THE BIG PREVIEW
MSU VS. Troy
It's time for week four of The Big Preview -- the edition where we try not to enter into a deep state of early season depression. Mississippi State's season is off to a rocky 1-2 start, and people are starting to get a bit frustrated. It's understandable, as the two loss start is only magnified by the fact that last Saturday's loss was yet another close loss at the hands of hated Auburn. Still, the season churns on, and there's much left to play for. That journey down the road of the remaining 3/4's of the season kicks of this Saturday night as State takes on the Trojans of Troy.
In this week's The Big Preview, we give those traveling to town some solid eatery suggestions in the latest TBB's Gameday Domination. We also have our traditional game preview, as well as our not-so-traditional opponent preview of the Trojans. Lastly, we'll call all the guys in to answer some questions on the season one quarter of the way in, the offense, and other burning questions following the 1-2 start.
Click any of the four links below to scroll directly to the section that you're looking for (each section also features a button at the end to take you back to the top of the page):
T Braden Bishop's Gameday Domination -- Restaurant Tyler by Braden Bishop
Game Preview -- Mississippi State vs. Troy by JLgrindin
Totally Serious Opponent Report by James Carskadon
Roundtable Report with For Whom the Cowbell Tolls
TBB's Gameday Domination -- Restaurant Tyler
by tbradenbishop Follow @tbradenbishop
Location: 100 E. Main Street, 66.324.1014
Speciality: Southern brunch and lunch specials
TYLER: How can you beat this description? (via their epic website)
Restaurant Tyler is located in historic Downtown Starkville, MS. Chef Ty is a supporter of the 'eat local' movement and uses only the freshest and most local ingredients from around the Golden Triangle; whether it is local farm raised pigs for our in-house smoked bacon, or Vardaman Sweet Potatoes. If you are looking for a night out or just a quick lunch, Chef Ty and staff are sure to please.
TWO BUDDIES, FOUR RESTAURANTS: Ty and Brian are putting Starkville on the map when it comes to eateries. Here's their story:
Although raised in the same Mississippi hometown, owners Ty Thames and Brian Kelley didn’t meet until randomly assigned to the same dorm as college roommates. The dream of one day opening a restaurant together was often mentioned in that tiny, cramped room. Several years later, a summer trip was planned to work in a Vermont restaurant and tour New England. Unplanned, Ty made the 2 month Vermont trip into a 2 year stay that included attending and graduating from, with distinction, the prestigious New England Culinary Institute, while Brian headed home to attend the University of Mississippi Law School. After graduation, Brian started a law practice in Starkville when the perfect spot came available for a restaurant.
Ty, who was then working at a fine dining restaurant in Washington D.C. answered the call and soon enough, Bin 612 was born and the dream was a reality. The rest, as they say, is history… Ty and Brian now operate 4 restaurants in Starkville including Bin 612,Restaurant Tyler, Zorba’s Greek Tavern and Rock Bottom Bar & Grill. Ty’s talents have been featured in such publications as Southern Living Magazine, ESPN’s Taste of the Town, Y’all Magazine, Starkville Daily News, Starkville Dispatch and Tupelo Daily Journal. The next time you are in Starkville, please come say hello and remember to Eat Local!
MENU: No matter brunch or lunch or dinner Monday through Sunday, RT has you covered. From salads to crawfish dip to chicken and Belgium waffles to poboys, this place will make you drool heavily. We STRONGLY suggest the 8oz hand-pattied Tyler burger, in-house smoked bacon and gorgonzola cheese, and garlic aioli on French bread with your side. Their signature omelets can't be beaten when you're waking up from a tough night of viewing MSU football either. Do NOT miss out on their amazing blue plate specials featuring hamburger steak, Delta catfish, fried chicken, fried pork chops, fried shrimp, and sides like mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole, cheese grits, or purple hull peas. Bring the kiddos... they eat free when under 10 years of age.
As always... Eat, Ring, and Be Merry.
Game Preview - Troy
by JLgrindin Follow @JLgrindin
The Troy Trojans come into this weekend's matchup sporting a solid 2-1 record. They own wins over UAB and Savannah State. This is reason for serious concern for MSU, as the Trojans will be rolling in hot.
