September 21, 2013 12:24:14 PM
STARKVILLE - Welcome to Week 4 of the 2013 college football season. The Dispatch MSU Sports Blog will be LOOKING LIVE.....at Davis Wade Stadium as the Bulldogs (1-2) face Troy (2-1) (6:30 p.m., FSN South).
NOTE: As always go ahead and refresh this blog post up to kickoff for the latest information on the game.
UPDATE (6:30 p.m.) - Mississippi State team medical staff cleared Bulldogs fifth-year senior quarterback Tyler Russell for contact Thursday but head coach Dan Mullen gave sophomore quarterback Dak Prescott his third straight start.
Previously the official word by the MSU coaching staff was if TylerRussell was medically cleared to play, he'd be put in the lineup. However, Russell was unable to get an adequate number of snaps in practice to prepare him to start in MSU's game against Troy today.
In order to be cleared for contact Russell would've had to pass his concussion impact test but Dr. Bob Collins, longtime MSU team physician and Longest Student Health Center director, told the concussion test is just one of the elements used by the team's medical staff to determine if a player is physically ready for a game at the end of the week.
On a first-down scramble in the season-opening loss to then-No. 13 Oklahoma State in Houston, Russell was dragged down by Cowboys defensive tackle James Castleman while sophomore linebacker Ryan Simmons finished the play. The replays shown on the stadium jumbo-tron and on the television broadcast appear to show inadvertent contact between Simmons' leg and Russell head. Minutes later, Russell was being led off the field by the MSU training staff, taken into the tunnel by the MSU medical staff after being quickly evaluated on the training table.
Russell was not medically cleared for contact for the next two games against Alcorn State and Auburn despite being dressed and participating in warmups at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Dylan Holley gets first career start
Senior center Dylan Holley got his first career start Saturday in place of junior Dillon Day. Day had 25 consecutive starts at the position before Saturday's game against Troy. The lineup change was not because of a injury as Day was active and participated in warmups with the first-team offense. Holley's starting nod makes for two players that opened the 2013 season as primary backups seeing starts in the first four weeks of play on the MSU offensive line.
Last season Holley, a junior college transfer from Gulf Coast Community College, saw action in 12 games primarily on special teams with the kicking units. He played 15 snaps in the season-opening victory against Jackson State, grading out at 73 percent with two pancake blocks. According to the MSU coaching staff, he raded out a career-best 92 percent at Alabama in 2012, receiving a "S" for satisfactory in 12 of his 13 snaps.
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.
Also....above is a video of Mississippi State defensive coordinator Geoff Collins talking after practice about the Auburn offense
1. Who is going to play quarterback at Mississippi State?
Remember this question from last weekend? Well, get used to seeing it until MSU senior quarterback Tyler Russell is medically cleared for contact.
One of those perceptions is a player shouldn't lose his starting job due to a injury but Mullen stressed Monday in the weekly media conference that he doesn't and has not believed in that philosophy.
"Anybody can lose their job anytime," Mullen said Monday in his weekly media conference. "I guess that sounds terrible and I have a lot of faith in Tyler, he's won some pretty big games for us and he's our starting quarterback. But in Dak we want to always train multiple starting quarterbacks."
The dilemma for Mullen this week begins if fifth-year senior Tyler Russell is medically cleared for contact Saturday. Russell continues to be a day-by-day monitoring situation and has not been cleared by the MSU medical staff for physical contact. In his place, sophomore Dak Prescott has substituted more than adequately for Russell and nearly led MSU (1-2) to victory in his first career road start at Auburn last weekend.
2. Can Mississippi State avoid a repeat of Troy's dominating offense from last year?
Troy quarterback Corey Robinson is also used to having success against MSU's defense after racking up 343 passing yards on 32 of 46 completions while attacking two future NFL second-round drafts in the MSU secondary. Robinson's second-half success included Troy's 572 total yards, which was the third-most ever given up by a Bulldogs defense under MSU head coach Mullen.
The speed and tempo of Troy's offense caused problems for MSU last year but the Bulldogs have a new aggressive scheme under defensive coordinator Geoff Collins.
"Last year that wasn't a fun feeling for us at all," Collins said. "The kids remember that and we don't have to sell them on what this Troy football team can do."
3. Will Dan Mullen continue domination over mid major non-conference programs?
In his five seasons at MSU, Dan Mullen has made his career out of winning the games his program has scheduled specifically to acculumate wins for bowl eligibility. Saturday happens to be another one of those games. Mullen is 17-4 in non-conference games at MSU and only one of those losses have come against a non-Bowl Championship Series program (Houston in 2009). Mississippi State has played five of the eight teams that currently comprise the Sun Belt Con- ference and holds a 25-3-2 advantage.
4. Can Devon Bell shake his field goal struggles?
The MSU sophomore kicker is constantly searching for answers leading to confounding statistics from field goals from 30-39 yards away, arguably the most common field goal attempts in football. From that specific distance range, Bell is currently 6 of 12 in 16 career games including missing a 35-yard attempt wide right in the first quarter Saturday in a 24-20 loss at Auburn. Bell actually has a better percentage on field goals beyond 40 yards (5 of 8) in his college career and was recruited to MSU from Warren Central High School in Vicksburg for the strength of his leg.The MSU sophomore kicker understands he must turn around this slump because he's going to be asked at least once in the final nine games to attempt a incredibly important kick
5. Will the MSU offensive line have back-to-back solid performances?
The MSU front five big bodies provided rushing lanes for Dak Prescott to record 133 ground yards at Auburn. The total was tied for the sixth most in an SEC game by an individual under Dan Mullen. With questions surrounding the MSU offense, the Bulldogs had 415 yards of total offense in its SEC opener, surpassing the 333-yard mark for the 13th time in the last 16 games. They'll have a physical advantage over a undersized but fast Troy front seven and will need to assert a early presence to wear down the Trojans depth.
Players to Watch
Senior RB LaDarius Perkins
The senior tailback returned from a ankle injury at Auburn and finished with just 50 all-purpose yards including just 36 rushing yards last weekend. He is averaging 5.2 yards per carry and may be critical to MSU being able to establish a ground game early Saturday.
Junior CB Taveze Calhoun
Calhoun has been wearing a boot on his right foot all week throughout campus and his status is in jeopardy to play this week. With the depth at cornerback thin, Calhoun being out for Saturday could push Justin Cox to cornerback after he allowed a 76-yard touchdown pass at Auburn.
Senior QB Corey Robinson
Robinson has thrown for over 300 yards in a game 20 times during his career and his 75.5 completion percentage is also the fifth best in the country and second best among quarterbacks with at least 100 attempts.
Sophomore DE Tyler Roberts
He leads the Trojans defense in sacks with 3.5 and Troy already has nine sacks this season after recording 13 all of last season. Troy defensive coordinator Wayne Bolt will need the 227-pounder from Hoover, Ala., to find himself in the backfield consistently to force difficult third down conversions for the MSU offense.
Numbers of the game
Number of passes of 50 yards or longer this season by Troy, which is tops in the NCAA
Number of all-purpose yards that senior LaDarius Perkins needs for 3,615 for his career, the fifth-most in school history.
Mississippi State hasn't started with a 1-3 record since 2008.
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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