Most beat writers had the luxury of watching the team they cover play last week. Michael Bonner, a Mississippi State reporter for The Clarion-Ledger, is one of them, and he was kind enough to join us for this week’s edition of Pick 6.
You can follow Michael on Twitter @MikeBBonner and read his work here.
1. It’s usually unwise to jump to conclusions after only one game, but what is the level of concern in Starkville after MSU struggled with Southern Miss in the first half last week?
I’m not sure there is any concern. I’ve never seen Dan Mullen in a better mood after a game than last week against Southern Miss. Everyone saw the mistakes made, but no one thinks they are major problems or that they can’t be corrected. At the end of the day, MSU won by 18 points on the road against an in-state rival.
2. What does MSU need to do better if its hopes to win this SEC showdown?
Mississippi State needs to be crisper on offense. Dak Prescott wasn’t sharp and neither were his wide receivers. Fred Ross dropped a few passes and mishandled a punt.
On the other side, the defense needs to be better against the pass. The Bulldogs allowed more than 300 passing yards. It comes a year after MSU was worst in the SEC against the pass. Mississippi State should get some help from corner Taveze Calhoun, who didn’t play last week but is expected to return against LSU.
3. Missing the season opener obviously puts LSU at a disadvantage, but how much does not having extensive film of the Tigers hurt the Bulldogs’ preparation?
It could be worse for Mississippi State, but it could also be better. LSU features several new coaches and many new players. So the Bulldogs won’t have any tape on the new personnel.
At the same time, it’s a conference opponent. Mississippi State plays LSU every year. It’s the seventh time Dan Mullen and Les Miles will square off. Mullen and Company should have a pretty good idea of what Miles wants to do.
4. During last year’s upset in Tiger Stadium, MSU scored quickly on its opening drive and silenced the crowd for a while. This time around, how important will it be for the Bulldogs to keep the home crowd energized early in the game?
Mississippi State built much of its success last year on jumping ahead of opponents early in the game. The Bulldogs didn’t trail after the first quarter until November last year. However, MSU won that game against Arkansas. Mississippi State also trailed in the season-opener against Southern Miss and came back and won.
It’s not essential, but it certainly makes the task a lot easier for MSU if it jumps out in front early.
5. Quarterback Dak Prescott ran over and around the Tigers’ defense in last season’s matchup, but he rushed only eight times against Southern Miss last Saturday. Is coach Dan Mullen trying to limit Prescott’s carries, or will he turn him loose against LSU again?
Mullen said on Tuesday that he thought he called two runs for Prescott against Southern Miss. Prescott also didn’t take off and run much either. It wasn’t necessary, though. There’s no question Prescott is the most important player on the Bulldogs. No player may mean more to his team than Prescott.
Because of that, Mullen will try to prevent Prescott from taking any hits that aren’t necessary. During crunch time against Southern Miss, Prescott took off on the ground. Expect the same against the Tigers.
6. Another crucial factor in the Bulldogs’ win a year ago was holding LSU’s rushing attack to a meager 2.5 yards per carry. With only three returning defensive starters from last year, how realistic is it for MSU to replicate that performance?
Mississippi State’s defensive line played like the best unit on the defense against Southern Miss. A.J. Jefferson had two sacks. Ryan Brown had a sack and four quarterback hurries. Chris Jones showed no problems penetrating USM’s line. The Golden Eagles rushed for 102 yards on 36 carries. Golden Eagles running back Ito Smith gained 69 yards on eight carries, but 44 yards came on a third-quarter rush.
Subtract the one big play and MSU limited Southern Miss to 58 yards on 35 carries, an average of 1.6 yards per carry. The Bulldogs line can replicate it. The question may be the players behind them.