The Mississippi State Bulldogs are set to take on the Buccaneers of Charleston Southern University this Saturday to get the college football season started off here in Starkville.
The Buccaneers are a quality program when it comes to FCS football. They went 7-4 a year ago with their season ending with a 1 point loss to 19th ranked Wofford in the FCS playoffs. But, as a whole, their season was a fairly successful one.
They took the FCS juggernaut that is North Dakota State to overtime where they dropped the game 24-17 when they started the season a year ago. They also battled 14th ranked Coastal Carolina to an exciting 59-58 win in double overtime. For most of the season, Charleston Southern was ranked consistently in the top 10 amongst FCS teams.
All of that said, they are still an FCS team and there's a considerable difference in the level of talent between these two programs.
On top of that, Charleston Southern is breaking in a brand new head coach, Mark Tucker, who was previously their quarterback coach for the past 4 years. During that span, Tucker had some success leading the quarterbacks for the Buccaneers and helped Charleston Southern win 35 games over that span of time, but he's got a lot to prove moving forward.
Tucker will have some experience on the offensive side of the ball to work with. Redshirt sophomore Shane Bucenell returns after throwing for 1100 yards and 15 touchdowns on a 59% completion percentage a year ago. Bucenell is also their leading returning rusher with 4 touchdowns and 325 yards on 3.7 yards per carry. Head coach Mark Tucker and Bucenell are going to have to make do without their two leading rushers from a year ago, but they are bringing back some experience at receiver.
Redshirt sophomore Kameron Brown was their leading receiver a year ago with 540 yards and 6 touchdowns. Given his success and the chemistry he had with Bucenell, as well as their lack of proven runners, expect Brown to be targeted frequently in this game.
What does Mississippi State need to do to win this game? Well, don't sleepwalk through it. As I mentioned earlier, there is a clear talent differential here in favor of MSU. The Bulldogs are a far superior team and have too much firepower on offense to really struggle during this game.
The biggest key for the Bulldogs would be to jump out to an early lead of two to three touchdowns. Build a big cushion early and get your starters and other key contributors out early. Guys like Nick Fitzgerald realistically should not be playing in the second half. He's far too important to the total success of this season for MSU.
The way to jump out to that large, early lead would be through being physically dominant at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. Disrupting their offense on early downs gives MSU a chance to nullify Charleston Southern's young quarterback's running ability and will force him to pass on later downs.
State should also focus on allowing Fitzgerald to develop a rhythm and chemistry with his receivers early on in the game. Keep him upright and clean. Don't let him take too many hits. And don't give teams like LSU, Georgia, and Auburn too much film to work with.
How does this game play out? Well, Mississippi State will probably win by a solid margin, though we'll still likely be frustrated with how many yards and points the defense gives up.
Mississippi State wins this one 49-17 and the Bulldogs start the season 1-0.