The Mississippi State Bulldogs shouldn’t worry, for once, about their ability to win a football game.
By Matt Zemek
They scheduled the Abilene Christian Wildcats for a very good reason: They have only four days between this game and the Egg Bowl on Thanksgiving night against the enemy from Oxford, the Ole Miss Rebels. The main importance of this game isn’t just to win it (though the Bulldogs obviously need it to stay alive in their battle for bowl eligibility), but to get everyone healthy and prepared for Ole Miss. Victory on the scoreboard is virtually assured; victory which doesn’t leave this team more equipped to beat Ole Miss will make this an incomplete Saturday night in Starkville. Viewed through this lens, here is what Mississippi State must try to do against its FCS opponent:
1 – Backup buffet
This is simply not the time for coach Joe Moorhead to think his starters need some reps and lessons ahead of the Egg Bowl. Ole Miss has the week off. The Rebels are already sitting back and regrouping, dissecting game film of the Bulldogs. They don’t have to go through a game this weekend. Mississippi State is bothering to play a game, so it picked an unchallenging opponent for a purpose: to get to bowl eligibility if this season didn’t break in the right direction. Yes, the Bulldogs have to secure the win, but they should not think they have to push or extend the starters to do so. If Moorhead is worth his keep as a coach, he will have his backups prepared so that they can do the heavy lifting in this game. A backup-heavy game will enable the starters to be fresh for Ole Miss on a short week. In the NFL, a Thursday game is not preceded by a week off for the competing teams; it often is preceded by an off week in college football. Mississippi State doesn’t enjoy that luxury. The Bulldogs can’t respond to this deficit (or inconvenience, or both) by pushing harder. They need to exhibit more caution and trust players farther down the depth chart to handle this game. The added dimension of this approach: Playing backups a lot helps to create some teachable moments for the 2020 season.
2 – Run-heavy
If Mississippi State throws 15 passes, that will be too many. The Bulldogs need this game to be a short as realistically possible. Fewer snaps, fewer occasions which create an injury risk, fewer reasons to create a drawn-out game which will annoy everyone involved. This is a game to run, run, and run some more. The passing scheme Joe Moorhead has in mind for Ole Miss doesn’t need to be hinted at – not one bit – in this game.
3 – Pure vanilla
The Ole Miss game will be for bowl eligibility, once MSU handles this game against Abilene Christian. Given how challenging that contest will be, players need a mental break this weekend. A vanilla scheme with simplified concepts will ease the roster through this game. There is no need to give the Ole Miss staff any hints of what might be coming on Thanksgiving night.