“Win this game, we’re 1-0 in the West,” said Coach Dan Mullen. “And two games ahead of LSU right there. I always believe if you win your first conference game it’s a huge boost for you moving into the rest of the season.”
The 2015 rematch can’t avoid comparison to the Bulldogs’ upset success in Baton Rouge last season. A 34-29 win was not only the first victory there since 1991, but the first win anywhere in the series since 1999. It also put Mississippi State in the polls and started a record-setting run to #1 four weeks later.
Now the Tigers are on the road, as well as higher-ranked if less-exposed. Their home opener was washed away in the first quarter and won’t be completed. It had no impact in the polls, thought it might eventually in bowl assignments.
What obviously is impacted is Mississippi State preparation. Yet lack of scouting material may not be the obstacle most expect. While having fresh video for viewing always helps, a Les Miles offense is not much mystery. They will run hard, run effectively, and take timely downfield shots against defenses looking to support the front-seven first.
The power ground game is certainly present with soph superstar Leonard Fournette, backed by the usual ridiculous backfield depth. Tiger title ambitions for 2015 though hinge on how effectively Brandon Harris picks his shots and spots on deep throws. Plus, Dog coordinator Manny Diaz said, “Quarterbacks who can move the chains with their feet are always the X-factor.”
Mississippi State didn’t have much difficulty with a run-deficient Eagle offense. LSU is the opposite case. Plus, over 300 passing yards allowed last week is a concern to everyone except, apparently, the Bulldogs themselves. And Diaz looks for a better-prepared defense this week all around.
“The transition from game-one to game-two you always expect to make a jump. There’s just always those natural first game mistakes you’re going to see just getting into game tempo.”
Dak Prescott and the Bulldog offense have even less material to evaluate. McNeese State made only three snaps. If State’s quarterback is concerned, it doesn’t show. He’s been watching old LSU tape as well as clips from Clemson and Southern California for coaching tendencies.
“We can change things up during the game by what they’re throwing at us. So long as we master what we have on them and what the defensive coordinator has done in the past, I think we’ll be ready to go.”
Ready for another late shift, too. Kickoff is now officially 8:20 for ESPN with no more ‘slide’ time allowed. At least that’s earlier than the 9:05 start at Hattiesburg. Mullen didn’t have this week’s practicing quite as late as week-one, partly for the Monday holiday.
The Bulldogs expect to be healthy. No injuries were observed last Saturday/Sunday. And team co-captain CB Taveze Calhoun is available, having sat out USM for precaution. Whether the senior starts or plays a lot depends on late-week checks of knee swelling.
Exiting an opener unscathed is one positive. So is the confidence beating a real opponent, whatever the conference, provides. Yes, LSU is rested.
The Bulldogs are tested. Will this really make a difference?
“I’d rather play a game,” Prescott said. “We had the chance to fix the kinks and knock some rust off. Especially me with my past performance. So to get that stuff out of the way, knowing we have the people we can count on, it’s a whole lot better coming into a game like this.”
Even better would be coming out with the first SEC win, Mullen said. “You don’t want to start having to climb uphill after one week.”
BULLDOG NOTES ‘n NUMBERS
*With a sweep of the 2014 home schedule after the 2013 Egg Bowl, Mississippi State has won the last eight games played on Scott Field. That includes five conference wins.
*Dan Mullen is third among Bulldog coaches in SEC wins at 22 in six seasons. He trails #2 Allyn McKeen’s 29 league wins in nine seasons.
*Mullen teams are 5-25 against ranked opponents at State, but three of those wins came last season.
*The Bulldogs broke into the A.P. poll this week, which is the 34th week a State team has been ranked under Mullen management beginning in the 2010 season.
*Mullen’s teams are 15-11 playing with a ranking.
*Mississippi State is tied for the SEC lead in made field goals, with two. PK Westin Graves’ pair of made three-pointers in as many attempts were the first field goals of his Bulldog career after missing one in 2014.
*When CB Taveze Calhoun missed the game at USM, OT Justin Senior took the active starting streak status with 14 now.
*As expected, QB Dak Prescott added the career touchdown passes record to his resume last week. Two scoring throws at Hattiesburg pushed him past former teammate Tyler Russell, 43 to 42.
*That gives Prescott a total of 18 Bulldog records (12 season, 6 career). So, which is the next mark to fall? There are two prime possibilities.
*Prescott is third in career completions with 440, #3 behind Wayne Madkin’s 462 and Kevin Fant’s 461. It would take a huge commitment to the air attack to break that record this week, but it’s not impossible either.
*Prescott is second in passing yards, behind Madkin’s 6,336 with 5,820. Don’t bother, it is 516 yards apart so this mark will have to wait until next week barring an effort for the ages.
*From a SEC career perspective, Prescott climbed two places last week in touchdowns-responsible to 18th with 75. That’s one out of 17th place (Jay Cutler), two from 16th (David Greene) and three back of 15th (Tim Couch).
*Prescott needs 164 rushing yards to surpass Johnny Manziel for 4th in SEC ground run-for by a quarterback. By the way, former Bulldog John Bond is still #3 on that latter list.
*Prescott has a touchdown pass in his last 15 games, behind only TCU’s Trevone Boykin at 16 games.
*Speaking of Bond, who made history in 1980-83 as first quarterback to have beaten LSU teams four-straight years…Prescott has some nice numbers of his own in the series. He has thrown for 607 yards in three meetings with three touchdowns, and rushed for a pair of scores.
*Ten Bulldogs made their first State starts last week, though all played plenty of snaps in previous seasons. They were LB Richie Brown, C Jamaal Clayborn, CB Tolando Cleveland, S Kivon Coman, LB Zack Jackson, DT Nick James, DE A.J. Jefferson, RB Ashton Shumpert, TE Gus Walley, OT Rufus Warren.
*Of the 14 scholarship freshmen who redshirted in 2014, nine got on the field last week. They are LB Gerri Green, QB Nick Fitzgerald, S Brandon Bryant, CB Chris Rayford, RB Aeris Williams, RB Dontavian Lee, OG Deion Calhoun, OT Elgton Jenkins, WR Jesse Jackson.
*Redshirts yet to be activated are QB Elijah Staley, DT Cory Thomas, DE Grant Harris, DT Braxton Hoyette, OG Ronald Cochran.
*Juco redshirt from 2014 Will Coleman played, but OC Jocquell Johnson has to wait another week.
*After playing three true freshmen in all 2014, Mullen put that many on the field in the 2015 opener. S Jamal Peters played on kicking teams, TE Justin Johnson caught two passes including State’s first touchdown of the year, and WR Malik Dear rushed one time.
*Mississippi State had 14 plays last week go for ten or more yards, but only six for more than 20. Though, those plays were good for 49, 44, 42, and 35 yards.
*This week Mississippi State announced all season tickets have been sold, topping 50,000 for the first time. Last year 45,575 season tickets were sold for the newly-expanded Davis Wade Stadium. More were available for sale this year with lower allotments for visiting teams.