August 29, 2014 11:23:42 AM
In his first extended playing time as Mississippi State's quarterback a season ago, Dak Prescott was sensational. Putting up nearly 3,000 yards and 25 touchdowns despite starting just seven games, Prescott showed a world of potential and made many believe he could be the most ideal fit for coach Dan Mullen's offense.
Prescott's encore performance starts Saturday night, and the Haughton, Louisiana, native should get plenty of opportunities. Prescott rushed for 829 yards on 134 carries last year, while MSU's trio of returning tailbacks -- Josh Robinson, Nick Griffin, and Ashton Shumpert -- combined to carry the ball 148 times, just 14 more than Prescott. While that disparity will likely diminish in 2014 as Prescott matures as a passer, the opportunity exists for big numbers against a Southern Mississippi defense that finished 109th in the country against the run in 2013. By contrast, the Golden Eagles' defense was 25th nationally against the pass, setting the stage for a likely barrage of carries from Prescott and the MSU tailbacks.
Weather or not?
That's the question facing the Bulldogs and Golden Eagles on the eve of their first meeting in 24 years. While temperatures in Starkville around kickoff are expected to be mild for late August, the rain chances are anything but. Forecasters predict a 60-percent chance of precipitation near kickoff, meaning the season opener could be played in the elements. If the teams have to play in the rain, it would likely favor MSU's ground-oriented attack, as the Eagles rushed for just 855 yards as a team in 2013, or 26 more than Prescott.
A leg up
If there's one matchup that doesn't heavily favor the Bulldogs, it's the kicking game. While MSU enters the season still searching for an identity in the kicking game -- junior Evan Sobiesk and freshman Weston Graves have battled throughout camp for the starting position -- Southern Miss is completely settled. USM kicker Corey Acosta enters his third year as the starter. He has connected on 22 field goals in the past two years, including 11 of 20 with a long of 50 yards a year ago. MSU, meanwhile, struggled in the kicking game, making 6 of 14 field goals in 2013.
MSU CBs against USM passing game
Once Nick Mullens, now a sophomore, took over at quarterback midway through the season, the Golden Eagles' passing attack improved on a game-to-game basis, culminating in a 370-yard, five touchdown explosion in the season finale against Alabama-Birmingham. Similarly, MSU's defensive backfield improved as the year progressed, as the Bulldogs didn't allow a passing touchdown after Week 10 against Alabama and forced 14 turnovers in the last three games. Whichever unit carries over that momentum from late 2013 -- USM's passing game or MSU's defensive backfield -- could determine the outcome of Saturday night's game. Mullens and company averaged 38 pass attempts per game in the final six games, while MSU's defense finished fifth in the Southeastern Conference in pass defense.
What a setting for the first meeting between MSU and USM in 24 years. The Golden Eagles and Bulldogs will clash in a game that will welcome fans into a sparkling new $75 expansion to Davis Wade Stadium, an enhancement that resulted in more than 6,000 additional seats and a bowled-in north end zone. Those improvements will result in a new attendance record at DWS, likely breaking the old mark of 58,103 set in 2009 against Alabama. The stadium's new listed capacity is 61,330.
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