Two big keys for both teams are which team will stop the run on defense and which can complete passes on third down offensively. BleedTechBlue goes in-depth at each position to see who has the advantage.
Louisiana Tech struggled last year with Zac Champion under center. Tech finished last in the WAC in third down completion percentage and that deficiency, along with untimely fumbles, cost Tech a chance to win a couple of games.
Enter Taylor Bennett, a fifth year senior transfer from Georgia Tech. Bennett didn't put up huge numbers last year, but he had solid numbers and played in a lot of big games. His experience and leadership under pressure will be a key for Tech as they try to move the ball down the field.
Wesley Carroll completed just over 50% of his passes for Mississippi State last season for nearly 1,400 yards. He had nine touchdowns along with seven interceptions. Carroll was thrown into the mix as a freshman and responded well to the pressure. Mississippi State struggled in the passing game at times last year, but Carroll should be better with a year of experience.
Advantage: Louisiana Tech – Bennett's experience gives Tech a slight edge over State.
Both teams bring back a wealth of talent at running back. Patrick Jackson returns for Tech after carrying the ball for 950 yards and eight touchdowns as a junior. Daniel Porter also returns after carrying the ball for 592 yards and six touchdowns. Mississippi State counters with 240-pound Anthony Dixon and Christan Ducre. Dixon had 1066 yards rushing and 14 touchdowns while Ducre added 487 yards and three scores.
Other running backs who could see time are Tech sophomore Myke Compton and Mississippi State freshman Robert Elliot. Both players will add speed to their team's lineup.
Advantage: Mississippi State – Both teams had similar numbers, but Dixon's size and his ability to punch it in the end zone will be a handful for the Tech defense.
Neither team brings back a lot of experience. Phillip Livas had 504 yards and three touchdowns last season for Tech while Jamayel Smith led Mississippi State with 510 yards and three scores. Josh Wheeler returns for Tech after missing most of last season with an injury. Wheeler, who, at 6'4", gives Bennett a big target, had 503 yards and four touchdowns in 2006.
Aubrey Bell and Brandon McRae are both 6'4" targets for Mississippi State. Both saw limited action last season but figure to have an increased role in the offense this season. Co-Eric Riley will be the fourth receiver for State. The four-star junior college recruit did not figure much into the equation for State last year, but will be counted on more as a senior. Freshman O'Neal Wilder, who is 6'5" and extremely fast, was scheduled to be a big boost for the Mississippi Bulldogs, but he is out for four to six weeks with an injury.
Philip Beck was Tech's second leading receiver with 359 yards and a score. Tech brought in five freshmen who could all see action. Cruz Williams was an Arkansas signee, but he was granted a release and enrolled at Tech. Cruz and R.P. Stuart give Bennett a couple of big targets to work with. Richie Casey, Houston Tuminello, and Eric Fiege have all had good camps and could see action as well.
Advantage: Draw – Both teams have some experience, some speed, some size, and little depth.
Louisiana Tech brings size, athleticism, and experience to the field at tight end. Anthony Harrison and Dustin Mitchell combined for nearly 500 yards receiving last year. Dennis Morris has the big play ability that teams need in order to make a difference in a game. Mississippi State has no returning tight ends with a reception. Marcus Green, a converted running back, is very athletic but a little undersized.
Advantage: Louisiana Tech – The tight ends from Mississippi State have a lot of potential, but they are untested.
Louisiana Tech suffered numerous injuries on the offensive line last season. The positive outcome from last year's experience is that Tech now has four sophomores with plenty of playing time. Big tackles Cudahy Harmon and Rob McGill were both thrown into the fire last season. Center Lon Roberts and guard Jared Miles both started as freshmen last season. Miles and David Accardo are both at least 320 pounds and bring a lot of size and strength to the guard position. Accardo, who missed several games last year, will fill in at any position if there is an injury. Ben Harris is a veteran guard who can fill Accardo's spot if needed.
Mississippi State lost its starting left tackle to an incident off the field. He was to be replaced by Derek Sherrod, a promising sophomore. Sherrod has missed practice this week with a foot infection. If Sherrod is unable to go, State will have two very inexperienced tackles in the game. Senior guard Anthony Strauder is the only returning starter for Mississippi State's offensive line.
Advantage: Draw – Both teams have very little experience and a lot of youth. Tech's line is bigger, but State's line is more athletic.
For Louisiana Tech, the defensive line starts with D'Anthony Smith. The 305-pound Smith is an SEC-style defensive tackle, with good size and speed. He will be an NFL player in the near future. Mason Hitt is a bit undersized, but he is very strong and very quick. Tech is a lot faster at defensive tackle than in previous years. Both teams lost second string defensive tackles over the off-season. Ramone Randle and Relando Melancon were lost to grades for Tech. Randle's situation is unclear, but he is not listed on the official depth chart. Mississippi State lost Quentin Wesley to an off the field incident and Rodney Prince is also sitting out the season.
