Published November 4, 2011 - 5:33am
NEW: Discuss this topic in the Google+ community for SEC fans.
With a 28-16 win on the road at Kentucky last weekend, Mississippi State improved it’s record to 4-4 and boosted fan’s hopes for another bowl bid. If the Bulldogs can take care of business again this Saturday in Starkville, they’ll be one step closer to reaching the magic number of six wins.
While winning six games may not seem like a difficult task at first glance, several SEC teams are in danger of not making the cut this season.
Florida and Vanderbilt both share the same 4-4 mark as State, while Tennessee and Kentucky trail at 3-5 overall. With such a tight battle brewing in the win/loss column, one slip up by any team could mean the difference in bowling for the holidays or sitting at home.
MSU faces a homecoming matchup against Tennessee-Martin this weekend, which should bode well for their post-season hopes.
The Skyhawks hail from the Ohio Valley Conference and sit at 5-3 on the year. Though they field a capable offense, having scored more than 60 points on two occasions this season, the FBS visitors shouldn’t be able to go toe-to-toe with the Bulldogs in this one.
The MSU offense seemed to find some consistency during the Kentucky contest, particularly in the passing game. The Tyler Russell/Chris Relf combination at quarterback worked out very well for head coach Dan Mullen, with both guys posting impressive numbers. Russell completed 9 out of 12 passes for 172 yards, while Relf was 6 of 9 for 92 yards on the night. Both tossed a touchdown pass and Relf also rushed for two scores.
Look for the quarterback rotation to continue on Saturday, as Mullen has proven he has no problem with using a two man system. If the Bulldogs are able build a sizeable lead, you can also expect to see redshirt freshman Dylan Favre taking snaps. It will be important to keep Russell and Relf as healthy as possible for a looming battle with Alabama on November 12.
Defensively, MSU is poised to have another big day behind monster defensive tackle Fletcher Cox. Cox, a junior, was named the SEC’s defensive lineman of the week following last weeks victory over the Wildcats. It was the third time in three games that he’s been awarded the honor. Cox is currently tied with Tennessee’s Malik Jackson as the leagues leading tackler among defensive linemen. They are both averaging 5.1 stops per game.
Here’s another impressive defensive stat for the Bulldogs; Over the course of eight games, they’ve only give up four plays of 30 yards or greater. That ranks best in the nation. State has also held opponents to a 42% touchdown success rate in the red-zone , which ranks fourth nationally. Those numbers reflect defensive coordinator Chris Wilson’s “bend but don’t break” mentality on his side of the ball.
For MSU, a win on Saturday would mean a 5-4 record and a chance to close out the season strong. Though the Alabama matchup will be a tough one, obviously, a road trip to Arkansas the following week isn’t looking quite as daunting as it once did. Ole Miss visits Starkville on Thanksgiving weekend and the Bulldogs will be the favorites in that one. Plus, you can always count on Mullen having his team fired up for the Egg Bowl.
The Bottom Line – Although a homecoming game against a lower division opponent may seem like a formality, this particular one is huge when it comes to the big picture for State. Considering what’s on the line, expect to see a convincing performance by the guys in maroon.
Prediction: Mississippi State 42 – UT-Martin 10