Here’s everything you need to know about Saturday’s showdown between Mississippi State and UAB in Starkville.

When: Saturday
Where: Starkville, Mississippi
Game Time: 2 PM ET
TV: ESPN3/FSN
Current Line: Mississippi State (-29.5)

Game Buzz: Mississppi State enters this game following a 49-0 shutout of the Southern Miss Golden Eagles in last week’s season opener. MSU will stay in Conference USA this week when it faces its second opponent of 2014, the UAB Blazers. The Blazers romped Troy 48-10 last weekend, rushing for more than 300 yards in the process. Mississippi State is favored by more than four touchdowns in this matchup, but the Blazers do have the playmakers on offense to take advantage of the Bulldogs if they don’t bring their A-game to Davis Wade Stadium this weekend.

SATURDAY DOWN SOUTH PREVIEWS

MISSISSIPPI STATE BULLDOGS

Players to watch:

  • QB Dak Prescott
  • RB Josh Robinson
  • WR De’Runnya Wilson
  • WR Jameon Lewis (if he plays)
  • TE Malcolm Johnson
  • DE Preston Smith
  • DT Chris Jones
  • LB Benardrick McKinney
  • S Jay Hughes

Keys for Mississippi State:

  • Continue to spread the ball around on offense. Ten different players caught a pass for Mississippi State last week against Southern Miss, many of whom stand more than 6-feet tall. The more big-bodied weapons Prescott can incorporate into the passing game, the easier it will be for the Bulldogs to stretch the field and open up lanes for Prescott and tailback Josh Robinson to gash opposing defenses on the ground.
  • Set Prescott up with a few designed runs against the Blazers. The MSU quarterback showed great improvement as a passer from last season, completing 69 percent of his passes for 284 yards and four touchdowns in last week’s opener. However, he only racked up 23 yards on the ground, well short of the pace he maintained on his way to 829 rushing yards in 2013. Robinson managed 87 yards on the ground last week at 6.2 yards per carry, which, combined with Prescott’s performance through the air, should open up some running lanes for the quarterback to make a few spectacular plays with his legs. The Clarion-Ledger is reporting Prescott injured his foot in practice this week, but Mullen responded to those rumors on his weekly radio show by saying “a lot of that stuff gets blown out of proportion.” There’s no need to run Prescott a dozen times, but a handful of designed runs with blocking schemes set to protect the junior quarterback could aid his Heisman campaign, and could show SEC defenses another dimension to the MSU offense this season.
  • Continue to rotate 20-or-more players on defense. Mullen played almost every active defensive player on his roster last week in a shutout of Southern Miss. The UAB offense features two talented tailbacks in Jordan Howard and D.J. Vinson, but does to present a major threat through the air, allowing the Bulldogs’ to remain aggressive up front. The more players Mullen and defensive coordinator Geoff Collins can establish on defense, the harder Mississippi State will become to score on as the season progresses and opposing offenses begin to wear down.

Bulldogs’ glaring weakness to watch: It remains unclear what role senior wide receiver Jameon Lewis will have Saturday, if any, less than a week after the death of his brother. Lewis led the team in receptions last season and is a multi-faceted weapon in the MSU offense. However, he may not see much action, and may not be his sharpest when he does see the field, which is completely understandable. It will also be interesting to see if the tragedy weighs on any other Bulldogs, holding them back from performing at their highest level. Mississippi State will almost certainly show some resiliency in its home stadium in the face of adversity, but it could affect how sharp the team looks against an inferior opponent.

Most interesting part of the game: Mississippi State’s place kicking battle will continue into Saturday’s contest, and it will be interesting to see how the two competitors – Westin Graves and Evan Sobiesk – perform if called upon to try a field goal. The Bulldogs’ only got to attempt one last week, but a bad snap spoiled Graves’ only chance to shine. Sobiesk didn’t even get to attempt a kick against Southern Miss, so it’s almost impossible to anticipate how either will perform under the pressure of a live game with a sold-out home crowd in attendance.

Team Buzz: For the second week in a row, Mississippi State should not be challenged by a C-USA opponent. The Bulldogs showed great balance on offense and impeccable depth on defense against Southern Miss, and if both hold true this weekend against UAB, the Blazers will have a tough time keeping up in Starkville. Look for State to play most of its active roster on both sides of the ball on Saturday as Mullen continues to evaluate his team before the start of MSU’s SEC schedule.

UAB BLAZERS

Players to watch:

  • QB Cody Clements
  • RB Jordan Howard
  • RB D.J. Vinson
  • WR Jamarcus Nelson
  • LB Jake Ganus
  • DL Diahee Watkins

Keys for UAB:

  • Establish the run early. It’s no secret the Blazers want to run the ball on offense against Mississippi State, especially after topping 300 yards on the ground last week against Troy. If UAB can gain some traction with its running game, it could create some opportunities in the passing game through play-action fakes and short-to-intermediate timing patterns. The Bulldogs are deep on defense, but UAB had two running backs top 100 yards last week, meaning it has the depth at tailback to counter the MSU defense. The Blazers will have a quarter, perhaps a half, to establish their rushing attack. If they can’t, it could mean trouble for UAB.
  • Force Mississippi State to air it out. The UAB defense had no trouble stifling the Troy rushing attack, holding the Trojans to just 71 yards on 36 attempts. Mississippi State will look to run the ball with Josh Robinson early in the contest to open up the rest of the offense for Prescott to make plays through the air and with his legs. If UAB can stymie the MSU run game and force the offense to become one-dimensional, it could keep the Blazers close on the scoreboard for most of the afternoon.

Blazers’ glaring weakness to watch: A lack of playmaking wide receivers. UAB quarterback Cody Clements did a fine job managing the offense against Troy, completing 13-of-19 passes for 152 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. However, the Blazers lacked big plays through the air against Troy, and those plays won’t come any easier against a veteran Mississippi State secondary. If the Bulldogs’ manage to gain an early advantage on the scoreboard, UAB may not have the fire-power in its passing game to make up the ground quickly, which could spell doom for the Blazers.

Most interesting part of the game: UAB’s 48 points in its season opener against Troy were its highest point total against an FBS opponent since scoring 50 in an overtime win over Southern Miss in 2010. Saturday’s contest will help answer the question is this UAB offense for real, or was the win over Troy a fluke? UAB doesn’t necessarily have to win this game, or even come within 24-points of Mississippi State, to prove the offense is the real deal. Should the Blazers manage 20-or-more points on a defense yet to allow a point in 2014, an SEC defense on its home field no less, it would certainly be impressive.

Team Buzz: UAB has already proven it is a much better team than the 2013 squad, which won just two games and lost to then-winless Southern Miss by 35 points. It will be a tough task to beat Mississippi State in its home stadium, but the Blazers can still gain confidence from this game that will last into the C-USA portion of their schedule. If UAB can run the ball well and keep this game close, it’ll immediately appear on the radar of every other C-USA program. The Blazers won’t go down without a fight, and this game could end up closer than many expect.