Opponent: Mississippi State University
Record: 1-1, 1-0 in SEC play
Mississippi State and the Purple and Gold meet Saturday for a very important early season league clash. After losing their opener to an improved South Alabama team, MSU switched quarterbacks and knocked off South Carolina last week. A conference loss early in the season in the SEC West does not mean disaster, but it makes life a lot tougher for the team with the defeat.
State quarterback, sophomore Nick Fitzgerald, promptly stepped into his first collegiate start, against South Carolina, and accounted for 373 yards of total offense in the contest, 178 yards passing, and 195 rushing. His longest run from scrimmage was 74 yards. He passed for two touchdowns.
The Bulldogs have other experienced runners in their offensive backfield. Brandon Holloway, Ashton Shumpert, and Aeris Williams were the second, third, and fourth leading rushers respectively on the team in the 2015 season. Holloway, a senior, had 48 yards rushing against South Carolina Saturday. He is also good at catching the ball. He was the third leading receiver on the team last season, as well as garnering 567 yards in kickoff returns. Shumpert, a senior, ran for 28 yards against the Gamecocks.
It is interesting to note, the two players who have had 100 yard rushing games for MSU this season have been their quarterbacks, Fitzgerald and senior Damian Williams, who ran for 143 yards in opening game of the season.
Senior Fred Ross returns after leading the team with 1007 yards in receiving during the 2015 campaign. He has 116 yards in receptions so far this season. Ross can pass the football, as well as return punts. Like Holloway, he is versatile, and he can hurt an opponent in different ways. However, junior Donald Gray led the squad last year in yardage per catch, averaging 18.4 yards per grab.
Despite the loss of Dak Prescott, the Bulldogs still have their share of play makers on offense.
The offensive line has three players with 53 starts between them in their careers. They are senior left guard Devin Desper, senior center Jamaal Clayborn, and senior right tackle Justin Senior.
Defensively, after two games, the Bulldogs have held their opponents to 128 yards net rushing this season. One big reason for this is senior middle linebacker Richie Brown. He had 10 tackles, six solos, and two tackles for losses (tfls) in the win over South Carolina. Brown has 16 tackles so far this year, as does junior J.T. Gray. Sophomore safety Brandon Bryant was third in tackles among SEC freshmen last year.
On the defensive line seniors Nelson Adams and A.J. Jefferson have garnered tremendous amounts of playing time thanks to a Bulldog platoon system on defense. Jefferson, a defensive tackle, was ninth at the beginning of the season, on the all-time list for tfls, with 24.5 for the Bulldogs.
Mississippi State will find out Saturday night whether their early season, gaudy, rushing defense stats are as good as they have looked for their first two games.
If it matters, the Bulldogs, through the first two contests this season, seem to play their best football in the first half, outscoring opponents 41-0 in the first two quarters.
MSU does not have a lot of big names on its team, which is nothing unusual. They just play hard to the best of their potential, which means the Purple and Gold will have to play to their potential to win the game.