Mississippi State opens conference play at 11 a.m. CT on Saturday against LSU at Davis Wade Stadium. It will also be the Tigers’ first conference game.

Both teams enter the game with a 2-1 record in nonconference play, a high-flying offense and a young quarterback finding his stride.

LSU leads the all-time series 75-36-3. The Tigers won 21 of 22 from 1992 to 2013. However, the Bulldogs have found more success in recent years, winning 3 of the past 7 games including a 44-34 victory last year in Baton Rouge.

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LSU is favored by between 2 and 3 points, depending on where you look.

Despite history and expectations, the Bulldogs fought hard in 3 consecutive games and feel feisty in the 2nd year of Mike Leach’s tenure.

Here are 5 reasons the Bulldogs can upset the Tigers

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They did it last year

While it was difficult to accurately assess teams in 2020, the players suited up and the games were played.

Mississippi State defeated LSU after outsourcing the Tigers 17-10 in the 4th quarter of a tight contest.

Notably, MSU quarterback KJ Costello threw for 623 yards and 5 touchdowns with 2 interceptions.

Those kind of results should be enough for the coaches and the guys in the locker room to know that they can beat LSU with this philosophy, but also what worked and didn’t work against the Tigers.

The UCLA loss

Speaking of good film, the UCLA Bruins laid out a blueprint for beating LSU in Week 1.

UCLA, coached by former Oregon, Philadelphia Eagles and San Francisco 49ers head coach Chip Kelly, ran the ball right at the Tigers. The Bruins gained 210 yards on the ground.

While this won’t exactly translate to what the Bulldogs plan to do offensively, it certainly can help inform which run plays are called and when.

The Bulldogs’ air raid system doesn’t establish the run; rather, it uses the run as little jabs to keep linebackers and safeties honest.

If the Mississippi State offense can average just 1 more yard per carry than it did against Memphis, the offensive advantage will be much higher.

Resilience

Twice this year, Mississippi State found itself down multiple possessions late in the game. They earned a 1-point victory in one game while falling short by 2 points in the other.

In both instances, the Bulldogs seemed to trust one another in a palpable way. To make multipossession comebacks, the defense needs to make stops while the offense needs to work quickly. There is essentially no margin for error.

Because the Bulldogs know that they’re capable of doing something like that in nonconference play, facing a similar situation in conference play won’t be so problematic.

Defense

The Bulldogs have a defense. I am unmoved by bottom-line statistics when it comes to defense because I think those stats hide some really good defenses.

The way that I classify defense is simple: Can you make a stop when you need to?

WIth a complementary air raid offense, the defense will continually be put in positions to surrender points. We know that more plays mean more points for everyone. The key is if the Bulldogs can get 1 or 2 more stops than their opponent.

The Bulldogs went something like 6 consecutive quarters this season without a touchdown allowed. This defense tackles, covers and knows its assignments.

LSU will score, certainly. But the Bulldogs have the guys to get off the field on 3rd down often enough to get a victory.

Offensive line

If you’ve noticed that Mississippi State quarterback Will Rogers has been checking multiple reads on passing plays before finally checking it down, you’re not alone. But what you could be missing is just how much time he has had.

I am well aware that Louisiana Tech and Memphis don’t have the caliber of defensive linemen that LSU will be lining up this Saturday. However, N.C. State does have plenty of talent on the defensive side year in and year out.

The Mississippi State offensive line is typically, in my opinion, the most underrated unit in the SEC. This will be a schematic advantage for MSU, hopefully increasing the effectiveness of the run game and giving Rogers time to make the smart decision.