MSU vs. Northwestern State: Keys to the game

On Saturday at 3:01 (need that extra minute of preparation!) Mississippi State hosts Northwestern State in a game broadcast on SEC Network. With a tough road stand ahead for the Bulldogs, this Saturday is a good chance to work some kinks out in front of a home crowd. With that in mind, here are three things that will propel MSU to victory.

FAST START FOR A HEAD START

XXZMHYOZAASTYFI.20150913033558Mississippi State has finished strong in both of its games this season, out-scoring opponents 36-13 in the second half and only allowing one touchdown. However, the Bulldogs haven’t gotten off to great starts in either contest. Combine the first four drives of each game for MSU’s offense and you see five punts, two fumbles and one touchdown. The combined first four drives for the opponents resulted in three touchdowns, a field goal and three punts, as well as one turnover on downs.

Against Northwestern State, MSU hopes to capitalize on its strong finish last week and start the game off strong. Getting early scores on offense and early stops on defense would go a long way in securing the confidence the coaches and players got back in the second half against LSU last weekend.

CONTROL THE GROUND

When MSU beat Southern Miss, the Bulldogs rushed for 205 yards. When MSU lost to LSU, the Bulldogs ran for 43 yards. Similarly, when USM lost to MSU, the Golden Eagles rushed for 102 yards. When LSU beat MSU, the Tigers ran for 266 yards. As much as football in general has had a growing emphasis on quarterback play lately, establishing the run and stopping run are still two of the most important keys to winning games.

For MSU this weekend, re-establishing the run after tough sledding against the LSU defensive front will be important to keeping the offense in rhythm, taking time off the clock and opening up the offense. Junior running back Brandon Holloway leads the team with 88 yards on only 12 carries, an average of 7.3 yards per rush. Continuing to involve him in the run game ought to help, as well as quarterback Dak Prescott. It would not be a surprise, either, to see redshirt freshmen running backs Aeris Williams and Dontavian Lee see significant opportunities against NSU behind starter Ashton Shumpert.

STAY STRONG ON D-BLOCK

One of the clear strengths for MSU early on has been the defensive line, particularly the starting four of senior Ryan Brown and juniors Chris Jones, Nick James and A.J. Jefferson. The group has been in the backfield constantly through two games, led by Jefferson and his four tackles for loss totaling 23 yards of lost yardage for opposing teams. The duo of Jones and James in the middle at defensive tackle has proved formidable, while Brown on the edge has been leading the way as the elder of the group.

Against the NSU offensive line, the Bulldogs expect to have a distinct size advantage, something defensive line coach David Turner and defensive coordinator Manny Diaz will certainly attempt to exploit. Giving the starters opportunities to make plays and keeping them fresh by rotating players could help the Bulldogs get the success they need. If it works, State’s pass rush ought to set up the linebackers and secondary for turnover opportunities against an NSU team that’s turned the ball over three times in two games this year.

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