August 31, 2013 12:51:18 PM
HOUSTON - Welcome to the start of the 2013 college football season. The Dispatch MSU Sports Blog is LOOKING LIVE.....at Reliant Stadium, home of the NFL's Houston Texans between No. 13 Oklahoma State University and Mississippi State University (2:30 p.m., ABC/ESPN2).
Go ahead and refresh this blog post up to kickoff for the latest information on the game.
(UPDATED 1 P.M.) Mississippi State has released its travel roster to the media and here's the noteworthy items:
- Defensive tackles Nick James and Quay Evans are not with the team today in Houston. The two sophomore lineman did not make the trip with the team and the official reason has not been released as of yet.
- MSU brought eight true freshmen to the Texas Kickoff Classic: TB Ashton Shumpert, WR Fred Ross, WR De'Runnya Wilson, QB Damian Williams, DE Chris Jones, DB Kivon Coleman and TE Artimas Samuel.
- 73 MSU players were brought to Houston including junior linebacker Ferlando Bohanna, who was suffering from concussion symptoms for the last week of practice. Sophomore tight end Rufus Warren was held back in Starkville after he suffered a severely sprained ankle in practice last week.
Here's what we're going to do for our pre-game blog: I'm going to give you the five major questions that will be answered on the field this afternoon, two key players for both teams and a number to keep in mind.
1. Who wins the tempo battle?
When asked Monday, Mississippi State University offensive coordinator Les Koenning admitted he can't be too intensely focused on trying to win the tempo battle even against a fast paced passing offense such as Oklahoma State University on Saturday in the 2013 Texas Kickoff Classic in Houston. Last season Oklahoma State relied on the big play by averaging the nation's fourth-most total yards per game with 547 yards per contest but was 113th of 124 Division 1 schools in time of possession.
Former MSU quarterback Matt Wyatt, who is a radio co-host of the Head to Head program on 100.9, said Wednesday if the Bulldogs punt more than "three or four times" they'll lose.
"You don't know when those opportunities in a game are going to come about for you to score so you want to score," Koenning said. "Is there a need to slow things down? You would say yes but it's not one of these deals where I don't want to score until a certain amount of time has passed."
2. Can Mississippi State get pressure to whoever is playing quarterback at Oklahoma State?
Geoff Collins was promoted to full defensive coordinator duties to specifically get players to put the quarterback on the ground. If his "juice" and "mayhem" defense can't get confusing looks from whoever is playing quarterback at Oklahoma State, everything else in the play will likely be bad for the Bulldogs.
With first-year OSU offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich arriving from Shippensburg University in Shippensburg, Pa., Collins may need to adjust on the fly during the game to whatever new wrinkle the Cowboys coaching staff has as they juggle the two signal callers.
"They have one quarterback that makes great decisions and another one that can run really well with a good accurate arm," Collins said. "(Defensive line coach) David Turner does a great job coaching his group up but the key will be pressure in that pocket. We have to get that quarterback moving in a way he doesn't want to."
3. Does MSU's secondary grow up fast against the Air Raid offense of Oklahoma State?
While it's a legit concern and worry for MSU fans, the players wearing maroon and white in the secondary are fed up listening to analysts break down how they match up with Oklahoma State.
They're tired of hearing about the Cowboys' high octane, tempo pass offense facing a youthful MSU defensive backfield. They're mad at what they perceive the disrespect they're getting. In short, they're ready - or at least they think they're ready.
"Everybody has been saying we're the weakest part of the defense or the team, and we're not trying to hear that," Mississippi State junior safety Jay Hughes said.
The MSU secondary, which lost both Johnthan Banks and Darius Slay to the second round of the NFL Draft, has confidence they've properly simulated OSU's offensive tempo in fall camp. Whether they have or haven't will be answered quickly in Houston Saturday afternoon.
4. How many touches does MSU senior tailback LaDarius Perkins get?
Mullen's MSU coaching staff have decided to become a lot more sabermetric with its offensive plan. The "Moneyball" system for MSU football revolves around the touches for senior tailback LaDarius Perkins. This is why the player, who could likely go down as the second most prolific rusher in MSU history, is being highly considered for punt return duty. Just another opportunity for Perkins to touch the football.
"The big issue when you start getting into SEC play is changing the field position," MSU offensive coordinator Les Koenning said. "If we can sustain those long drives and get in the end zone, that's the goal right there. Do we want big plays? Yes, but we have to put in our guys hands and make sure they can do something positive with it."
Last season in six of the eight victories for the 2012 season, Perkins got at least 20 offensive touches in each game. In his three previous seasons, Perkins has averaged 5.12 yards for scrimmage every time he has gotten the football in a offensive play.
"What you have to do is make it a natural thing to get your best players touch the ball as much as possible. Doing that without intentionally changing things to get to a number for that player moves the chains and scores touchdowns in the red zone instead of kicking field goals."
5. Is some form of chemistry found between QB Tyler Russell and the inexperienced receivers?
MSU new wide receivers coach Billy Gonzales has already looked at the statistics from the returning players at his position group and it's not a pretty picture to view. Of the 28 touchdown catches from 2012, Perkins, junior wide receiver Robert Johnson and senior tight end Malcolm Johnson tied with two. Just two. Russell conducted daily pitch-and-catch sessions in the sweltering heat of Starkville summer months to help the new and inexperienced wide receivers start understanding the nuances of the system.
"It really helped us learn how to be accountable for ourselves by having leaders away from the coaches," MSU redshirt freshman wide receiver Brandon Holloway said. "Tyler is a leader because if we weren't going hard or doing it right, we would hear about it from him and he was very business-like in his approach."
Along with getting time to throw, Russell will quickly need to find new friends to pass the football to in order to keep up with Oklahoma State's high-scoring offense.
Players to Watch
Senior TB LaDarius Perkins
- Arguably the deepest MSU backfield in recent history is led senior LaDarius Perkins. The Greenville, Miss., native was also named to the 2013 preseason All-Southeastern Conference second team as voted on by the record 243 voters at SEC Media Days. Already a preseason All-SEC pick by Athlon Sports, The Birmingham News and Phil Steele, Perkins finished second in the league last season in all-purpose yards per game (125.8) and became the ninth player in MSU history to rush for 1,000 yards in a single season (1,024).
Freshman DL Chris Jones
- Specifically fans should watch where the five-star freshman sensation lines up - either defensive end or defensive tackle. At 305 pounds, Jones has grown to the size of being able to handle either position on the MSU defensive line and when asked if he'll be moved around in his first college football game, MSU defensive coordinator Geoff Collins was more than coy.
"Never know," Collins said. "I guess we will know Saturday."
Senior WR Tracy Moore
- Moore returns for fifth year and figures to be one of the Big 12 Conference's most productive receivers. He was off to a solid start in 2012 as the leader of the Cowboy receiving corps and is already on OSU's career charts before the 2013 season kicks off. Moore, a 215-pound target is 15th all-time at OSU with 1,326 receiving yards and is tied for No. 14 all-time with 93 career receptions.
Safety S Daytawion Lowe
- He has led OSU in total tackles over the last two seasons and brings an aggressive and intelligence to the safety position that will be critical in both the run and pass game. With new defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer dialing up the call for the Cowboys, Lowe's understanding of the system is important to making sure the rest of the secondary doesn't have missed assignments leading to open receivers for MSU quarterback Tyler Russell.
All of the Dispatch MSU Sports Blog readers: feel free to follow me on Twitter at http://twitter.com/matthewcstevens for up-to-date Mississippi State coverage.
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