The Mississippi State Bulldogs did well to make a bowl game. Everyone who follows college football knew that the 2018 Bulldogs underperformed, given the collection of high-end NFL talent they possessed on the defensive side of the ball.
By Matt Zemek
With all their high-profile departures, the Bulldogs were going to face an uphill battle on the road to a bowl game in 2019, but they got there. Now they are playing with nothing to lose in the Music City Bowl against the Louisville Cardinals.
Mississippi State is favored in this game, but it was the underdog a few years ago when it upset Lamar Jackson and Louisville in the Gator Bowl. Let’s look at what MSU can do to beat Louisville once again, this time as the favorite.
1 – Shut off the big play
Louisville is an incomplete team, but it is also an explosive one. The Cardinals showed a lot of promise on offense this season thanks to first-year coach Scott Satterfield and an aggressive style which produced a ton of chunk plays. The Cardinals won a 62-59 game against Wake Forest and scored a 41-39 win over Boston College, just to mention a few of their more prolific offensive displays. If opponents can stop Louisville, great. Clemson and Kentucky were able to genuinely handcuff the Cardinals. However, merely containing UL should generally be enough to beat the Cardinals, given how weak their defense normally is. Making the responsible play – staying at home, not getting sucked in on misdirection, following assignments – will achieve a lot for Mississippi State in this game. Louisville will throw the kitchen sink at the Bulldogs. This defense has to be able to step out of the way when the sink is in the air.
2 – Power offense
Louisville’s 7-5 season was built on the strength of its offense. The defense is the much weaker side of the line of scrimmage for the Cardinals, whose defensive front can be moved around. The surest path to victory for Mississippi State depends on its defense eliminating the big play from Louisville’s offensive portfolio… and on MSU powering the ball through the teeth of the Cardinals’ defense. This is not a game in which Mississippi State should try to get cute. The Bulldogs need to overpower Louisville’s defense and assert their physical superiority. We have seen the ACC struggle in bowl games, with Miami getting shut out by Louisiana Tech, among other results. That Miami team scored 52 points against Louisville this season. That tells you how fragile this UL defense really is. Mississippi State needs to punch that defense in the mouth, early and often.
3 – Competent quarterbacking
The QB spot was a puzzle for Joe Moorhead for much of the season. Solving this puzzle in the Music City Bowl will not necessarily transform MSU’s offense, but it will reduce the errors and hiccups which could get in the way of victory. Sometimes, merely reducing mistakes might be enough, and this game could offer a case study.