A week after manhandling Charleston Southern to the tune of a 49-0 whipping, Mississippi State hits the road to take on Louisiana Tech in Ruston. Now, the last time the Bulldogs made the trip to Joe Aillet Stadium was for the 2008 season opener, and the Bulldogs of La Tech handed Mississippi State a 22-14 loss that would signify the beginning of the end for Sylvester Croom in Starkville. In last week’s edition of “What to Watch,” I gave you four things to be on the lookout for in week one, and we were able to get a clear picture of all four. Let’s see if we can go 100% for the second week in a row.
How well will the secondary play?
Last week the big question was, “What does the defense look like under new coordinator Todd Grantham?” Well, for the first time since arguably the 2014 season, they looked like an SEC defense, which is great news for the Bulldogs. But we didn’t see the secondary get tested down the field very often against the option offense of CSU. The front seven looked dominant against Charleston Southern and I expect that to continue against La Tech, but that wasn’t the main question mark heading into the season on defense. The biggest concern was how quickly the secondary could gel under Grantham. The secondary has a lot of familiar faces from a defense that got torched through the air seemingly every game last season.
We should be able to get a pretty good feel for the true talent in the secondary for the rest of the season by halftime of this game. Louisiana Tech likes to run an air raid offense that wants to throw the ball 50+ times no matter who they play, and this week will be no different. With a young receiving corps and veteran running backs, this year’s La Tech team will be slightly more balanced than usual, but head coach Skip Holtz (yes, son of Lou Holtz) will still look to throw the ball a ton. The keys for the secondary will be making tackles in the open spaces for short gains, making plays on poorly thrown balls and not allowing the deep pass for an explosive play. If the secondary can accomplish these three things, Mississippi State fans should feel pretty confident about the defense looking ahead at the SEC schedule.
Can Tucker Day continue to improve?
Last weekend freshman Tucker Day went 1/3 on field goal attempts (I KNOW). His misses came from 32 and 47 yards out, while his make came from 39 yards. You can live with a miss from 47 yards out, especially coming from a freshman kicker in his first ever collegiate game, but anything inside of 35 yards needs to be automatic. While you can take solace in the fact that he made one from 39 yards out and made all of his extra points, you would still like to see that percentage go up as the season progresses. With that said, I will say that the ball simply looked better coming off his foot than other Bulldog kickers in recent past. He just needs to straighten it out a bit.
Does one guy emerge as the #2 back behind Aeris Williams?
This has got to be the deepest backfield that Mississippi State has had in recent memory. Currently, you have three guys sitting behind Aeris Williams that you would feel comfortable getting the majority of the second team carries. Dontavian Lee is a load to bring down at over 230 pounds, and will be a force in short yardage situations all year long. Freshman Kylin Hill looked like a guy that could be a starter if called upon at any point in the season, and Nick Gibson is a guy that if Dan Mullen told you today that he was the second team back, you would have no problem with it. It will be interesting to see who emerges from this group as the season goes on, but as of right now this may be the deepest group of running backs that I can remember. Look for someone to establish a larger share of the carries behind Aeris leading up to a brutal three-game stretch next week.
How much better does the O-line look from week 1 to week 2?
It seems like every year Mississippi State fans are complaining about the way the offensive line looks early in the season, only to have them turn out to be pretty darn good by season’s end. People forget that Mississippi State has two new faces on the offensive line along with two guys playing different positions. Elgton Jenkins struggled with low snaps in his first game as a center at the collegiate level, and Mullen mentioned that a few of the false start penalties were due to Jenkins not snapping the ball quickly enough. These are things that repetition and game reps will fix as the season progresses, hopefully not at the expense of a win. Charleston Southern also seemed to get some push at times last weekend, but again I feel as if that is something that will continue to improve as the group gets more comfortable in their new roles. It will certainly be something that State fans will want to keep an eye on all season, because if it doesn’t get better, the SEC grind could wear the Bulldogs down quickly.
Mississippi State fans will learn a lot more about their football team this week in Ruston than they did last week against FCS Charleston Southern. I think the most important thing to keep an eye on this Saturday will be how well the secondary performs. If the front four can continue to get in the backfield the way that they did last weekend, it will certainly take a lot of the pressure off the secondary. These were just a few things that I’m anxious to see this weekend, and until next time, HAIL STATE!