Mississippi State scored twice in the first half, but that was all it could come up with offensively as the Tech defense made the plays necessary to hold them off. Tech intercepted Wesley Carroll three times and sacked backup quarterback Tyson Lee three times, frustrating an offense that was not used to relying so heavily on the pass.
It didn't start out pretty for Louisiana Tech. Dixon looked strong early and Tech had a hard time slowing him down. On defense, Mississippi State got in the backfield often, knocking Taylor Bennett to the ground several times and holding him to just 14 completions out of 40 passes. Mississippi State fullback Brandon Hart punched in a one-yard run to put the visitors up 14 -3 with just 2:14 remaining in the first half.
At that point, Mississippi State looked like the eight-win team from a year ago. Fast forward to the middle of the third quarter and two Patrick Jackson touchdowns later, and Tech was up 16-14. Jackson's first touchdown came just two minutes after State's last score. Jackson caught a six-yard pass from Bennett with just 17 seconds before halftime. Jackson dropped a couple of short passes early, but redeemed himself when it mattered.
Tech scored on a field goal to go up 19-14 at the end of the third quarter, then took the ball again at the beginning of the fourth. The drive to begin the fourth quarter really showed Tech's determination to win the game. Tech took the ball down the field, eating up clock until Brad Oestricher's third field goal was good from 50 yards with 6:48 remaining in the game. Tech slowly moved the ball down the field, willing itself to each first down while State couldn't come up with a stop. That was all Tech would need to win 22-14.
Kansas is a similar team to Mississippi State. Both teams have strong defenses and both teams try to control the clock with slow, efficient offenses. The difference between the two teams is that Kansas doesn't pound the run like State does with Anthony Dixon. Kansas picks the defense apart with quarterback Todd Reesing. Reesing was 37-52 last week in a 40-10 win against Florida International. Reesing threw three touchdown passes, but his longest completion was just 24 yards. Kansas controlled the ball for over 37 minutes, picking Florida International apart.
The Jayhawks have hope that junior college All-American Jocques Crawford can change their running game. Kansas lost 1,000-yard-rusher Brandon McAnderson, but did return Jake Sharp, who had over 800 yards. Sharp struggled with just 29 yards on nine carries against FIU. Crawford only gained 32 yards on 11 carries, but looked really good early, scoring a touchdown before hurting his ankle. Crawford, 6'1" and 230, had 1,935 yards and 19 touchdowns in junior college last year.
On defense, Kansas has big linebackers, but they are smaller up front. Mississippi State clogged the middle with defensive tackles who were well over 300 pounds. Kansas will go with 280- to 290-pound tackles, but they have two 250-pound linebackers in Joe Mortenson and Mike Rivera. Kansas has defensive ends that mostly range in the 240s and they aren't known for their pass rush. Sophomore Jeff Wheeler, 6'7" and 260, has emerged to give some added size on the ends.
Mississippi State came to Ruston without its top defensive back, Derek Pegues. His absence cost the team its big play guy at safety and also in the punt return. Kansas lost its top playmaker on defense, cornerback Aqib Talib, to graduation. Kansas may have found a new big play man in reserve safety Phillip Strozier, who had two interceptions against Florida International.
Mississippi State missed Pegues in the return game, as they fumbled a punt that set Tech up deep in their own territory. Kansas has experienced punt return men, mainly Anthony Webb, but he averaged only .8 yards per try last season. Daymond Patterson appears to be their answer. The true freshman returned four punts for 135 yards, including a 75-yard touchdown. Kansas is very good at returning kickoffs; Marcus Hedford averaged over 28 yards per return last season.
Kansas opened with Central Michigan and won 52-7 in 2007. Kansas beat FIU last year by a score of 55-3. While the 40-10 win over FIU this year is impressive, Kansas didn't seem to dominate quite as much as it did early in 2007. The team may be ready to explode on Louisiana Tech or maybe it just isn't as powerful as it was last year. Kansas will probably be favored by two touchdowns, but the Mississippi State game proved that Tech can win as the underdog.
We will look more into Kansas tomorrow and break them down position by position.