Mississippi State football visits Georgia on Saturday in Athens. Here are your three keys to a State victory.
By Matt Zemek
The Mississippi State Bulldogs’ win over LSU feels like two years ago, not two months ago. That one game seemed to breathe so much hope and optimism into the MSU camp, but as we have seen, that game was far more an illustration of LSU’s weaknesses than any strengths Mississippi State might have possessed. It has been a mighty struggle for Mike Leach in the two months since that win in Baton Rouge. Quarterback K.J. Costello has struggled with turnovers, and Mississippi State has largely floundered, a win over Vanderbilt being a rare and precious exception to that overall trend.
Now, Mississippi State must go to Georgia for a battle of the Bulldogs. This game has a few fresh components, and if MSU is to win, one game key towers over the others, as you will soon see:
1 – Dump Daniels
Georgia coach Kirby Smart made the decision earlier this week to give USC transfer J.T. Daniels the start against Mississippi State. Daniels got injured last year at USC before freshman quarterback Kedon Slovis essentially “Wally Pipped” him and rooted him out of the starting spot. Daniels transferred to Georgia, but even after Jamie Newman opted out of this season, he couldn’t grab the starting job. Stetson Bennett was there, and D’Wan Mathis right behind Bennett. When Georgia struggled against Florida in the Cocktail Party, Mathis – not Daniels – relieved Bennett midway through the contest. Everyone wondered why Daniels couldn’t get meaningful snaps.
One doesn’t have to wonder anymore. Daniels will get his big chance on Saturday. Mississippi State needs to generate a pass rush, but it also needs to be prepared to jump short routes and assume that Daniels will throw safe, high-percentage passes out of the gate. Being able to aggressively challenge Georgia receivers on short passes could cause Daniels to hesitate. If Mississippi State can manage to do this, it really could threaten to win this game as a 25-point underdog. Getting three or four interceptions from Daniels – ideally turning one into a pick-six and two others into very short fields for the offense – is the most realistic path to victory for Mississippi State on Saturday.
2 – The big play
Mississippi State succeeded against LSU because it hit long passes. MSU is not good enough to forge 13-play, 80-yard scoring drives, certainly not against Georgia’s defense. The long ball has to become MSU’s friend once again. Taking chances is necessary as a huge underdog; Mississippi State can’t play the percentages when those percentages so obviously favor Georgia.
Keep in mind that Alabama and Florida both torched this Georgia secondary. If Mississippi State can produce an LSU-level passing performance, this game could – and probably will – become interesting and close. The question is if this MSU passing game is ready to rebound on such a large scale.
3 – First touchdown
If Mississippi State allows the first touchdown of this game, a “here we go again” mindset could develop which would limit MSU’s ability to play with the confidence needed to win. However, scoring a first touchdown could inject Mike Leach’s team with the verve and optimism it will need to fight Georgia for four quarters and, if nothing else, keep the game close. A bright start is absolutely essential here for Mississippi State.
Saturday‘s game kicks off at 6:30 PM CT (7:30 PM ET). You can watch this Mississippi State football game on the SEC Network.