Mississippi State hosts Vanderbilt on Saturday in Starkville. Here are your three keys to a Bulldog victory.
By Matt Zemek
The Mississippi State Bulldogs thought they had something good on offense when they smoked the LSU Tigers in their season opener. It has been all downhill ever since. MSU’s offense has been shut out in two of its last four games. MSU’s defense scored a safety against Kentucky but lost 24-2. Mississippi State has failed to score more than 14 points in any of its past four games, averaging seven points per contest. Mississippi State scored more points against LSU than in its last four games combined. This Saturday, the Bulldogs and Vanderbilt will play to avoid the SEC cellar. Let’s see what the Bulldogs need to do as they go back to square one and try to figure out how to start over and rebuild their season.
1 – Third-down defense
This game figures to be a game MSU will win (the Bulldogs are 19-point favorites), but it could slip away if a few things happen, and one is if Vanderbilt’s offense converts third downs. When Vanderbilt almost beat Texas A&M at the start of the season, the Commodores converted 7 of 17 third downs, nearly half. Vanderbilt kept the ball for 34 minutes, which meant that even though the Commodores didn’t score much, they didn’t allow A&M to get more possessions. This contributed to a performance in which VU held the Aggies to just 17 points. Vanderbilt has to be able to control the ball to have a realistic chance in this game. The Commodores’ defense has struggled in recent weeks after that good start against A&M; in order to shape this game the way it wants to, Vanderbilt has to keep its offense on the field. Mississippi State has to get off the field.
2 – Wipe the slate clean
After four very rough performances on offense, the Bulldogs could be depressed – that’s completely understandable, since sports (like life itself) are emotional. It’s natural to lose confidence when the course of events doesn’t flow in a good direction. Mississippi State needs to find leadership in the locker room and make a conscious decision to start fresh. It’s easy to say, but the Bulldogs have to find a way to achieve it. MSU has to shrug off the baggage of previous weeks. If it is still thinking about how bad the past month has been, Mississippi State could lose yet again, which would make an already-bad season far worse. Turn the page, consciously move forward. Play with a sense of fun and excitement. That will matter.
3 – Patient passing
One can try to find complicated game keys for Mississippi State, but why complicate things? That’s part of the problem. In order to get meaningfully better, the Bulldogs simply have to cultivate good habits – chiefly patience – in their passing game. K.J. Costello can’t be greedy and can’t force passes which aren’t clearly open. Make the read, stay with the play, and take the short gain if the down and distance allow. Don’t reinvent the wheel. If MSU can get back to basics in its passing game, that’s a foundation for improvement and ultimately success.
Saturday‘s game kicks off at 3:00 PM CT (4:00 PM ET). You can watch this Mississippi State football game on the SEC Network.