Mississippi State 3 Keys: Tennessee State

Mississippi State football Three keys

The Mississippi State Bulldogs played another thriller last week against Bryan Harsin’s Auburn Tigers.

By Matt Zemek

The Bulldogs notched a 43-34 win over Auburn and put themselves in position to at least finish the year .500. A comeback from a 28-3 deficit — sound familiar, Tom Brady? — in Jordan-Hare Stadium gave MSU another quality SEC West road win. The Bulldogs had already won at Texas A&M. Mike Leach has developed a team which is resilient, not merely skilled. The Bulldogs have to be pleased with the progress they have made this season.

Before the Egg Bowl against Ole Miss, MSU gets a breather by playing Tennessee State from the FCS. The Tigers are 5-5 on the year with former Ohio State and NFL legend Eddie George at the helm. Longtime NFL veteran Hue Jackson is the offensive coordinator, so this team has some guys with experience coaching them up. That said, they’re probably not in the same realm as the Bulldogs at this stage in George’s coaching career. He is, after all, only in his first season. Mississippi State will try to create a drama-free game here.

1 – 1 – Make Geremy Hickenbottom uncomfortable early and often

As previously stated, the Tennessee State Tigers have an extremely qualified coaching staff. As a result, it’s unsurprising to see some of their players having success. Geremy Hickenbottom, the quarterback, is no exception. He has 1,816 passing yards on the year, but he also has 270 rushing yards. Hickenbottom has thrown 12 touchdowns on the year, rushed for another seven touchdowns, and has thrown just four interceptions on the year. The Bulldogs are going to have to get after Hickenbottom because if he gets going, Eddie George is going to press the gas pedal. He has nothing to lose and everything to gain in this situation. If the Bulldogs can’t stop him, the day could get interesting really quickly.

2 – Get snaps for backups

There’s a reason SEC teams use the week before rivalry games to play FCS teams if they are unable to get the week off altogether. Starters need rest near the end of the season. They need to be physically and mentally fresh for the rivalry game which means so much to fans, boosters, alumni, and people throughout the state of Mississippi. This is a wasted game if it doesn’t enable backups to play significant minutes. This is part of the player development process for 2022, but it’s also a chance to make sure starters aren’t doing heavy lifting before the Egg Bowl.

3 – Let Will Rogers cook

If anyone can light up the scoreboard for the Bulldogs, it’s Will Rogers. Last week, Rogers threw for 6 touchdowns on 44-of-55 passing for 415 yards. Even with a minimal run game, Rogers was able to throw the ball all over the field early and often. When Rogers is on and firing, it’s beautiful to watch. Few coaches know their own playbook as intimately as Mike Leach, so when he gets into a play-calling rhythm, watch out. Rogers is the heartbeat of this team. The best thing the Bulldogs can do is get out of his way when he’s on fire.

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