Mississippi State football: Why the Bulldogs can upset N.C. State
The traffic you experienced in central Mississippi on Monday was tens of thousands of Mississippi State football fans heading to their primary care providers to acquire blood pressure medication following the largest comeback in program history in Week 1.
Now in Week 2, the Bulldogs will wrap themselves in the SEC flag in their only Power 5 nonconference game of the year, when North Carolina State comes to town on Saturday.
The Wolfpack come to Starkville after a nice and easy win against South Florida, 45-0, on Sept. 2. N.C. State is currently about a 3-point favorite, according to the Action Network.
Mississippi State, on the other hand, is coming off a heart attack against Louisiana Tech, 35-34.
Without reading too much into what happened to the Bulldogs against LA Tech, here are a few reasons Mississippi State can upset N.C. State.
This is something I plan to continue to watch and talk about as the people of the world continue to climb out of their bunkers.
We’ve already seen fans completely overwhelm visiting teams who, prior to 2020, regularly played road games in front of massive crowds.
Virginia Tech upset North Carolina, and both Penn State and Notre Dame arguably could/should have won by double digits on the road against Wisconsin and Florida State, respectively.
We do not yet have an adequate sample size or any sort of analytics regarding how fans will impact outcomes, but it certainly feels important. And for teams that have never played at Davis Wade Stadium, there’s no real way to prepare for the agitation and noise level of the cowbells.
In some ways, N.C. State’s Devin Leary and MSU’s Will Rogers appear statistically similar. Both are underclassmen with fewer than 15 starts; Leary has played 13 games, Rogers 10. Despite this, Rogers has attempted nearly 50 more passes than Leary.
You cannot replace experience, and Rogers seems to be outpacing Leary by more than 10 attempts per game. While this could be chalked up to the scheme that MSU head coach Mike Leach runs, it’s also indicative of the trust in Rogers now that he has won the job.
By contrast, this is also because N.C. State’s best players are offensive tackle Ikem Ekwonu and running back Zonovan Knight, indicating that the Wolfpack prefers to run the ball.
Uptempo and/or Air Raid offenses work so well in college because they isolate players and consistently force them to make individual plays on every play. This is particularly advantageous when a school has a recruiting disadvantage of any kind. The constant pressure to play man defense or create interior pass rush on every single play leads to mistakes, even for the best players.
And with a high number of attempts comes clock stoppages on incomplete passes, which is another advantage against run-heavy teams. In Week 1, LA Tech tried to run the clock down and became predictable, while Mississippi State could have an incompletion without being that much worse off.
For coaches like Leach and other current or former college coaches like Chip Kelly, Art Briles and Kliff Kingsbury, the important number is that of plays run. This scheme is more effective the more pressure it puts on a defense. Even if N.C. State runs its way to a double-digit lead, it’s never safe against the Air Raid.
For me, one of the great things about college football is the mix of high school pageantry with the chess moves of NFL football. N.C. State appears better than MSU on paper, but the moment this Saturday feels a bit different for the Bulldogs.
First, the largest comeback win in program history ought to bring the club together while also giving the coaching staff plenty to work on during the week. Mississippi State is at the point in the Leach era where culture and camaraderie outweigh routine victories.
Second, Saturday marks the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. College football will remember the events throughout the day in tributes to victims, first responders and the men and women who served the country during that time and today.
However, I find it unlikely that many in national media circles recall the special role that Mississippi State played in the days following the attack. MSU hosted South Carolina in the first game following 9/11, with the blessing of the White House.
Stefan Krajisnik wrote a tremendous piece for the Daily Journal about that first game back. I can’t recommend it highly enough.
With history like that following a comeback win in Week 1, the Bulldogs will have internal momentum, which matters in college football.