Mississippi State can count on Kyle Love and Jesse Bowman in the middle of their defensive line. Love and reserve Charles Burns have both battled injuries, but look to be ready to go for the game. Bastrop, Louisiana native LaMarcus Williams will fill the other reserve spot. Tech will counter with seniors Breon Jackson and Jared Parten, who have to prove they can stay on the field on a consistent basis.
At defensive end, Louisiana Tech will rotate a few players. Junior College transfer Kwame Jordan was a sack artist last season in Kansas and Randy Grigsby has some experience as a freshman last year. Both players have good size and will be backed up by Eric Harper and Matt Broha. Both Broha and Harper are tall and athletic, but are a little undersized at 225 pounds. Jared Barron and walk-on Adrian Logan have a little more size and could figure into the game plan.
Freshman Sean Ferguson looks to get the start at defensive end for Mississippi State opposite senior Tim Bailey. Jimmie Holmes and Brandon Cooper will be the backups. None of the four players have great size, but Ferguson will add plenty of speed off the edge. Senior Cortez McCraney can play either inside or outside for Mississippi State.
Advantage: Mississippi State – A slight edge to State because of their depth. Both teams have size issues at end and depth issues inside. Players like LaMarcus Williams make the difference in depth for State.
Louisiana Tech returns Quin Harris, who finished second on the team in tackles last year. Harris is a big time linebacker with ideal size and speed. Tech is thin at middle linebacker in a numbers sense, but not in weight. Brannon Jackson (265 pounds) returns after missing last season and will be backed up by either Nolan Darby or Jonathan Zeno. Both Zeno and Darby are 230 pounds and could see competition from freshman Dusty Rust or Adrian Cole. Brian White and Kiamni Washington are both 225-pound players with not a lot of experience. White is one of the strongest players on the team and has held Washington off for the third starting spot. Block artist Dominique Faust will back up Quin Harris.
Mississippi State returns Jamar Chaney and Dominic Douglas. The two seniors finished first and second on the team in tackles last year. Sophomore K.J. Wright beat out senior Anthony Littlejohn for the last starting spot. Both players saw limited action last season. The other two reserve spots will be filled by redshirt freshmen.
Advantage: Mississippi State – Tech returns Harris and Jackson is back from injury, but Mississippi State has the advantage with Chaney and Douglas.
Both teams return three starters, but Mississippi State was dealt a huge blow when all-SEC safety Derek Pegues was suspended for the game. Mississippi State's other two returning starters, safety Keith Fitzhugh and cornerback Jasper O'Quinn had solid numbers last season. Junior Marcus Washington will start at the other corner, and sophomore Zach Smith will replace Pegues at free safety.
Tech returns all-WAC safety Antonio Baker, its leading tackler. Safety Deon Young and cornerback Weldon Brown also return. Senior Steven Howze beat out freshman Terry Carter for the other starting spot. Carter and Tarence Calais were two of the top signees for Derek Dooley's first recruiting class. Calais is the top reserve at safety.
Advantage: Louisiana Tech – With Pegues out, Tech has the slight edge.
Chris Keagle is one of the top punters in the country. Brad Oestricher returns at kicker after sitting out last season. Oestricher has a huge leg and has improved his accuracy. Keagle averaged 41.3 yards per punt.
Phillip Livas and Philip Beck are back to handle the return duties. Both players were very good last season as was Patrick Jackson, who will share the kickoff returns.
Derek Pegues returned all but one punt for Mississippi State last year and half the kickoffs. With him out, State will be inexperienced in the return game. Senior kicker Adam Carlson and senior punter Blake McAdams both return. Carlson was good on 10 of 13 field goals last year. McAdams averaged 39.3 yards per punt.
Jamayel Smith will handle the punt returns in Pegues' absence. Wade Bonner and Robert Elliot will handle the kick returns.
Advantage: Louisiana Tech – Again, with Pegues out, State has a few question marks.
Mississippi State had a breakthrough season in 2007 with eight wins. In 3 of its last four games, State was able to pull out the win. In those three wins, against UCF, Alabama, and Ole Miss, the Bulldogs only scored three offensive touchdowns. Two of those scores were made by Anthony Dixon.
Dixon will surely find the end zone against Louisiana Tech. He might find it two times. However, Louisiana Tech has the home field advantage. Tech has more experience coming back and less pressure to win. Louisiana Tech will also find the end zone a couple of times and Tech's advantage in special teams will result in some field goals. Pegues being out will hurt more than Mississippi State fans would like to admit. He is their big play guy. Without him, who will make the game changing play against Louisiana Tech?
Louisiana Tech 23 Mississippi State 14