Mississippi State (1-0) at Louisiana Tech (1-0)
Game time; 7:30 PM ET/6:30 PM CT
TV: CBS Sports Network
Online streaming: CBS Sports
Odds (via oddsshark.com): Mississippi State is an 8.5-point favorite. Over/under is 69 (nice.)
All-time series: Mississippi State leads, 9-3.
Last meeting: 2015, Mississippi State won, 45-20.
The Mississippi State Bulldogs rolled to a 49-0 victory over FCS Charleston Southern in their season opener. Now the Bulldogs travel to Ruston, Louisiana, to face a different set of Bulldogs from Louisiana Tech.
Louisiana Tech is a frequent nonconference foil for SEC teams. But this is a rare visit to Ruston for an SEC team. The last came in 2008, and the opponent was this same Mississippi State team.
Louisiana Tech won its season opener 52-24 over FCS Northwestern State. The Bulldogs showed some offensive firepower in averaging 6.9 yards per play, with quarterback J’Mar Smith passing for 276 yards and 2 touchdowns (albeit just completing barely half of his attempts) and rushing for 72.
On the other hand, Louisiana Tech’s defense gave up 5.3 yards per play.
Here are three things to watch for.
Just how good is Mississippi State’s defense?
Poor Charleston Southern ran 47 plays and managed just 33 yards of total offense. That’s an encouraging performance considering that Mississippi State finished last season ranked 73rd in Defensive S&P+, has a new coordinator, and had to replace five of its top eight tacklers from last season.
Of course, that was Charleston Southern. This week presents a much stiffer test: Louisiana Tech ranked 2nd in FBS in scoring offense last season. While the offense has a new quarterback and wasn’t super impressive against Northwestern State last week (in spite of scoring 52 points), we should have a better idea of where Mississippi State stands defensively after this week.
Does Nick Fitzgerald have any help?
Fitzgerald led Mississippi State in both passing and rushing last season. In the last 10 years, four other SEC quarterbacks have accomplished that feat. It’s a list that includes three Heisman winners (Tim Tebow, Cam Newton, Johnny Manziel.) The fourth player on the list? Mississippi State’s own Dak Prescott.
Almost nobody thinks Fitzgerald is comparable to that group, and his placement last year had almost as much to do with the absence of other playmakers on the offensive side of the ball. Aeris Williams averaged 5.1 yards per carry last year and ran for 83 yards last week, but a name to watch might be true freshman Kylin Hill.
The four-star recruit from nearby Columbus had 62 yards on nine carries in his debut last week. Mississippi State has some potential on offense, but needs other playmakers besides Fitzgerald to step up.
Louisiana Tech isn’t exactly a defensive powerhouse, so if anybody’s going to emerge, we should see it this week.
Is Mississippi State walking into a trap?
It’s rare that power conference teams come to Ruston. In fact, the last time one did, it was Mississippi State back in 2008 — and that ended in a 22-14 loss for MSU that was the beginning of the end of Sylvester Croom (Louisiana Tech did play Texas A&M at a “neutral site” in nearby Shreveport in 2012, a game the Aggies won 59-57).
This is flying under the national radar, but it might be the biggest game for Louisiana Tech in almost a decade, and that’s a dangerous spot for Mississippi State. Mississippi State will follow this up with LSU, then travel to Georgia and Auburn. But Louisiana Tech is dangerous, and if MSU is looking ahead, they could find themselves leaving Ruston with a loss.