STARKVILLE – Arnil Stallworth’s belief defies the likely reality. He believes Mississippi State can win a shootout against Houston and its gun-slinging quarterback, Case Keenum.
“If it’s a shootout, I’m pretty sure we’ll come out on top,” said Stallworth, a senior running back.
The stats, not to mention general consensus, would suggest otherwise.
Houston (3-1) rolls into town boasting the nation’s No. 1-ranked offense with the country’s No. 1-rated quarterback, a 6-foot-2 junior from Abilene. Keenum passed for 5,020 yards and 44 touchdowns last season, and he’s off to a hot start this year, throwing for 1,696 yards and 13 TDs.
The Cougars are averaging 42.5 points per game, two touchdowns better than MSU.
And the Bulldogs’ offense has had major issues, particularly turnovers. They’ve committed nine of them over the past two games, and 14 on the season, most in the SEC.
It’s all mental, and mental sharpness will be especially crucial today.
“Not securing the ball from the running backs, quarterbacks fumbling the ball in the pocket, some defensive players making some great plays – it’s a combination of all of those things,” MSU coach Dan Mullen said. “We’ve just got to do a better job of ball security. You’re not going to win many games if you have bad ball security.”
If State can cure its case of the dropsies, then just how can it keep up with Houston? Run.
Senior tailback Anthony Dixon has been hard to stop, averaging 106.8 yards per game and 5.0 yards per carry. He’s gotten decent help from senior Christian Ducré, who’s gained 148 yards on 30 carries, and the versatile Stallworth (106 total yards).
“Their quarterback’s done a good job of moving the ball down the field and putting up good stats. But as an offense, you’ve just got to try to keep their offense off the field as much as possible, that way you don’t put the defense in a bind,” MSU quarterback Tyson Lee said.
Lee’s got to find a groove, too. He’s committed five turnovers the last two games, including a fumble and an interception in last week’s 41-32 loss to Georgia Tech, when he was 20 of 30 for 278 yards.
For the season, Lee has completed 54.7 percent of his passes for 666 yards, three TD and four picks.
Both teams are stinging from defeats. MSU has lost two it felt it should’ve won – see the turnovers – while Houston dropped a stunning 58-41 decision to Conference USA foe UTEP. The setback dropped the Cougars from No. 12 in the nation to out of the rankings and dashed their BCS bowl hopes.
“I think a lot of us are really upset with how things went,” Keenum said. “Not just what everybody’s saying about it, but just the way that we played.”
So they’ll be coming out firing. MSU had better be able to match them blow for blow.
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Today’s game at a glance
- Where: Davis Wade Stadium, Starkville.
- Kickoff: 11:30 a.m.
- Television: ESPNU; live streaming at ESPN360.com
- Radio: MSU network; XM Channel 244; Sirius Channel 220.
- Records: Houston 3-1, MSU 2-3.
- Series: Houston leads 8-6.
- Last meeting: Houston won 28-16 in 2005, on MSU’s homecoming. Today is MSU’s homecoming.
- Coaches – Houston: Kevin Sumlin, 11-6 (second year); MSU: Dan Mullen, 2-3 (first year).
- Statistical leaders – Houston: QB Case Keenum 144-210-2, 1,696 yards, 13 TDs; WR Tyron Carrier 29-354, 2 TDs; RB Bryce Beall 60-279, 3 TDs; Marcus McGraw 47 tackles, 1.5 TFL, 1.0 sack. MSU: QB Tyson Lee 58-106-4, 666 yards, 3 TDs; RB Anthony Dixon 86-427, 3 TDs; WR Chad Bumphis 16-192, 3 TDs; DL Pernell McPhee 23 tackles, 5 TFL, 2.5 sacks.
- Trends: Houston has won the last two meetings against MSU. … State SLB K.J. Wright has made 28 of his team-leading 38 tackles over the last three games. … MSU hasn’t punted in its last 13 possessions and on only five of its last 29. … Houston’s Keenum has thrown a TD in 20 consecutive games, a school record.
- Notes: MSU has converted on 8 of 12 fourth downs, first in the SEC. … MSU’s minus-1.2 per game turnover ratio ranks 106th in the country. … Houston ranks first in the nation in passing offense (446.0 ypg) and total offense (573.3 ypg). … This is the last game of a three-game homestand for State.
- Summing it up: “The biggest thing is just stopping the big play, make them keep on snapping the ball over and over. And that’s something we’ve been working on, just not giving up the big play.” – MSU cornerback Marcus Washington
- Prediction: Houston, 45-38.
Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal