STARKVILLE — Mississippi State football coach Dan Mullen and his Bulldogs are saying all the right things entering their showdown against No. 8 LSU at 6 p.m. Saturday (ESPN) at Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
Mullen, who is 0-5 in his career as a head coach against LSU, reinforced that during his weekly press conference, saying, “They are a top-10 team, and playing on the road on a Saturday night is a big challenge. We are going to have to play at a very, very high level to find a way to win.”
While that’s true, the trip also is one of the biggest opportunities in Mullen’s career. Now in his sixth season as coach at MSU, Mullen has led the Bulldogs to 30 wins and four bowl appearances in the past four seasons, but a program-changing, landmark victory has escaped him in his time Starkville. The Bulldogs haven’t beaten a top-10 opponent under Mullen and are 2-23 against ranked teams.
But the Southeastern Conference opener for both teams has a different feel. It’s something LSU coach Les Miles has noticed.
“Dan has done a very good job there. This is a very quality football team,” Miles said. “Should easily be a ranked team; I can’t imagine that they’re not. They have all of the abilities, offense, defense, and special teams you would see in a ranked team.”
Mullen hasn’t talked about what a win in Tiger Stadium would mean for his program, but his players have.
“It would be huge,” MSU safety Jay Hughes said. “LSU is a great football team, and they’ve got athletes as always. Going down there and getting a win would be huge.”
It won’t be easy. LSU has won 43 of its last 46 night games at home. It also has won 12 straight against MSU in Tiger Stadium dating back to 1991.
LSU (3-0) has outscored opponents 108-7 since halftime of a season-opening 28-24 victory against Wisconsin.
Like Hughes, MSU quarterback Dak Prescott believes a victory against the No. 8 team in the country could be a program-changer. But he also is wary of the pitfalls of playing in one of the nation’s toughest venues.
“It would be big,” said Prescott, who has 12 touchdowns this season. “But, at the same time, we can’t get ahead of ourselves. We have to stay focused, go in there as a family. It’s a very loud place and a tough place to play. This will have to be our best game.”
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brandon Walker on Twitter @BWonStateBeat