Ahhh... just kidding. Yeah, so the one opponent that Troy has played that could make any correlation to MSU is Arkansas State. The same Arkansas State team that Auburn beat 38-9, defeated Troy 41-34.
The Trojans have given up 31 and 41 points this season. I would imagine that a similar, possibly higher number will be posted by MSU this weekend.
I wrote a few weeks ago that the Alcorn State game was all about MSU. It was, and the Bulldogs took care of business and looked impressive. Dak Prescott gained confidence in that game that almost led him to a win on the road against the Auburn Tigers in his FIRST SEC START OF HIS CAREER. As antsy as the MSU fan base is lately, you have to understand that Prescott was making just his first SEC start. It was also on the road, in a hostile environment, against a relatively evenly-matched team.
Much like the Alcorn State game, this Saturday's matchup against Troy will be about MSU. If anytime after Saturday's game the topic is Arkansas State, that will tell you all you need to know about the game. This is a game MSU should win and they should be able to put it in cruise control.
It will be interesting to see in game three of the Dan Mullen-Dak Prescott project how the playcalling will continue to evolve and how the MSU offense will look from a chemistry standpoint. Can the offense continue to grow and get better under Prescott? Can he continue to grow up before our eyes?
Also, it will be interesting to see how the Bulldogs respond from such a close, gut-wrenching loss in such a critical game. Troy is a good week to bounce back and get a win. It is also a good week to get healthy before SEC teams begin to take up most of the remaining games on the schedule.
On the other side of the ball, MSU will be facing an offense that has proven it can score, albeit against lesser competition. The Trojan offense should come into Starkville Saturday with a good bit of confidence that they can move the ball. They have scored 34, 66, and 34 respectively in each of their first three games.
With that being said, I will again be looking to see if the young MSU secondary can continue to further their progression as a unit. On the defensive front, I expect the MSU d-line to come out and dominate. and I expect the linebackers to make plays sideline to sideline and plenty in the backfield, as well.
The Bulldogs can't allow themselves to show up not focused on Saturday. They must show up, take care of business, and start to get back on the right track. This season is not over, and despite premature fan apathy, this season still has a chance to be a successful one. However, if that is the case Prescott must continue to improve and they must treat Saturday like a big game.
With all that said, I expect MSU to come out razor sharp on Saturday, focused and determined after a tough loss. Last Saturday could prove to be a turning point for this young team.
Mississippi State Injury Report
Day to Day
Tyler Russell (Head)
Ferlando Bohanna (Head)
Nickoe Whitley (Knee), Dee Arrington (Hamstring)
Out for Season
Jay Hughes (Achilles), Justin Malone (Foot)
Totally Serious Opponent Report
by James Carskadon Follow @jamescarskadon
What makes Troy such a great feeder for reality TV shows?
Scouting Troy for the Totally Serious Opponent Report naturally led to the university's Wikipedia page. Troy's Wiki has the typical historical and notable elements of what the university is all about. The section about the Trojans' athletic team prominently mentions their victory over Mississippi State in 2001, Troy's first victory against an opponent from a BCS conference. But the most notable section by far was the list of Troy alumni.
The surprising thing about Troy University's alumni list is the reality television dynasty created by Troy alums. The list includes three notable Survivor contestants, two of which won their seasons, and two Big Brother contestants. How does a small, middle of nowhere college in Southern Alabama produce so much reality show talent for CBS? This sudden rise in reality show stars seems worthy of a five-part Sports Illustrated expose (note: somehow Les Miles is also involved in this scandal).
But are these reality show stars a representation of Troy university, and by extension Troy's football program? In the case of Adria Montgomery-Klein and Natalie Montgomery-Carroll from Big Brother season five, there might be a problem. The twins from Birmingham spent the first five weeks of the season pretending to be one person. After revealing that they were indeed two separate people, the twins did not last much longer on the show. Which calls into question just how much deception Troy is able to tolerate to achieve on-field success. The Montgomery twins played softball for the Trojans. Did they pretend to be one person then? Was Troy illegally using two twins as the same person when they upset MSU back in 2001? It's hard to imagine Troy's athletics program rising from the old FCS to the Sun Belt without a few corners being cut in the name of success.
