Davis Wade Stadium
Peeps, that magical time of the year has finally arrived. It's Game Week!!!!! As we all know, Mississippi State will host the University of Southern Mississippi to open the 2014 slate. This game is a renewal of an old in-state rivalry that hasn't been played in 24 years. WMD was just 7 the last time this game was played way back in 1990. MSU leads the on-the-field series 14-12-1 over the 27 meetings.
So what do the 2014 editions of Mississippi State and Southern Miss look like? Let's take a quick look back at some 2013 stats, since there is no 2014 data available.
The 2014 Dawgs are returning almost everyone from the 2013 Liberty Bowl Champion team. But a few key players were lost, notably LG Gabe Jackson, RB LaDarius Perkins, and S Nickoe Whitley. Fortunately, Mississippi State has built tremendous depth across the board as we enter Dan Mullen's 6th season at the Bulldog helm. Mississippi State frequently rotated players in and out last season on both sides of the ball, so many young players got invaluable game experience. Look for that experience to pay off early in 2014.
Likewise, USM's 2014 team returns most of its 2013 production. The big losses from the 2013 Golden Eagle squad are leading rusher Kendrick Hardy and leading tackler DeBarrius Miller. The Golden Eagles return QB Nick Mullens, who threw for 1,776 yards last season.
Offensively, Mississippi State and USM have vastly different philosophies. Under Dan Mullen, the Dawgs prefer a physical, ground-and-pound, run first approach. They like to batter opponents with a big offensive line and physical runners like RBs Josh Robinson, Ashton Shumpert, and Nick Griffin. QB Dak Prescott is also a very physical runner, drawing comparisons in that regard to former Mullen protege Tim Tebow. MSU ball carriers combined to rush for 2,469 yards in 2013.
On the other side, USM is a finesse, pass first team under head coach Todd Monken. Their base offensive package is a 4 WR, 1 RB set. Golden Eagle QBs combined for 2,911 yards through the air and averaged 242.6 YPG passing in 2013. They had a problem throwing INTs, however, with a 19-26 TD-INT ratio.
Once again, MSU and USM couldn't be any more different in their approach to defense. MSU's base defense in 2014 will be a 4-3, but look for the Dawgs to be multiple thanks to extraordinary depth. I'd look for a lot of Nickel and 3-3-5 against the USM passing attack on Saturday night. Defensive Coordinator Geoff Collins brought a new attitude and renewed aggressiveness to the Bulldog D in 2013. This resulted in MSU being the 4th best D in the SEC. Collins was awarded with a multi-year contract extension. He's continued to preach Mayhem and Juice to his Psycho Defense, which should result in more big plays and TFLs in 2014.
USM will operate out of a 3-3-5 or 4-2-5 alignment. They'll start the familiar hybrid S/LB called a Spur in their system, but perhaps more familiarly known to MSU fans as a Dawg Safety from the Joe Lee Dunn era. The also look to have a hybrid DE/LB called a Bandit. Frankly, their depth chart is a little bit hard to decipher on defense. What IS known is that USM was absolutely terrible on D in 2013, giving up 41.9 points per game, 224.6 rushing YPG, 210.9 passing YPG, and 435.5 total offensive YPG. Defensive Coordinator David Duggan has a major rebuilding job on his hands.
On Special Teams, MSU returns K Evan Sobiesk and P Devon Bell. MSU lost P Baker Swedenburg to graduation. K Westin Graves joins the 2014 squad and will compete with Sobiesk for FG duties. Bell will punt and handle kickoff duties. In 2013, Sobiesk and Bell combined to go 9/20 on FGs for a 45% success rate. That was good for 123rd of 124 nationally. Bell punted 24 times for 990 yards and a 41.2 YPP average. MSU finished 2013 60th in Kick Returns, averaging just 21.68 KR YPG and 0 TDs. State was even worse at Punt Returns in 2013. The Dawgs returned 24 punts for just 87 yards, a 3.63 PR YPG average, and 0 TDs good for 114th nationally. MSU needs to dramatically improve these stats to have a successful 2014.
USM wasn't much better on STs in 2013 than MSU. K Corey Acosta and P Tyler Sarrazin both return for the 2014 Golden Eagles. USM hit 11-18 FGs in 2013, a 61.1% success rate, good for. Sarrazin punted 44 times for 1,733 yards and a 39.4 YPP average. USM finished 2013 91st in Kick Returns, averaging a paltry 19.72 KR YPG and 0 TDs. USM was significantly better in the PR department, returning 12 punts for 161 yards, a 13.42 PR YPG average, and 0 TDs. However, that 13.42 PR YPG average was good enough for 12th nationally.
Looking at the numbers from last season, it just doesn't bode well for USM in this rivalry restart. They gave up 224.6 rushing YPG in a sub-par conference and MSU averaged 189.9 YPG rushing in the SEC. USM's scoring D offers even less encouragement if you're a Golden Eagle fan. Look for State to run it early and often on USM. Make no mistake, this game is the Super Bowl for the Gilded Buzzards. They're going to come out on an emotional high and fight for 60 minutes. Unfortunately, that is unlikely to help them. Frankly, USM just doesn't have the talent to hang with an SEC team for very long. The Dawgs should win this game handily and begin clearing the bench by the mid-3rd Quarter.
Numbers to Know
Davis Wade Stadium's new capacity starting Saturday night. Now that the two-year-long construction process is done and all of the new seating -- premium and otherwise -- has been installed, Davis Wade boasts a new capacity north of 60,000 for the first time ever. That number includes 236 new Loge seats and 1,170 new "Scoreboard Club" seats. You can also expect Saturday's attendance to be that number if not more as AD Stricklin has announced a sellout for the 31st straight game.
Mississippi State's passing defense ranking for 2013, according to cfbstats.com. The Golden Eagles aren't far behind that either at 25th, which means that we could see some struggles by both teams in passing the ball down field. The good news for MSU is that they return the majority of an offense that registered about 189 yards per game last year on the ground, while Southern Miss averaged just over 72 yards per game on the ground in 2013. It will be interesting to see how early and often Southern chooses to test the MSU defense.
The number of seasons since Mississippi State and Southern Miss last played. No matter your feelings or allegiances to one of these teams, I would think all parties would want to play again before another 24 years ticks off the clock.