Today, as a start to FTRS' pre-game coverage of the Orange Bowl, we break down Mississippi State's schedule game-by-game and determine what that could mean for us when we play them in a couple weeks. Clearly, I suck at writing intros to things like this, so let's get started.
Southern Miss: The Bulldogs got their season started against Southern Miss and promptly blanked them 49-0. Quarterback Dak Prescott had just outright won the starting job and had an impressive performance, passing for 284 yards and four touchdowns as part of Mississippi State's 550 total yards and seven touchdowns.
The other key player in this game for the Bulldogs was senior safety Jay Hughes. Hughes, whose father is a Southern Miss alumnus, ended the first half and one of the Eagles' few chances to break the shutout with an interception deep in his own territory. Later in the game, Hughes came up again, but this time it was recovering a blocked field goal which he returned for a touchdown.
That was Hughes' first game since he went down with an Achilles injury in the first quarter of the 2013 season opener.
Needless to say, it was a pretty impressive showing. It was against Southern Miss, but nonetheless, it was an impressive performance.
UAB: This match-up produced over 1000 yards of total offense in a high-scoring affair with a school that doesn't even own a football team anymore. The Bulldogs won by a final score of 47-34 at home.
After going back and forth for the entire first half, the Bulldogs started to run away after Kivon Coman blocked a punt which led to a scoring drive finishing with a Dak Prescott-rushing touchdown.
Prescott had somewhat of a career day. He only completed 12 of his 25 passes for a miniscule 211 yards, but he threw for four touchdowns while also running 111 yards and another touchdown. He became the first QB in MSU history to throw for at least four touchdowns and rush for 100 in the same game.
He and junior halfback Josh Robinson combined for over 450 total yards and accounted for each of the team's six touchdowns.
The defense wasn't quite as good. They gave up 548 yards of offense (435 passing). They also gave up three scores of at least 75 yards.
South Alabama: Mississippi State won their first road game of the season in a very convincing fashion: a 35-3 triumph over South Alabama.
Dak Prescott scored touchdowns in three different ways (rushing, passing, and receiving) and accounted for a large part of the team's 514 yards. Prescott completed 13 of his 21 passes for 201 yards and a touchdown, rushed for another 139 yards (team-high), and caught a 39-yard touchdown pass.
Defensively, the Bulldogs (led by Preston Smith) looked much improved from the previous week, holding the Jaguars to 345 yards.
Smith sacked the opposing quarterback twice, forced a fumble, and blocked a field goal.
No. 8 LSU: In the Bulldogs' first SEC game, they took on the No. 8 Tigers of LSU. MSU came away with a 34-29 victory in Baton Rouge, their first against LSU since 1999 and their first in Baton Rouge since 1991.
Dak Prescott, again, led the way for the Bulldogs. This time, he passed for 15 of his 24 passes for 268 yards and two touchdowns and also ran for 105 yards and a touchdown.
Josh Robinson also contributed to the team's 570 total yards, rushing for 197 and adding a touchdown. Robinson averaged a whopping 12.3 yards/carry.
The defense also continued to improve, this time holding the Tigers to 89 yards rushing.
No. 6 Texas A&M: Mississippi State, now ranked No. 12, handed the No. 6 Aggies their first loss of the season, a 48-31 route.
It was the first time in school history that the Bulldogs had two top 10 games in a single season (and back-to-back nonetheless).
The Bulldogs offense continued to roll, this time racking up over 500 yards of offense. Dak Prescott led the way (shocking, isn't it?) completing 19 of his 25 passes for 264 yards and two touchdowns and rushing for 77 yards and three touchdowns.
TA&M quarterback Kenny Hill gained his fair amount of yards (365 on 37 completions), but he also threw three interceptions, all caught by sophomore linebacker Richie Brown.
No. 2 Auburn: After jumping all the way up to No. 3, the Bulldogs won their third consecutive game against a top-10 team. This time it came against No. 2 Auburn, by a final score of 38-23.
The Bulldogs jumped out to a quick 21-0 lead before Auburn attempted their comeback, getting as close as eight points to MSU's lead. But then, the Bulldogs added another field goal and
the Plainsmen Tigers War Eagles Auburn could not come within 10 points of the new lead.
Surprise, surprise, the combination of Dak Prescott and Josh Robinson led the way for Mississippi State yet again. This time, Prescott completed 18 of his 34 passes for 246 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions. He also added 121 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. Robinson added 97 yards and two touchdowns in his 19 carries.
The ultimate downfall for Auburn, though, was their four turnovers and their six-for-13 mark on third downs.
Kentucky: 6-0 and now No. 1 in the country, the Bulldogs traveled to Kentucky to take on the Wildcats, ultimately beating them by a final score of 45-31 after going back and forth for a large portion of the game.
Josh Robinson was the hero for the Bulldogs that day. In his 23 carries, he rushed for a season-high 198 yards and two touchdowns. Through this game, Robinson had accumulated over 1,000 all-purpose yards.