Bobby Jon Drinkard, who graduated from Troy in 2003, appeared on Survivor: Palau and Survivor: Guatemala where he faired well, but did not win it all. However, Cosmopolitan magazine did name him the 2003 Bachelor of the Year for Alabama. This makes him officially one of "America's top hunks," a prestigious honor. His bachelor profile could not be found on Cosmo's website. However, the 2003 Mississippi Bachelor of the Year profile shows someone who's date expectations might need to be taken down a notch.
Gordo's finest, Larry Blakeney
The official bio of Troy head coach Larry Blakeney lists many notable achievements in his over 20 years at the helm of Troy football. However, the bio also lists Blakeney's hometown as Gordo, Alabama. For those fortunate enough not to know about the small town, just know that Gordo (population 1,714) is one of two small Alabama towns on Highway 82 that anyone driving to Tuscaloosa, Birmingham, or anywhere east of Columbus must pass through. It is only better than it's sister city, Reform, because it does not have Reform's infamous speed trap. I've never met anyone from Gordo. I assume they're decent enough people. But I sure wouldn't want to grow up there. In case anyone was wondering what towns people in Starkville (a town frequently made fun of in comparison to other SEC towns) make fun of, it's towns like Gordo and Reform. I salute you, Larry Blakeney, for escaping Gordo, even if you only made it as far as Troy.
In light of the way the season has gone thus far, we thought it would be a good idea to get thoughts from everyone on the staff about State's 1-2 start. These are their thoughts:
1 -- Who do you think should start for MSU at QB from here forward?
tbradenbishop: I like Tyler, but I like Dak. I also like the plot from "Any Given Sunday"
James Carskadon: I absolutely hate to see a senior quarterback get benched with so few games left to play in a career. Hated it when Chris Relf was benched in favor of Tyler Russell. Hate the thought of it now. But, with that said, I was impressed with DakAttack on Saturday and would be alright to see him keep the starting job going forward.
JLgrindin: Has to be Dak. Gives the offense more of a Dan Mullen identity.
justinrsutton: Saturday, it has to be Dak Prescott. According to Dan Mullen, Tyler Russell has not yet been cleared for contact, so at this point, it makes the most sense for him to sit this week and get the bye week to recover as well. If Prescott has another solid outing, he has to move into the starter's role. If he is shaky or looks bad, open the competition back up over they bye week. With only two starts (albeit good ones) under his belt, I still want to see Prescott come out and prove that he is the man at the quarterback position. All that said, I think he does just that and he takes over as the man running the offense.
robnoladog: DakAttack and don't look back. Prescott has looked really good in his first two starts, especially at Auburn in a hostile SEC environment. There's definitely room for improvement, but he gives Mississippi State the best chance to open up the playbook and move the ball consistently. I hate to see it, but Russell looks like he is becoming yet another senior quarterback to flame out at MSU.
Metal Building Dawg: It is incredibly frustrating that we have a 4-star quarterback from our home state who has done everything we've asked of him and for the most part has lived up to the expectations but our coaching staff cannot build an offense to highlight his strengths. As much as I want Tyler to set every career record at MSU and walk out holding the Egg Bowl trophy, I think we stand a better chance of being competitive and knocking off a team we "aren't supposed to" with Dak. That has very little to do with the quarterback, just the coaching staff who is unable or unwilling to adjust. However, if they put Tyler back in there and show us something vastly different from what we say in Game 1 and in 2012 then I think we can be successful with him at the helm and I'll fully support that.
cristilmethod: I think it has to be Dak. I echo James' sentiment in that it's really hard to bench a senior QB who has done so much for the school, but at this point, Dak helps the MSU offense reach its full potential, and I think he as a starter gives State the best option to win.
Prediction? Pain: My opinion on this may be moot in the near term. Until Tyler's cleared to play, he's not an option.
