For Mississippi State right tackle Justin Senior, LSU is nothing new. The annual grudge match between the SEC Western Division foes has been a pivotal part of the Bulldog schedule in recent years.
"This will be my third time to play against LSU and my fifth time seeing them," said the fifth year senior. "In the SEC, there are no games that are just another SEC game. Every game in the SEC is big no matter who you play. You basically prepare for every SEC team like you're getting ready for a championship game."
While the Bulldogs won no championships a week ago, Coach Dan Mullen's team picked up a win in their first SEC game on the 2016 schedule. After suffering an upset non-conference loss to South Alabama in week one, Senior and his teammates had some work to do to right the ship before league play began.
"I feel like we're a lot more fluid now," Senior explained. "There were a lot less (missed assignments). People were more concerned about taking care of the assignments and less concerned with messing up. Everyone is on the same page now."
Coach John Hevesy is breaking in two new starters on the offensive line, tackle Martinas Rankin and guard Deion Calhoun. The three veterans that fill out the remaining five spots have worked hard to assist their linemates get up to SEC speed.
"I am an older guy and (Devon) Desper is an older guy, so when we're on the field they may ask us questions," Senior said of the new starters. "They just get a little confused. We may get a weird look from the defense. They are still going through their fundamentals and going to the base rules. They might freak out a little bit, so you just have to be there to tell them to do this. Sometimes, even if they know what to do they will ask just to be sure. They just need a little reassurance sometimes."
As a unit, the Bulldogs have performed pretty well up front. Senior credits some team chemistry and a collective effort to be a physical football team. So far, so good.
"We are definitely able to run the ball a lot more," Senior said. "We feel like that's what we're good at and that's what we want to be good at. We want to be able to run the football and just be hard and stout at the line of scrimmage."
While the early numbers have been encouraging, Senior reports that the best football for the Bulldogs and the offensive line lie ahead.
"Individually, you want to be 100%," Senior said. "Until everyone is at 100%, they are still things to work on. It's good to get a win, but the goal is to win every week. We have done some good things, but there are still a lot of things that we can and need to be better at."
As the 2016 'Dogs prepare to take the show on the road for the first time, the responsibility to educate the young pups about life and times as an SEC visiting team falls to the senior leadership.
"We just have to stick to the plan and keep bringing the intensity that Coach Mullen expects from us," Senior said. "It's been intense in practice. Everyone from the quarterbacks to the defensive lineman are going really hard in practice. I am not saying we didn't go hard before, but there is just a different mindset right now. Everyone has a chip on their shoulder and everyone is being a Dawg out there. Nobody is out there just happy go lucky."
The Bulldogs will need to bring their best effort this week as they travel to Baton Rouge, the location of just two State victories in the past 25 years. The Tigers are extremely athletic on defense, especially along the defensive line. Senior reports that he has been impressed with what he has seen from the Bayou Bengals on film.
"They are very heavy, very strong and fast," Senior said of the LSU defensive front. "They are exactly what you would expect from LSU. Every year they have a great defense. I don't think there is anything special you can do to prepare. You just have to prepare as best you can and be ready to play physical.
"When I went down there to play my first time, I went down there after a good week of practice. I knew my game plan and we just went out there ready to play like we would against anybody else. This is the SEC and this is what everyone is here for. We just have to go down there and do the things that we have already been doing. Consistency is the key."
The Bulldogs and Tigers will kick it off at 6 PM on Saturday. In their last visit to Tiger Stadium, Mississippi State defeated LSU in impressive fashion. A last second field goal attempt proved to be the difference a season ago, so the fans should expect another good one this weekend.