2013 Opponent Preview: Mississippi State

After faltering down the stretch in 2012, Mississippi State is hoping to take a step forward this season with veteran quarterback Tyler Russell leading the way.

Starting out 7-0 last season and poised for a huge year in Starkville, Mississippi State ran into a buzz saw down the stretch in 2012 as the Bulldogs dropped five of their last six games and allowed more than 34 points in every contest.

With two of the top defensive backs in the nation gone off last year's team and a dependable middle linebacker to replace, the defense must regroup around new coordinator Geoff Collins as he takes over the play-calling duties from Chris Wilson. Led by a strong defensive line, the Bulldogs are hoping to take some strides forward on that side of the ball in 2013.

The good news for Mississippi State is that plenty of talent returns on offense led by quarterback Tyler Russell and running back LaDarius Perkins. Completing 58.6 percent of his passes in his first full season as a starter, Russell threw for 2,897 yards with 24 touchdowns and just 10 interceptions. The bad news is that nine of his interceptions came in those five losses, something that is worth watching this season.

With much of the production at receiver gone off last year's team, it will be up to the running game to carry the load early for the Bulldogs.

Top Offensive Player

A former Auburn commitment, speedy LaDarius Perkins enters his senior season as one of the top running backs in the SEC for the 2013 season. Leading the team in rushing with 1,024 yards and eight touchdowns on the ground on 205 carries last year, Perkins is a dynamic back who has shown he has the ability to make plays in a number of different ways. As a receiver he caught 19 passes for 160 yards and two more scores.

LaDarius Perkins

Top Defensive Player

A junior college transfer last season, Denico Autry finished the year with 42 tackles and added four sacks and nine and a half tackles for loss in his first season in Starkville. With the ability to collapse the pocket from the edge and also strong enough to hold the edge against the run, Autry is poised to become one of the top defensive players in the league.

Schedule Tough Stretch

Playing five of its first seven games at home, Mississippi State needs to take care of business early because the end of the year could be tough again for the Bulldogs. Playing at South Carolina in week eight, MSU heads to Texas A&M the following week before returning home to face Alabama on Nov. 16. Back on the road the following week to face Arkansas in Little Rock, the Bulldogs finish off the season at home against Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl on Thanksgiving night.

Newcomer To Watch

One of the most impressive defensive linemen in the country in the 2013 signee class, Chris Jones from Houston (Miss.) should have a chance to play early and often for the Bulldogs as a true freshman. A dominating pass rusher in both the Alabama-Mississippi All-Star Class as well as the Under Armour All-American Game, the 6-6, 255 Jones should take some of the pressure off Autry on the other side.

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