But, assuming both he and Dak are able to play, and both have comparably good weeks of practice, I think Dak should get the start against Troy. His performance against Auburn was far from perfect, and I understand that the sample of play we've seen from Tyler this season is quite small (and potentially tainted because of a concussion). But, for lack of a better way to way to say it, the offense just looked better with Dak at the helm.
That's not to say that I think Tyler should be permanently benched. In fact, if he's cleared to play, I think the staff should make it a point to give him a drive or two to get back in the swing of things.
After Troy, the team will have an off-week that should allow things to work themselves out. Given Mullen's penchant for saying every position is open every week, I would expect the QB competition to be opened up in the fourteen days leading up to LSU. But, again, based on the team we've seen three times this year, and barring sustained futility from him this weekend, my current inclination would be to name Dak the presumptive starter from here on out.
2 -- What do you make of the MSU offense at this point?
tbradenbishop: Maybe we are just knocking some 'ole rust off.
James Carskadon: I think it's been too conservative at times, but the Alcorn game and most of the Auburn game showed an offense that has potential to be exciting. Honestly, I'd like to see Mullen and Koenning let their freak flag fly a little bit against Troy. Mix it up. Find ways to get all of that running back talent on the field. There are enough skill players to have a fun offense on this team. I'd like to see play-calling that better reflects the talent on the roster.
JLgrindin: I think the play calling could be better, but I think with a young QB like Dak now in charge, patience is in order. It should get better each week, as Dak gets more comfortable.
justinrsutton: The Mississippi State offense is a work in progress. If there is going to be a transition from Prescott to Russell, it will take time to get the offense looking as it should. I do not believe Prescott can use as much of the playbook right now as the coaches would like, and that is understandable because he has just taken over the position. I'm going to withhold judgment on the offense until after the bye week. Mississippi State will have two weeks to tweak and completely install the new offense under Prescott. That is when it will be fair to judge. Right now, I'd give it a C. In FBS play, the offense has looked good for two, maybe three, of the quarters it has played.
robnoladog: After a miserable showing against OSU, things are definitely looking up. I was really happy with the play-calling against Auburn, minus the last quarter and change when things got very conservative. Some of the problem was play-calling and part of it was execution by a young quarterback. Luckily, both of these things can be fixed and should improve as the season goes along.
Metal Building Dawg: I walked away from the Auburn game feeling much better than I did just two weeks ago. We have play-makers and Mullen knows how to be successful with a mobile QB. The question will ultimately be is Mullen willing to put the petal to the metal and stay aggressive in the second half or will he stay conservative and hesitant to maintain an offense that moves the ball. It's pretty baffling that an offensive coach would want to put the game in the hands of the defense, but I think the 2010 Florida game and his 29-0 record when heading into the 4th quarter created this philosophy which needs to be done away with.
cristilmethod: It's really hard to figure out. At times against Auburn, State looked unstoppable. Then the would turn around and call draw plays on 3rd and long, force stupid penalties on themselves to kill drives, and stall out. If MSU -- the playcallers and the players both -- can find that point of balance where they were successful against Auburn and continue to utilize it, then maybe they can turn the season around.
Prediction? Pain: It's immensely frustrating. Despite having arguably his worst defense since 2009, Mullen in 2012 was able to give us glimpses of a relatively pass-happy offense capable of moving the ball and scoring lots of points. I assumed that with another year of work, and with the pieces we had coming back, the offense would be a more well-refined, nuanced version of what we saw last season that better took advantage of Tyler's strengths. Some argued that Mullen couldn't tweak his schemes enough to successfully utilize a QB like Tyler, but I never completely bought that. Surely it wouldn't be too difficult to further develop the offense around his skill set and those of our other offensive players.
Yeah, apparently that's not the case. What little we've seen out of the offense under Tyler's lead looks remarkably like what we saw in 2012, the good and the bad. A great game-opening drive that stalled late; slow-developing pass plays; predictable runs at predictable times; and befuddling decisions (from players as well as coaches) on third down.
Now, when Dak took over against Auburn, things looked quite a bit different. When it was hitting on all cylinders, the offense looked, well, good. The play-calling made sense, the QB's reads on the run plays were dead-on, and the passing and running attacks worked in harmony.
