Today’s game: MSU (2-0) at Troy (1-1), 6 p.m., ESPN3.com (Shawn Kenney play-by-play, John Bunting analyst), Sirius 106.
Mississippi State is playing its first road game of 2012 at cozy Veterans Memorial Stadium (capacity: 30,000), which is located on a pretty little campus with lots of green whichever way you turn. It’s the first trip here for MSU, or for any SEC team. In his 22nd season at Troy, head coach Larry Blakeney is 1-13 against SEC teams, the lone win coming over MSU in 2001.
The Bulldogs are coming off a 28-10 win over SEC foe Auburn (which squeaked past UL-Monroe today in overtime), while Troy is trying to bounce back from a 37-24 setback to UL-Lafayette, which is coached by former MSU assistant Mark Hudspeth. The Trojans are trying to return to dominance in the Sun Belt Conference, and while this isn’t a league game, it could certainly be a statement game.
Personnel note: Sophomore defensive lineman P.J. Jones is not with the team today, so that means his indefinite suspension – for an unspecified violation of team rules – is up to three games.
• Remember to follow me on Twitter today for updates during and after the game, and be sure to visit the Journal’s college football page for updates from around the country. Now it’s time to take a look at MSU’s three keys to victory from the GameDay section.
1. Maintain focus, energy. MSU is coming off a huge SEC-opening win over Auburn, and it would be easy for the proverbial letdown to occur against a Sun Belt Conference foe like Troy. Players and coaches alike have talked all week about being as sharp and focused this week as last week.
MSU must also come out with the same energy it had against Auburn, because the Trojans will most certainly be pumped up for the first SEC school to ever visit its campus for a football game. Veterans Memorial Stadium is a small venue (30,000 capacity), but MSU has been preparing for a noisy environment by blasting music during practices all week.
In a game like this, energy level can mean everything. Just ask Louisiana-Monroe and Arkansas.
2. Contain passing game. Troy quarterback Corey Robinson, an experienced junior, passed the ball 70 times last week against Louisiana-Lafayette. He completed 46 of them for 485 yards and two touchdowns. His top target was Chandler Worthy, who had nine catches for 154 yards.
Last week, MSU held Auburn to minus-2 passing yards in the first half, and coach Dan Mullen has supreme confidence in cornerbacks Johnthan Banks and Darius Slay to cover whoever lines up against them.
Troy has shown the ability to run, too, piling up 262 yards against UAB two weeks ago.
3. Dominate up front. The main difference between an SEC team and a Sun Belt team is often the offensive and defensive line play. MSU is big and deep on the defensive side, the offensive line held its own last week, allowing only one sack while paving the way for a 166-yard rushing effort.
State has recorded 4.0 sacks and 12.0 tackles-for-loss this season. Troy has recorded 2.0 sacks and 8.0 TFLs.
• Notable stat: MSU’s defense has allowed only one touchdown through two games, and that was scored by Jackson State. Auburn’s lone TD last week came on a kickoff return.
• Weather: The Weather Channel app tells me that it will be 82 degrees at kickoff with mostly sunny skies. Temps will dip into the mid-70s by game’s end.