The defense did what it needed to in holding Kentucky to only 31 points, but they also gave up 401 yards through the air.
Senior defensive tackle Kaleb Eulls had a career day, finishing with five tackles and two sacks.
Arkansas: Fighting through various turnovers and penalties, Mississippi State avoided the upset bid by Arkansas, beating them 17-10.
Dak Prescott led the way for the Bulldogs offense. He completed 18 of 27 passes for 331 yards, one touchdown, and two interceptions. This made Prescott the first quarterback to throw for 300 yards at MSU under Dan Mullen.
Josh Robinson didn't have a great day on the ground, only rushing for 64 yards, but made up for it in the receiving game, where he gained 110 yards through the air.
Defensively, the Bulldogs did an excellent job of stopping Arkansas' powerful rushing attack, holding the team to just 128 yards and the Hogs' two top runners to under 100 yards each.
The game itself came right down to the wire. Arkansas was driving and looked as though they were about to score. But then Will Redmond, a junior cornerback, intercepted what would have been a game-tying touchdown pass in the endzone with 15 seconds left, effectively ending the game.
UT Martin: Mississippi State extended their winning streak to 12 games in their Homecoming game, where they beat UT Martin by a final score of 45-16.
This game was against an FCS team; not really a whole lot to talk about as stats were inflated.
No. 3 Alabama: The Bulldogs' 12-game winning streak finally came to an end in Tuscaloosa, where Alabama edged out the Bulldogs 25-20.
MSU outgained Bama 428 to 335, but three interceptions thrown by Dak Prescott, including two in the endzone, gave the game to the Crimson Tide.
Prescott completed 27 of his 48 passes for 290 and two touchdowns. But as previously stated, he threw three interceptions. He also added on 82 rushing yards.
The Bulldogs' offense sputtered coming out of the gates, not even totaling 100 yards in their first six drives.
Another big factor which affected the Bulldogs was opening field position. MSU started, on average, at their own 22-yard line. If one drive is taken out, that spot moves back seven yards to MSU's 15-yard line.
Vanderbilt: After dropping to No. 4, the Bulldogs decided to take out all of their frustrations on Vandy, dismantling them 51-0.
The Bulldogs came out and absolutely dominated in every facet of the game.
They outgained the Commodores 502 yards to 228, holding them to 27 rushing yards. The defense forced three turnovers.
Dak Prescott threw three touchdowns and ran one in too. The most impressive score came from senior linebacker Christian Holmes. He picked up a fumble and returned it 50 yards for a touchdown.
No. 18 Ole Miss: In looking to cap off a great season, the Bulldogs came out disappointed after losing in the Egg Bowl 31-17. This was the second time in Dan Mullen's six years that his Bulldogs have lost in this game.
The biggest problem for the Dogs was their defense. They gave up a total of 532 yards on offense, 327 passing (good for an average of 23.4 yards/completion).
The MSU offense could not find any kind of rhythm until the second half, and then they were only able to muster up 17 points, even with 445 yards.
Dak Prescott quietly had a good game, completing 22 of his 37 passes for 282 yards and a touchdown. He also added another 48 yards and another touchdown on the ground.
Strength of Schedule
Looking at strength of schedule, I used two different sources: Sagarin and teamrankings.com.
According to both scales, Mississippi State had the sixth-most difficult schedule in the entire country.
Just a couple things I want to bring up here. While the schedule at first glance looks pretty impressive, there are some flaws.
It is true that MSU had three consecutive top-10 victories. At the time, at least. But where are those teams ranked now? Let's find out.
LSU, ranked No. 8 going into their matchup with the Bulldogs, finished the regular season No. 22 in the AP poll. In the coaches poll, they finished at No. 23. They also finished No. 23 in the College Football Playoff Rankings.
Texas A&M, ranked No. 6 going into their matchup with the Bulldogs, finished the regular season unranked in the AP poll (and receiving no votes). They did not receive any votes in the coaches poll either. They didn't finish in the top 25 of the College Football Playoff rankings either.
Auburn, ranked No. 2 going into their matchup with the Bulldogs, finished the regular season No. 19 in all three polls.
So those wins are still pretty impressive as two of the three came against teams which finished the season ranked, but not quite the caliber they were when they were first won.
What does this mean for us?
Examining their schedule has led me to a few conclusions in that in order for us to win, Tech will need to do at least a couple things.
1. They need to pass the ball well.
Mississippi State's defense is giving up an average of 285.2 passing yards per game and allowing over 13 yards per catch. If Tech can pass effectively, they will be doing pretty well.
In contrast, the Bulldogs' rushing defense is pretty good. They are giving up an average of 126. 5 yards per game and only 3.7 yards per carry.
2. Tech's needs to win the turnover battle.
Mississippi State is currently +1 in turnovers, meaning they have forced one more turnover than they have allowed. Tech, on the other hand, is +10.
Tech also learned in the ACC Championship Game that they cannot solely rely on those turnovers.
After examining the Bulldogs' schedule, what sticks out to you?