The Bulldogs looked good offensively with Tyler Russell and Dak Prescott sharing time under center, but they're trying to correct some defensive problems that allowed LSU to score eight touchdowns — including four in the fourth quarter — in Saturday's 59-26 loss.
Coach Dan Mullen said Mississippi State's main problem on defense is too much aggression, which causes players to get out of position.
If the Bulldogs can shore up the defensive problems, the offense appears capable of putting up points. Russell was 7 of 11 passing for 146 yards and two touchdowns against LSU in his first game back since missing a month with a concussion.
He split time with Prescott, who threw for 106 yards and ran for a team-high 103 yards.
Mississippi State offensive coordinator Les Koenning said having two quarterbacks has pushed both to improve. Russell threw his 39th career touchdown pass against LSU, which set a school record, but Prescott has also been impressive with his ability to improvise and make plays with his arm and running ability.
"That's part of being successful, knowing that you've got to be on your game," Koenning said. "There's somebody sitting on the bench right behind you who can play, too."
Russell was immediately productive on Saturday, leading a touchdown drive on his first series. The 20-yard touchdown pass to Jameon Lewis was a beauty — Russell floated the throw over an LSU defender and hit Lewis in the corner of the end zone.
Mullen said the throw wasn't just a reminder of Russell's arm, but also his mental aptitude.
"The touchdown pass was a great play — he changed the play at the line of scrimmage, changed the protection and the route," Mullen said. "He saw a certain look and wanted to change to something different. That just shows his experience."
The 6-foot-4, 220-pound Russell said missing three games was tough, but provided a different perspective that can make him a better quarterback.
"At first, it was pretty difficult," Russell said. "But I knew my job at the time was to help Dak from the sideline. I still had to act like I was the starter on the field, and when I saw things he didn't see on the backside of plays, I told him. That's how we've always been. It was good for me to take that approach and help any way I could."
Mississippi State's LaDarius Perkins also had his best game of the season, rushing for 81 yards on 10 carries. The senior has been hobbled by an ankle injury the entire season, but said he was close to 100 percent against the Tigers.
But all of the Bulldogs' offensive improvement won't matter if they can't stop the opponent. LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger, receiver Odell Beckham Jr. and running back Jeremy Hill combined to make Mississippi State's defense miserable.
Mullen said a review of game film showed that his young defense took some unnecessary risks, especially in the second half when the Tigers reeled off 31 unanswered points.
"I think we're just trying too hard to make plays at times," Mullen said. "When that happens on the defensive side of the ball, you get out of" position.
Bowling Green won't have the same level of athletes as LSU, but should provide a decent challenge. The Falcons (5-1) have won three straight games and are one of the favorites to win the Mid-American Conference.
Mullen's first full-time coaching job was at Bowling Green, when he worked as the quarterbacks coach under Urban Meyer in 2001 and 2002.
"The chip on their shoulder is the opportunity to play a SEC school," Mullen said. "We get to do it eight times a year, they get to do it once so it's a pretty big opportunity for those guys."