STARKVILLE, Miss. (AP) - Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen says figuring out a way to stop LSU's offense is harder than ever.
That's because Tigers' quarterback Zach Mettenberger has developed into one of the Southeastern Conference's best, throwing for 1,398 yards, 13 touchdowns and just one interception this season. The Bulldogs (2-2, 0-1 SEC) host No. 10 LSU (4-1, 1-1) on Saturday. Mississippi State has lost 13 in a row in the series dating back to 1999.
Mullen says LSU is still a power running team, but the addition of a vertical passing game creates problems.
"They've done a good job," Mullen said. "They've got two NFL receivers and an NFL quarterback with a big arm to get them the ball which causes you a dilemma. How do you stop the power run? If you load everyone in the box then you're one-on-one with a bunch of NFL players on the perimeter."
It will be a tough test for Mississippi State's inexperienced defense, which has generally played better as the season has progressed.
LSU might have a much-improved offense, but the defense is suspect after last week's 44-41 loss to Georgia. The Tigers gave up nearly 500 total yards. Mississippi State senior quarterback Tyler Russell is expected to return after missing three games because of a concussion. Mullen says he'll likely get playing time along with sophomore Dak Prescott.
Russell had the best passing season in Mississippi State history last year, throwing for 2,897 yards and 24 touchdowns, but Prescott has done well in his place.
The 6-foot-2, 230-pound Prescott adds more of a running threat and he's already rushed for 215 yards and five touchdowns this season. LSU coach Les Miles said both quarterbacks will provide a challenge for his young defense.
Miles used several inexperienced players against Georgia and he hopes the rough game makes them stronger. "I think we got the right guys," Miles said. "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."
Here are five things to watch on Saturday when No. 10 LSU travels to Mississippi State.
METTENBERGER'S RISE: LSU's Zach Mettenberger has been one of the best quarterbacks in the conference, even rivaling Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel in terms of pure passing production.
Mettenberger has already thrown 13 touchdown passes, surpassing last season's total and has two very capable targets in Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr.
STATE'S QB SITUATION: Mississippi State QB Tyler Russell is expected to return against LSU after missing the past three games with a concussion. He had the best passing season in MSU history in 2012, but his replacement, sophomore Dak Prescott, has played very well in his absence with 709 passing yards and 215 rushing yards. MSU coach Dan Mullen says both will likely have a role on Saturday.
LSU DEFENSE: The Tigers are much more potent on offense, but the defense was embarrassed in last week's 44-41 loss to Georgia, giving up nearly 500 total yards. Mississippi State's offense put up 62 points on Troy two weeks ago, and appears to be much more potent than at the beginning of the season.
STATE'S SECONDARY: Mississippi State's secondary has gradually improved as the season has progressed. Jamerson Love had a 70-yard interception for a touchdown two weeks ago against Troy and the Bulldogs will need a few more big plays to derail Mettenberger and the Tigers.