STARKVILLE, Miss. (AP) - Middle Tennessee coach Rick Stockstill sees one big reason No. 15 Mississippi State is among the Southeastern Conference's best teams: an improved passing game.

The once ground-bound Bulldogs are now able to throw the ball with some of the SEC's best, thanks to a breakout season from first-year starter Tyler Russell.

He'll lead Mississippi State (6-0) against Middle Tennessee (4-2) on Saturday in a non-conference game as the Bulldogs try to continue their best start since 1999.

Russell has thrown for 1,382 yards, 12 touchdowns and just one interception this season. He threw for a career-high 291 yards and two touchdowns in last week's win against Tennessee.

Middle Tennessee will be playing without star running back Benny Cunningham, who is out for the season with a knee injury.

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