Opposition Danger Men: Mississippi State

Just two games to go in our countdown of the most dangerous players on each side of the ball for the opponents who Vanderbilt will face this fall. The last road game will see the ‘Dores travel to Starkville to take on the Mississippi State Bulldogs. This is a team for whom big things are expected of by many this season. Here are the guys that the 'dores will have to nullify on game day.

Mississippi State

Offense: QB – Dak Prescott

Offensively this Mississippi State team will go only as far as Dak Prescott can take them. The junior is one of the premier dual threat quarterbacks in the SEC and there are even early Heisman whispers starting from within his camp. Head coach Dan Mullen has done everything he can to allow Prescott to fulfil his talent in 2014. He hired a new quarterback’s coach, one of his former pupils at Utah Brian Johnson, with the expressed goal of having Prescott lead this team to places they haven’t been this century.

There is no doubt about the ability of Prescott to run the ball. Last fall he took over the starting job after an injury to Tyler Russell and finished the season with 829 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns. Those 13 scores on the ground make him the SEC active leader in rushing touchdowns by a quarterback. Originally envisioned as a goal line threat, in the style a young Tim Tebow, Prescott instead broke out and proved to be effective and elusive all over the field. He had rushes of over 20 yards in six games a year ago and with extra speed and footwork drills in the offseason there is no reason this number should slip.

The questions all come in relation to Prescott’s passing game. In 2013 he passed for just 10 touchdowns with 7 interceptions last fall, posting a 58 percent completion rate. Those are numbers that Prescott will have to improve on if he is going to make any sort of run a post season honors. The reason for the groundswell of hope is that Prescott finished the season lights out, throwing for almost 300 yards and three touchdowns in just three quarters of the Bulldog’s Liberty Bowl blowout win over Rice. Only time will tell if he can take that form, and play with that level of poise, against the best the SEC has to offer.

Defense: LB – Benardrick McKinney

McKinney is an impressive specimen of a football player. Standing 6-foot-5 and 245 pounds he has a heady combination of size, speed, and range that you look for in a modern day linebacker. Last fall the sophomore was the Bulldogs leader in tackles (71), tackles for a loss (7) and sacks (3.5), but there is still a feeling around Starkville that this was a disappointing season by his standards.

The root of this disappointment was an incredible freshman season which saw McKinney make 102 tackles and generally dominate games defensively. Last fall the big linebacker would occasionally just go missing, he had three or fewer tackles in five of the ‘Dogs 13 games. With his skill set and overall talent level McKinney should be making much more of an impact on a game by game basis. It would be unfair to categorize his 2013 season as a sophomore slump, but you can bet McKinney is looking to make up for lost time with a breakout junior campaign.

With the Bulldogs returning 18 of 22 players from its defensive two-deep last year it is McKinney’s time to shine. He has been named one of the most freakish athletes in college football by media outlets such as NFL.com and Fox Sports. A big junior season would probably propel him toward the top end of the 2015 NFL Draft and it is vitally important the when the ‘Dores take on the Bulldogs they keep him quiet and make his influence on the game minimal.

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