So, maybe the answer to our offensive dilemma really was just that Mullen's schemes, no matter how hard he tried to change them, needed a QB like Dak.
But then, of course, we saw the last quarter-and-a-half. Even though Auburn committed to stopping the run, our play-calling did not not adapt. The creativity and diversity from the the first-half's running and passing games strangely morphed into stagnant monotony. We ran twice as much as we passed, Dak's accuracy--both in the passing and zone read games--seemed to waver, we committed ill-timed penalties (4 of our 5 were by the offense, and 3 of those 4 were in the second half), and we squandered great field position. Frankly, we looked timid.
So I don't know what to make of the offense. We've certainly seen much more life out of it with Dak under center, but even then it continues to struggle when it matters.
3 -- What are your expectations for the rest of the season?
tbradenbishop: six wins
James Carskadon: It's pretty hard to see six wins when looking at the rest of the schedule. My expectation is five wins, all coming against the lesser teams. I'm still not sold on this team putting up a good fight against Alabama, LSU and Texas A&M. Safe to say we won't be believing this year when the Tide come to town. Mullen is pretty consistent in beating teams he should beat, while losing to teams he should lose to. I don't see that trend stopping this season.
JLgrindin: I think wins are still on the schedule, but there will also be a few swing games left, like Saturday was. However, they are must win swing games now. Then there are a few free shot left against TAMU, Bama, LSU and USC.
justinrsutton: The Bulldogs will have a steep hill to climb, but bowl eligibility is far from out of the picture. Not that much has changed with the Auburn loss. Mississippi State still has to beat Troy, Kentucky, and Bowling Green and Arkansas. Where it changes is that the Egg Bowl probably becomes the game for bowl eligibility unless Mississippi State can spring the upset on LSU, South Carolina, Alabama or Texas A&M.
Going into the season, many pundits and experts picked Mississippi State to finish below .500 because of the tough schedule they faced. Personally, I love seeing the opener against a BCS foe, but a team that looked like a Big 12 favorite was the wrong BCS team to open against with the rest of the schedule. That has put Mississippi State up against the wall.
More important than wins or losses is team improvement. This is a young squad. My expectation is that they are playing better at the end of the season than they are now. If the players are regressing, that is trouble.
robnoladog: I expect MSU to win the games they are supposed to (Troy, Bowling Green, Kentucky, and Arkansas) and hopefully surprise someone (I'm looking at you, LSU and Ole Miss) to finish 6-6. Their best chance to reach a bowl game would be entering the Egg Bowl, like Ole Miss did last season, at 5-6 and playing like our season depends on it. A win over Ole Miss to send MSU bowling would be reason enough for the mob to put down their pitchforks. Looking a bit further, I think 2014 has the potential to be a big year for the Bulldogs. The schedule is favorable and the Bulldogs should have a wealth of talent and depth.
Metal Building Dawg: I'm excited to see what happens. This team has been left for dead so without a doubt they have a chance to "sneak up" on someone. Prime candidates would be LSU and South Carolina. If somehow we could snatch a victory in one of those games it would completely turn the ship around, and I think this team is capable. I think we scratch and claw our way to 6 wins, possibly 7 if we get some breaks.
cristilmethod: I think there is still a lot to play for, but at this point the season's potential hinges on Saturday's Troy game, the LSU game, and the Arkansas game. With an L against Auburn, State would need those three wins in addition to wins over Kentucky and Bowling Green to become bowl eligible. Obviously that's a monumental task, but that's the hill State has to climb to even become bowl eligible this season. It's doable, but it's going to take the team playing at a higher level than they have been consistently thus far.
Prediction? Pain: My expectations were fairly tempered at the beginning of the season. Like most other State fans, I thought things hinged on three swing games: at Auburn, at Arkansas, and the Egg Bowl. If we couldn't win more than one of those, I thought it would be difficult to make it to .500. I still think that's the case.
