October 20, 2012 4:13:01 PM
STARKVILLE - The Dispatch MSU Sports Blog has been waiting, waiting and waiting all day to say we're LOOKING LIVE.....at Davis Wade Stadium in Starkville for a Homecoming matchup as the Bulldogs host the Middle Tennessee State University.
Here's what we're going to do for our pre-game blog: The Dispatch MSU Sports Blog is going to review all the material we've assembled for you this week in our print edition.
NOTE: Be sure to bookmark this page as we'll continue to update this post throughout the day until kickoff as news continues to flow out about pre-game news for either team tonight. However, I'm told this afternoon by MSU officials that significant roster moves are not expected.
MONDAY - MSU football notebook - Mississippi State University football coach Dan Mullen said Sunday his program's "major concern" was not looking forward to a matchup against defending national champion University of Alabama on Oct. 27.
MSU football feature - On Dak Dak Prescott and his first college touchdown pass was a five-week bluff by the Mississippi State University football team's coaching staff.
TUESDAY - MSU football feature - On Tobias Smith leading the MSU offensive line http://www.cdispatch.com/sports/article.asp?aid=19606
MSU football notebook - Middle Tennessee State University football team will arrive in Starkville without the Sun Belt Conference's current leading rusher and the nation's No. 3 scorer. http://www.cdispatch.com/sports/article.asp?aid=19603#ixzz29sIZes6Z
WEDNESDAY -MSU football feature - On the impact of the tight end play to MSU's offense http://www.cdispatch.com/sports/article.asp?aid=19618
MSU football notebook - Tyler Russell and the serious national attention he's about to receive following Mississippi State University's fast start to the 2012 season.
Read more: http://www.cdispatch.com/sports/article.asp?aid=19643#ixzz29sJ8mobp
5 KEYS TO THE GAME
1. Can MSU afford not to look ahead to its matchup against Alabama?
Mississippi State University football coach Dan Mullen said Sunday his program's "major concern" was not looking forward to a matchup against defending national champion University of Alabama on Oct. 27.
"It's a major concern, and to me it's not the job of the coaching staff," Mullen said. "It's not on the coaches because it sounds like coach talk, but we're watching Middle Tennessee State this week, and
that's our whole focus."
MSU (6-0, 3-0 Southeastern Conference), which moved up to No. 15 in The Associated Press poll, will play host to Middle Tennessee State University (4-2) at 6 p.m. Saturday (ESPN2) on Homecoming at Davis Wade Stadium.
Unless the University of Tennessee can rebound from a 41-31 loss to MSU on Saturday this week to beat No. 1 Alabama this week, MSU could be involved in a matchup of undefeated teams when it plays in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
2. Can MTSU recover from losing star tailback Benny Cunningham?
The Middle Tennessee State University football team will arrive in Starkville without the Sun Belt Conference's current leading rusher and the nation's No. 3 scorer.
An MRI scan revealed MTSU senior tailback Benny Cunningham suffered a season-ending torn patellar tendon in his left knee Saturday in a 34-30 victory at Florida International University.
"I hate this from a personal level because I feel like he got cheated," MTSU coach Rick Stockstill said. "He was really starting to hit a groove, and for him to not play his full senior year is
devastating. I've been fortunate in this profession to coach some really, really good players, and Benny is one of those guys."
Cunningham rushed for a career-high 230 yards on 36 carries and two touchdowns. His performance earned him his second Sun Belt Conference
Offensive Player of the Week honor this season. In a 49-28 upset victory at Georgia Tech University two weeks earlier, Cunningham had 217 yards and five touchdowns. He leads the Sun Belt Conference in rushing with 600 yards and 11 touchdowns.
MSU coach Dan Mullen said Monday he and his staff are familiar with the tailback MTSU will turn to to lead a rushing attack that averages nearly 200 yards per game. LSU transfer Drayton Calhoun, a SuperPrep All-American and a member of the ESPNU 150 recruiting rankings as a senior at Tucker High School in Blackstone, Ga., in 2008, will get a majority of the carries Saturday.
3. How much will OG Tobias Smith play this weekend?
It was no accident that MSU's offense was significantly better with Columbus native at right guard when he returned last Saturday after getting his knee rolled up in the second quarter against the
University of Tennessee. Smith graded out at 95 percent and recorded 12 knockdowns despite playing only three quarters. The Columbus native blocked for junior running back LaDarius Perkins, who eclipsed the 100-yard mark for the third time in his past four games. In the passing game, Smith, a team captain, blocked for junior quarterback Tyler Russell, who threw for a career-high 291 yards. Smith said Monday he's been told he's playing this weekend but it may be smarter to make sure he's healthy and fresh for next week at Alabama.
