October 9, 2009 9:04:00 AM
STARKVILLE -- Brandon Cooper can''t help but think back to his high school days when he visited Mississippi State strength coach Matt Balis.
While at Fort Bend Marshall High School in Missouri City, Texas, Cooper participated at the University of Houston combine and bench pressed 275 pounds and ran the 40-yard dash in 4.8 seconds.
Cooper, a junior defensive lineman at MSU, is anxious to show the University of Houston what it missed by not seriously recruiting him when the teams meet at 11:30 a.m. Saturday (ESPNU).
Cooper lived 15 minutes from Houston, so he has been talking about the matchup with to Balis and anyone else who would listen.
"I had an extra chip on my shoulder (Monday) knowing this was the week because I''ve never got to play Houston before," Cooper said. "It''s going to be interesting for me knowing quite a few members of the team and growing up with them."
Cooper has friends who will be at the game. His mother, Rhonda, also will try to come to Starkville if she can fit it into her busy schedule.
Cooper knows both of Houston''s starting offensive tackles, and he expects to go against left tackle and friend Jacolby Ashworth.
To be able to get to Houston quarterback Case Keenum, Cooper has to go through Ashworth.
"I''m looking forward to that," Cooper said. "He''s agile and knows how to move."
The Bulldogs (2-3) know they will have to produce a pass rush to slow down the pass-happy Cougars (3-1).
MSU defensive line coach David Turner likes the way senior defensive tackle Kyle Love and junior defensive end Pernell McPhee are adjusting to the speed of the game.
With a knee injury to senior right tackle Charles Burns that might keep him out a couple of weeks, Turner could ask more of Cooper (seven tackles, one sack).
"We''re going to move Brandon around a little bit," Turner said. "I think he will provide a spark for us, and I''m sure he''ll be excited to play against a bunch of guys that he knows."
Moving around often would be a good strategy on defense. Last week, Houston passed the football 76 times.
Cooper said MSU will have the same philosophy as last week in a 42-31 loss to then-No. 25 Georgia Tech, but this week''s game will be more about endurance, getting a pass rush, and getting off the field on third down.
Even though the Bulldogs are allowing 336.4 yards of offense to opponents, Cooper said the defense is improving each week.
"It doesn''t happen overnight, and we know it''s going to take a lot of practice, commitment, and dedication," Cooper said.
Keenum (144 of 210 for 1,696 yards and 13 touchdowns) leads the Cougars. He was 51 of 76 for 536 yards and five touchdowns last week in a 58-41 loss to the University of Texas-El Paso.
Keenum knows it will be tough to put up those kind of numbers against MSU.
"Mississippi State has one of the better (defenses) in the SEC," Keenum said. "They are big, strong, physical and athletic."
Keenum is confident his offensive line will control the blitzes and the Bulldogs'' other schemes.
"Our offensive line does a good job of sorting all that stuff out and gives us the best possible chance to be successful," Keenum said. "No matter who it is, we have to go out there, do our job, and not worry about what everyone else is doing."
MSU coach Dan Mullen knows Keenum will put his secondary under fire.
The Bulldogs might not even be at full strength for the challenge as junior safety Zach Smith has missed valuable practice time this week due to an undisclosed illness.
"We still have a lot of work with the secondary, getting them in the right position, getting them to play the football in the air, and getting them to make the plays we need them to make," Mullen said.