The Mississippi State Bulldogs and Missouri Tigers head into their Thursday night battle from complete opposite directions.
The Bulldogs have won three straight games by comfortable margins, having blasted Troy 45-17, beat down F/+ No. 39 Louisiana Tech 45-20, and walloped Kentucky 42-16 in Lexington. MSU is rounding into shape, and it has fared better than a lot of folks anticipated. Its two point loss to LSU is the closest anyone has come to the Tigers to date, and its only other loss was on the road at Texas A&M before Kyle Allen broke.
Missouri limps in having dropped four of five games, all in SEC play. They lost at Kentucky before beating South Carolina, but they've failed to score a touchdown in three consecutive losses against Florida, Georgia, and Vanderbilt, respectively. The Tigers have only the one SEC win on the season, and with only Mississippi State, Tennessee, and a road game at Arkansas to go, they can't lose any more if they intend to avoid sinking to below .500 in league play.
1Locktober continues. Mizzou has been muddling along under the leadership of true freshman Drew Lock ever since Maty Mauk got suspended after the Kentucky loss. Though Lock did win his first start, those touchdown-less losses have come with him at the helm. Early in the bye week, Missouri announced that Mauk had been reinstated to participate in team activities, but not long after he did something to get himself sidelined for the season. For better or worse, this is Lock's team for the rest of 2015.
2Road warriors? This contest will be Mississippi State's fourth road game on the year. The Bulldogs didn't look sharp in their opener at Southern Miss, using a late touchdown to make the 34-16 final margin look a little nicer than it otherwise would've been. Their 17-9 win over Auburn maybe wasn't as close as it looks thanks to them shutting out the Tigers in the first half, but it wasn't a dominant performance. Finally, they supplied Texas A&M with its largest SEC victory on the season to the tune of 30-17, with the Aggies' other conference performances either being losses or one-score wins. MSU needs to look better away from home to avoid sweating this one out.
3Picks of the week. Dak Prescott has thrown just one interception on the season, and only LSU's Brandon Harris among league starters has done better in that regard. Prescott has also tossed 14 touchdowns, which bests Harris's nine, giving him one of the country's best TD-INT ratios. Mizzou's defense has been stellar in that regard, though, allowing just five touchdowns while snagging eight interceptions. The Tigers can put themselves into good position if they can get Prescott to make more mistakes than great plays, something they've done to other quarterbacks this year.
4Out of time. Believe it or not, these teams are Nos. 13 and 14 in the conference in time of possession. Missouri holds on to the ball for 26:26 on average, while MSU only keeps it 24:09 per game. It's all a part of the plan for the Bulldogs, as they've committed themselves to a fast paced, quick strike offense. They don't want to sit on the ball. It's bad news for the Tigers, as they haven't been going hurry-up and run the kind of offense where they would be OK with possessing it for long periods. If MSU emerges from this game with the time of possession edge, it probably means they've won it with ease.
5Policing the backfield. When it comes to sacks, these teams are opposite of each other. Mizzou has collected over three sacks per game in SEC play, while MSU gets under two. State has only allowed 1.5 sacks per game, though, while MU gives up three per contest. And while both are among the five teams getting at least seven tackles for loss per game in conference play, Missouri allows almost three more per game than MSU does. How much the defenses can disrupt the offensive backfields will be a major story in this game.
THREE TO WATCH
The Tiger defensive line, DL, Missouri: The offense may be a wasteland, but Mizzou's defense is nasty. It all starts up front, where the Tigers have four linemen—Charles Harris, Walter Brady, Donavin Newsom, and Terry Beckner, Jr.—in the SEC's top 17 individual players in tackles for loss per game. While MSU beats out only Mizzou (sad trombone sound here) in rushing yards per game in conference play, it's a matter of preference as the Bulldogs run for a middle-of-the-pack average per carry. If the home team's defensive line can shut down the run and make the visitors truly one-dimensional, it will be a huge boost to MU's chances.
Photo: Scott Cunningham -- Getty Images
Brandon Holloway, RB, Mississippi State: He doesn't as many touches on offense as many rotation running backs, as Prescott is the team's primary runner, but he's still the team's top all-purpose guy thanks to his work on kickoff returns. In fact, he's one of just three SEC players to take a kickoff to the house without a penalty calling it back. With points generally hard to come by against Mizzou, a big special teams play from Holloway could bestow a game-changing advantage.
Russell Hansbrough, RB, Missouri: After rushing for over 1,000 yards a year ago, Hansbrough has been bit badly by the injury bug this year. Coming off of the bye week, right now is probably as healthy as he's been since before he got hurt on his first carry of the season. Hansbrough was the team's undisputed best offensive weapon even before Mauk got himself put on ice, and he might be the only true offensive weapon they have. He has to have a big game for the Tigers to pull out the win, and with MSU's tackling being spotty at times this year, he just might do it if he can avoid getting banged up.
Mizzou is a 7.5 or 8-point home dog in this contest depending on who you ask. Given the offense's inability to find the end zone in its past three games, that might be kind. Mizzou will finally get to pay dirt tonight, and its defense will stifle the Bulldogs for a good amount of the game. The better team will pull it out in the end, but it won't be pretty. Mississippi State 19, Missouri 10