Today’s game: Louisiana Tech (1-2) at MSU (1-2), 6 p.m., ESPNU (Rob Stone play-by-play, Danny Kannell analyst)
I’ve gone all week with minimal mention of the last meeting between these two teams. Mostly because it’s not that relevant to this game, although I do think it has some symbolic value, as would a healthy beatdown of Louisiana Tech today. And a handful of seniors and fourth-year juniors were on that MSU team.
The 22-14 loss in Ruston on Aug. 30, 2008, was the beginning of the end for Sylvester Croom. So, in a way, it was a good loss. It helped get Dan Mullen to Starkville. Now, if Mullen really does want to stick around like he says, he’s got to win games like this one. MSU is a nearly three-touchdown favorite and needs to rediscover a higher level of confidence after two straight losses in SEC play. Winning big should do that.
Also, Tech weaseled out of the scheduled 2012 meeting, and I know some folks in the athletic department would like to see a wide margin of victory.
OK, on to personnel issues and links. Senior middle linebacker Brandon Maye, who drew the start last week, is out with a concussion. Sam linebacker Chris Hughes, a sophomore, will see his first action of the season. You can read about both of those guys in today’s Journal.
Also, sophomore Deontae Skinner will start at sam linebacker for the second consecutive game, in place of Matt Wells. Wells will play, too.
And y’all can put to rest that rumor about backup quarterback Tyler Russell being out with a knee injury. He’s on the dress-out roster.
OK, remember to follow me on Twitter for in-game updates and observations, as well as postgame updates (quotes, stats, etc.). Now let’s review MSU’s three keys for victory from our GameDay section.
1. Unity up front. MSU’s offensive line has been wracked by injuries through the first three games, the latest being a season-ending ACL injury to right guard Tobias Smith
State is having to move things around, with Quentin Saulsberry likely moving from center to Smith’s spot and redshirt freshman Dillon Day taking over at center. Redshirt freshman Blaine Clausell is the starting left tackle as senior James Carmon continues to recover from a knee injury – Carmon could play today, though.
MSU must find some chemistry, and quick, especially with a trip to Georgia coming up next weekend.
2. Re-establish the run. MSU’s prolific run game was shut down last week by LSU’s stout defense, gaining only 52 yards on 34 carries. State still ranks 19th in the nation at 231.3 yards per game and needs to get the rushing attack going again.
Louisiana Tech will not provide as stiff a test as LSU. The visiting Bulldogs are allowing 108 rushing yards per game, 38th in the country, but haven’t faced teams as strong as MSU in this department.
3. Get after Tech’s QB. Louisiana Tech’s quarterback is a 17-year-old freshman, Nick Isham. He’s been solid through three games but has been sacked seven times. Tech has some good size on its offensive line, but MSU’s athletic defensive front could give it some trouble.
MSU has recorded four sacks and needs to pick up the pace in that department. Getting to Isham could disrupt Tech’s spread offense, which tries to stretch defenses downfield and sideline-to-sideline. State plays a good bit of man coverage in the secondary, so there will be opportunities to blitz hard.
• NOTABLE STAT: MSU is 10th in the SEC in kickoff coverage, allowing 21 yards per return. Louisiana Tech is 22nd in the country in kickoff returns with a 26-yard average. Lyle Fitt averages 29 yards per return, tied for 18th in the nation.
• WEATHER: The ol’ iPhone Weather Channel app tells us to expect temperatures around 76 degrees at kickoff, dipping into the mid-60s by game’s end. Nothing but clear skies above.