davis wade stadium
Mississippi State takes the field Saturday looking to start off a season 9-0 for the first time since the 1940's. The homecoming matchup is the last non-conference game of the season for the Bulldogs. As ESPN blogger Chris Low said, this game is really nothing more than a glorified scrimmage for Mississippi State.
Getting players healthy and rested before a top five game on the road in Tuscaloosa will be Dan Mullen's first priority. It will also be a good week to get backups some quality reps who might not have played since the beginning of the season.
The main headline to watch for in this game will be how many snaps Heisman trophy hopeful Dak Prescott plays, if any at all. Dak was clearly not 100 percent last week against Arkansas, with a leg injury still nagging him from the Kentucky game. Don't be surprised to see him not take the field Saturday, although you can bet he'll be out there if it's left up to him.
UT Martin, a FCS team from the Ohio Valley Conference, saw their season get off to a rough 1-5 start. For common opponent comparison sake, just look to the season opener against Kentucky. UT Martin got blasted 59-14.
The Skyhawks' season has taken a turn for the better in the last four games. They have won four straight and have beaten their last two opponents by a combined score of 99-45. They had an offensive explosion of 62 points last week against Murray State.
On an interesting note, former MSU quarterback Dylan Favre is on the UT Martin football team. While he's not expected to start Saturday, it is possible that he does see a few snaps coming off the bench. He may be called on to provide a spark should the offense struggle.
Speaking of offense, UT Martin has been pretty balanced this season, averaging 211 yards on the ground and 218 yards through the air.
The star of the team has been running back Abou Toure, who already has 886 rushing yards. He's a big, physical back who is hard to bring down. They will rely on him often going up against a big SEC defense.
It's nothing that the Mississippi State front seven hasn't faced basically every game in the SEC, so they should be up for the challenge.
The defense hasn't been great this year for the Skyhawks, and MSU should be able to rack up a lot of yards. They give up about 392 yards a game, but that includes over 250 yards passing every week.
Should Dak even play just a few series, he should be able to rack up enough yards that it doesn't completely kill his Heisman candidacy. But then again, how many voters will penalize him for not playing against UT Martin? Probably not many.
This is the perfect game for Damian Williams to get some action and try to regain some of his mojo from last year. The offense really sputtered early in the season when he came in, so he needs a game like this to boost his confidence.
The same can really be said for all the backups. A lot of guys, like Ashton Shumpert for example, have had limited action since conference play started. They will likely play 70 percent of the game or better this week.
Personally I'd love to see Mississippi State come out and pound the ball all day with Shumpert and Nick Griffin. We all know what Josh Robinson brings to the table. Let's see what Griffin and Shumpert can do with a full game. They should be able to pad some stats if nothing else, against an FCS defense.
Not only is it a good week to play the reserves, but also to fix some special teams and penalty issues.
Drives were killed last week against Arkansas because of penalties, many times on the Arkansas side of the field. That can't happen next week against Alabama. Whether the starters get a few series or a whole half, it will be important for them to focus and have a game without any mental mistakes to get back on track.
As for the special teams issues, expect to see Fred Ross stay at punt returner from now on. If Ross is who the coaches want there going forward, he should see every snap there against UT Martin. He needs as much game experience fielding punts as possible before being put into a pressure situation next week.
Making it through this game with everyone uninjured, and giving the players who are injured time to heal is really all that matters this week. It helps to have a game like this while Alabama has to go on the road to Baton Rouge. We're just eight days away from the biggest game in the history of Mississippi State football. The players can't look ahead, but we sure can, right?
Numbers to Know
Total rushing yards for Mississippi State in last weekend's 17-10 win over Arkansas. It was the first time all season that the Bulldogs had been held below 200 yards rushing and was the lowest total since 201 yards were gained in the season opener against Southern Mississippi. If State is going to have a chance to be successful down the stretch, they will have to get back to a ground-first attack.
MSU's turnover margin rank (+1). That +1 has gone down a good bit in the last several games including last week when the Bulldogs fumbled once and threw two interceptions while intercepting a pass of their own. Again as this is essentially a weekend scrimmage, State needs to tighten up its turnovers while forcing more opportunities on the defensive side of things.
MSU's red zone conversion opportunities allowed percentage... for touchdowns. In 28 attempts, the Bulldog D has allowed only 9 touchdowns, tops in the league. That stat line never shown brighter than it did last Saturday night when -- with their backs against the wall -- the Bulldog defense held strong at the three yard line to hold a slim 17-10 lead. State would also make another key stop inside the 20 late in the game with a Will Redmond interception that sealed the game. You can do what you want on this defense from 20 to 20, but they lock people down inside the 20 where it matters.