South Alabama (1-2) at (23) Mississippi State (3-0)
Saturday, September 22, 7:00 p.m. (et)
The Sports Network
By Nicholas DeLorenzo, Associate College Football Editor
GAME NOTES: Following a fast start to the season, the 23rd-ranked Mississippi
State Bulldogs have found their way into the Top-25, and they try to keep
their undefeated run going on Saturday afternoon when they host the South
South Alabama was expected to have a difficult time in its first season as a
full-time member of the FBS, but so far it has been up for the challenge.
After dropping a hard-fought game against fellow FBS newcomer Texas-San
Antonio (33-31), the Jaguars beat Nicholls State at home, 9-3. Although they
lost a difficult road matchup to NC State last week, 31-7, they were able to
hold their own against a much more talented team.
"There were a lot of things on film that were so correctable, which is still
on us," South Alabama head coach Joey Jones said of his team's latest
performance. "Some of it had to do with how good they were, there is no doubt
about that, but there were a lot of things we didn't do ourselves that we can
Mississippi State has gotten off to 3-0 start behind three very different
kinds of wins. First, there was the game the Bulldogs were supposed to win at
home against FCS foe Jackson State (56-9), then came a tough home matchup
against SEC rival Auburn (28-10), and finally they prevailed in a tricky road
game at Troy (30-24). It marks the first time MSU has started 3-0 since 1999,
and it has now won 13 straight games against non-conference opponents.
Saturday's matchup marks the first time these two programs will have met on
the football field.
The offensive output for South Alabama has been underwhelming as it begins to
transition to bigger and faster opponents, tallying just 15.7 points and
barely more than 300 yards per game.
C.J. Bennett has been the starter under center and while he hasn't been
terrible, his numbers don't do much in assuring his job security (36-of-59,
367 yards, two TDs, two INTs). Ross Metheny (20-of-32, 247 yards, TD, INT) has
been eating into Bennett's reps in recent weeks.
Demetre Baker is the team's best offensive playmaker, pacing the Jaguars in
rushing with 183 yards and a touchdown, while also adding 55 yards receiving.
Corey Besteda (seven catches, 117 yards) is the only player to amass more than
100 yards receiving, although Jereme Jones has two touchdown receptions.
The Jaguars defense has done a much better job adapting to the higher level of
competition, allowing just 22.3 points per game in the early going. The unit
permitted NC State to score just three touchdowns last week, holding the
Wolfpack to fewer than 400 yards of total offense.
The unit is one of the best in the Sun Belt Conference at getting after the
quarterback, having logged 10 sacks, led by Alex Page's three -- tied for most
in the league. The team has also come up with three interceptions.
The Bulldogs offense has been clicking in the early going this season, putting
up 38 points per game while displaying a good balance between rushing offense
(193.7 ypg) and passing offense (219.7 ypg).
Under center, Tyler Russell has shown vast improvement in his junior campaign.
He has completed 46-of-79 passes for 651 yards while putting together a
perfect touchdown-to-interception ratio (eight-to-zero).
Chad Bumphis has been prone to big plays, recording 236 receiving yards on
just 10 catches while leading the SEC in receiving touchdowns with five. He is
now tied with Eric Moulds and Justin Jenkins for the most TD catches in school
history with 17.
"You want your seniors to play their best football and I think he's playing
the best football of his career," head coach Dan Mullen said of his receiver.
"I don't believe (Bumphis) thinks he has to make the big play - he wants to
make the big play. I think having that pressure off of him has allowed him to
perform a little better."
LaDarius Perkins has been one of the busiest running backs in the conference,
tallying 320 yards and four scores, both second in the league. He is coming
off a career-best performance against Troy with 179 yards.
As good as the offense has been, MSU's stout defense is arguably the biggest
reason for its undefeated start. The unit has already forced 12 turnovers,
which is tied for most in the nation with Alabama and Kansas. The 43 points
allowed through its first three games is also the lowest after three games
during Mullen's tenure as head coach.
Darius Slay has four of the unit's seven interceptions, which ties him with
Western Kentucky's Jonathan Dowling for most in the country. He also has a
fumble recovery and a blocked kick. Johnthan Banks (two INTs) has also been
active in the secondary.
Playing its second straight road game against a team with superior talent,
South Alabama will have its hands full once again. The defense has shown some
promise and will likely be able to get after Russell on a few plays, but the
offense has shown no sign of being able to put up points, especially against a
great defense like Mississippi State's, meaning the Bulldogs should have no
problem moving to 4-0.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Mississippi State 35, South Alabama 9
09/19 10:43:04 ET