Mississippi State at Memphis: A preview and prediction
The Mississippi State Bulldogs will attempt to make it a clean sweep in nonconference play when they take on the Memphis Tigers this Saturday at 4 p.m. ET at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium.
After the game, the 2-0 Bulldogs will settle into one of the most difficult conference schedules in college football, beginning with LSU on Sept. 15.
For the Tigers, who are also 2-0, MSU represents the lone Power 5 nonconference opponent on the schedule.
For Mississippi State, the Tigers represent an opportunity to make headway in the fertile recruiting ground of western Tennessee and eastern Arkansas.
The improvement that head coach Mike Leach’s MSU team showed in Week 2 seems to show that this team is buying into his message and his plan.
After escaping Week 1 with a 35-34 win over Louisiana Tech, the Bulldogs played a complete gam at home in a 24-10 win over North Carolina State.
The notable improvements came by way of decision-making by quarterback Will Rogers and by tackling and discipline on the defensive side.
To take another step forward, as we wrote earlier in the week, the Bulldogs will need to see more peppered aggressiveness from Rogers to go with his discipline.
Rogers attempted and completed a similar number of passes in both games. But against the Wolfpack, he avoided bad throws and did not throw a pick.
The defense did not give up the back-breaking home runs in Week 2 the way it did in Week 1. It played simple, aggressive defense and allowed N.C. State to beat itself.
The Tigers opened their 2021 campaign at home with a 42-17 win over Nicholls State, and they followed with a 55-50 win over Arkansas State on Saturday.
Memphis qualified for postseason play in 2020, making it 7 consecutive years that it played in a bowl game. The success started with Justin Fuente (now head coach at Virginia Tech), followed by Mike Norvell (now at Florida State) and current coach Ryan Silverfield.
The Tigers’ recent run of success peaked in 2019 when they qualified for the Cotton Bowl, where they scared Penn State before falling by 2 touchdowns.
In the 2020 COVID season, the Tigers finished 8-3, good for third place in the American Athletic Conference behind Tulsa and top-10 Cincinnati.
This year, Memphis has found success behind its high-powered offense. The Tigers are led by a pair of freshmen, running back Brandon Thomas and quarterback Seth Henigan.
Thomas has run for 338 yards, averaging nearly 10 years per carry with 3 touchdowns.
Henigan has completed 41-of-65 for 682 yards and 6 touchdowns with no interceptions.
Odds and trends
The Bulldogs are favored to win by more than a field goal.
Mississippi State is averaging nearly 30 points per game, 4 fewer points the Memphis is giving up.
The Bulldogs are allowing 22 points per game, while the Tigers are scoring 48.
Both teams have coaching staffs known for offense, but they won’t quite look the same. The MSU air raid will not depend on the run. In this offense, wide screens and swing passes substitute for the traditional run game and serve as de facto pitch plays.
However, the uptempo Memphis attack will use the run — between the tackles, mostly — to throw jabs at the defense while it sets up deep shots toward tired defensive backs.
Both offenses have some complex ideas. But in general, they are built to tire out linebackers and safeties while making defensive linemen irrelevant.
Sigh. The Tigers have been a stable program that recruits above its level and develops NFL-ready talent at a surprising clip.
The Bulldogs are in the midst of a top-down rebuild. The Bulldogs will have to combine their resolve from Week 1 with their discipline from Week 2.
I like the Tigers in a shootout.
If MSU is going to win, it will come, once again, behind the defense. The Bulldogs will need to tackle and stay home on each and every down.
Memphis wins 44-37. Roast me.