4 -- Where are you (on scale from I'm satisfied to fire everyone) with your frustration with the coaching staff?
tbradenbishop: Let's all just get along
James Carskadon: The offensive play-calling against Oklahoma State and the defensive play-calling on the final drive were both rage-inducing, but I'm willing to forgive and forget if things improve the rest of the season. A competitive game against one of the big boys would go a long way in restoring faith in the coaching staff. Until those games, a little less yelling on the Internet would be nice.
JLgrindin: Satisfied. BE PATIENT.
justinrsutton: I am satisfied with this coaching staff. I do not want to hear Vince McMahon's music hit the speakers during a game to fire everyone. So many people are making a big deal of the last eight, nine games for the Bulldogs, that they are missing the overall trajectory. I look at it like the stock market. If I do not have to have big gains now, I am going to watch the overall trend. Mississippi State is up over the last decade. If I sell now, I am most likely going to miss out on future profits. Mullen is the one driving the upward trend, and I think he will establish a higher baseline for this team. Are there some improvements that are needed? Yes there are, and they should be expected. I think they happen.
robnoladog: I'm pretty frustrated with Mullen and Co. at the moment, and I think a lot of that has to do with being spoiled by the 2010 season. That year MSU beat Georgia, won at Florida, and stomped Michigan in the Gator Bowl. Since the Gator Bowl, Mississippi State only has three wins over teams that finished the respective season with a winning record: 2011 vs. LA Tech (OT), 2011 vs. Wake Forest (Music City Bowl), and 2012 vs MTSU. Mullen's teams win the games they are supposed to win, and should be commended for doing so, but when do we stop treading water a la Rich Brooks at Kentucky and win a big game? This year's team may be too young to break the trend, but that doesn't take the sting out of a big missed opportunity last Saturday at Auburn.
Metal Building Dawg: This football program is a work in progress. I am of the opinion that it could take as many as 10 years to get to a point where we are legitimately competing for the SEC West. One of the reasons among a myriad of them is that we did not / could not hire a proven coach that knew exactly what to do to build a program. This is Dan Mullen's first job and he is still learning. I can hear it now, 'we aren't paying him $2.5 mil+ to learn on the job', but I believe he is earning that money despite some of the coaching deficiencies we have seen. He is literally building a program, not just trying to turn one around. I still believe he can correct the mistakes - he is a smart guy and while he is slow to adjust, he has made adjustments to get better in various areas throughout his tenure. It's fine to put heat on him, that ensures he knows our chief concerns, but I will wait until the end of the season after all the dust has settled to make a proper evaluation of what has happened and how he, and the coaching staff, performed.
cristilmethod: I'm not ready to kick anyone to the curb, by I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a bit frustrated at the least with Mullen and the offense. I think Dan has earned the right to more time in Starkville, but some of the trends we've seen emerging with regards to game management, play calling, and having players ready for big games are disturbing. At some point we'll (the athletics administration) have to determine how much of MSU's struggles are due to flaws in coaching, and go from there. For now though, carry on and hope that the existing staff can make some adjustments (PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE) going forward.
Prediction? Pain: Somewhere in the middle, though incrementally closer to relative satisfaction than blood lust.
5 -- Game and score prediction for Saturday versus Troy.
tbradenbishop: 30-24 MSU
James Carskadon: MSU wins 45-35 in a game that's a little too close for comfort. After tailgating all day, an inebriated man named "Troy" yells "that's my name!" to everyone around him in the student section when Troy is introduced.
JLgrindin: 38-10. MSU wins and looks good doing so Saturday.
justinrsutton: It will be a tight one, but Mississippi State wins this game 41-34.
robnoladog: 45-21 victory for Dear Old State.
Metal Building Dawg: We'll see how this team responds, hopefully with guns blazing. 31-13 Dawgs.
cristilmethod: I'm a bit worried that it's going to be a closer game than we all want, but I think State still wins. 45-30
Prediction? Pain: State - 37, Troy - 23
Can Prescott and the Bulldogs shake off yet another tough loss at Auburn to right the ship for 2013? -- Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports
- Tyler Russell photo included in the injury report courtesy of Bob Levey -- Getty Images
- Editing, style and layout by thecristilmethod