thing Mississippi State has going for it is that it has a rock-solid defense. The unit gives up only 14.8 points per game, which is 16th in the nation. They held Oklahoma State to 21 points, even though the Cowboys average 39.3 points per game.
So while LSU does have a great offense, this is also the best defense they faced. Georgia, despite being ranked No. 6 in the nation, gives up an average of 32.5 points per game. Mississippi State has, so far, proven to be pretty stout. If the Bulldogs can at least slow down the offense, it's a victory.
On the other side of the ball, the Bulldogs will be getting quarterback Tyler Russell back after he suffered a concussion in the season opener, according to the ESPN SEC blog Twitter page:
That could pose an interesting problem for the pedestrian, at best, LSU defense. Russell had a breakout year last season, throwing for 2,897 yards, 24 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He's a traditional pocket passer.
When Russell got hurt, dual-threat QB Dak Prescott took over and performed admirably. Prescott has thrown for 709 yards and three touchdowns, as well as rushing for 215 yards and five touchdowns.
Coach Dan Mullen said that the two quarterbacks will both play, telling Jim Kleinpeter of the New Orleans Times-Picayune:
It's a great thing to have. You're one play away from your No. 2 QB being No. 1 as we found out in Week 1. You should always make sure you have at least two players ready. Through my years of coaching we've had a lot of times using one or using two.
LSU's defense has struggled this year. They gave up 44 points to Georgia and 494 yards of total offense. Head coach Les Miles chalked it up to the inexperience and youth of the defense, telling Alex Scarborough of ESPN:
We've played a lot of young guys on defense. That's the way it's supposed to be. We've got to get them ready. When you're tested by your best opponents, that's where you find out more. I think we got the right guys. I don't think there's any reason to put guys to the side. But we got to get better. I think we'll all kind of reach in and get that done this week.
If the Bulldogs can manage the rotation of the two quarterbacks effectively, then the LSU defense that struggled so badly last week could have another bad game. It's worth noting that Tyler Russell threw for a career-high 295 yards the last time these two teams met.
Finally, the biggest reason for hope for the Bulldogs is what happened last week. LSU lost a truly heartbreaking game against Georgia. It was a fantastic game, one of the best of the year, but the Tigers just didn't have enough in the end.
This could mean a bit of a letdown. Between the emotional game, plus the fact that LSU plays Florida next week, it's quite possible that the Tigers look past Mississippi State. The Bulldogs are, admittedly, a middling SEC team, and they will consider the season a success if they finish over .500. But they have the ingredients to pull off a shocking upset.
They have a good defense, they have an intriguing two-headed quarterback monster, and they are facing LSU when the Tigers are at their most vulnerable.
Could it happen? It'll be tough. LSU is really good. But if it does, it wouldn't be too surprising.