4. How much will MTSU challenge MSU cornerback Johnthan Banks?
Banks has been named a midseason All-American by ESPN, Sports Illustrated, CBS Sports, Sporting News, Phil Steele and Scout.com. For the season, he has been thrown at 29 times in man coverage, allowing just 17 catches for 136 yards (4.7 yards per attempt) and zero touchdowns, intercepting three passes, forcing a fumble, recovering a fumble and breaking up two passes.
As a result of offenses avoiding him, Mississippi State is first in the country in turnover margin, while his teammate opposite of him (Darius Slay) is tied for third in the FBS with four interceptions.
MTSU junior quarterback Logan Kilgore is completing 67.4 percent of his passes this season and was 17-of-23 for 246 at Georgia Tech this season.
5. Can Dan Mullen continue his streak against non-BCS schools?
Just three years into his tenure, Mullen (.553) is already the winningest coach at State since Darrell Royal in 1954-55 (.600). Mullen has established a 14-game non-conference winning streak dating
back to his first season in Starkville. The Bulldogs have essentially created a consistency in defeating the opponents from non-BCS schools that they're favored against since Mullen arrived at MSU from the University of Florida. MSU has defeated seven straight opponents from Conference USA and the Sun Belt Conference. Saturday's game against MSU will be the 43rd game by the Blue Raiders against a team from either the ACC, Big East, SEC, Big 10, Big 12 or PAC-12 since joining the FBS in 1999 (160 total games). This marks the 15th straight year MTSU has played at least one of the power conference schools.
Following an upset win over Georgia Tech earlier this season, the Blue Raiders are now 6-36 (3-10 since 2008) in those games.
Players to Watch
Redshirt freshman QB Dak Prescott
With MSU as a 20-point favorite, the question is how much Prescott will play and be able to use the whole game plan.
Prescott had been used primarily as a runner out of the shotgun and under center in short-yardage situations. The redshirt freshman, who is the only other scholarship quarterback on the roster behind junior Tyler Russell, entered No. 19 MSU's game against the University of Tennessee on Saturday with 16 runs and six passing attempts. He finished with two rushes for 2 yards and 2 of 2 for 17 yards,
including a 13-yard touchdown pass to Marcus Green in the second quarter to help MSU beat Tennessee 41-31 at Davis Wade Stadium.
Prescott has 18 carries for 54 yards and is 4-for-8 for 54 yards this season.
Redshirt freshman LB Benardrick McKinney
On a year where the defensive play has been dominated by experience, MSU has relied on redshirt freshman linebacker Benardrick McKinney at a critical position of middle linebacker. Through each of the first six games, McKinney has reached a career high number of tackles and had a game-high 14 against the Volunteers Saturday.
McKinney was named Co-SEC freshman of the week by league officials after posting 12 tackles,including 10 solo stops two weeks against the University of Kentucky. McKinney currently leads the Bulldogs in tackles with 50.
Middle Tennessee State
Junior QB Logan Kilgore
Kilgore is 2nd in the Sun Belt Conference and ranks 25th nationally in passing efficiency. Kilgore needs 42 more passing yards to take over 7th place on MT's all-time list from Marvin Collier (4,234). Kilgore threw 18 touchdown passes in 2011 to rank third on the single-season
list. Kilgore recorded his second career 300-yard passing game, and first over 400, when he threw for 415 yards against Troy. Kilgore, who was playing in just his sixth career game, also recorded a personal-best five touchdown passes to best his previous mark of two set against Purdue in the 2011 season opener proving he can succeed against BCS competition.. The five touchdown passes rank in a tie for second on the MT single-game list, while his 415 yards are the third most in school history. The five scoring tosses went to five different receivers.
Junior middle linebacker Roderic Blunt
A junior from Miramar, Fla., played a big role in holding the University of Memphis to less than 100 yards rushing in the 48-30 win on the road. Blunt shared the team lead with seven tackles, including
two tackles for loss and a fumble recovery. It marked the second straight game MTSU has held an opponent to less than 100 yards on the ground.
Five of the unit's top six linebackers have set a career-high in tackles in at least one game thus far. Blunt, the middle linebacker,leads the team with 35 tackles, including a career-high 12 against Florida Atlantic. Freshman weakside linebacker T.T. Barber (11 tackles) and junior strongside linebacker Craig Allen (10) both tallied career-high tackles in last week's 49-28 upset win over Georgia Tech.
The last time MSU lost to a school from the South Belt Conference when Troy University, formally referred to as Troy State, defeated the Bulldogs on its Homecoming game in Starkville on Oct. 13 on 21-9.
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5. A Stone's Throw: Bridge work COLUMNS