For the third straight week the ‘Cats face an undefeated top 25 SEC team. This time it is the Mississippi State Bulldogs who are coming off of a 30-10 win over South Alabama. Their lone SEC win was a 28-10 win vs. Auburn and they also have wins over Jackson State and a narrow victory at Troy, 30-24.
With a win against the Wildcats on Saturday, Mississippi State will move to 5-0 for just the fourth time in their 112 year history. The last time the Bulldogs were 5-0 was in 1999 when they moved to 8-0 before falling. They finished 10-2 that season.
This is a balanced Mississippi State team that ranks in the Top 50 nationally in both offense and defense. They rank 13th in scoring defense and have held opponents to ten points or less in three of four games. They have had success with takeaways as well and lead the nation in turnover margin at +12. They are second in the nation with 15 turovers forced and nine interceptions.
Obviously, turnovers will play a big role in this one. Over th elast three-plus seasons, Mississippi State is 20-1 when winning the turnover battle. They are 4-8 when losing it.
Offensively, the 35th ranked scoring offense in the nation is led by junior quarterback Tyler Russell (6-4, 220). He has completed just over 55-percent of his passes at 59-for-106 for 822 yards, eight touchdowns and just one interception. With 822 yards through the first four games, Russell is on pace to set the school record for passing yards in a season.
In their big win over Auburn, Russell had what many around the MSU program would call the best game of his career as he completed 20-of-29 passes for 222 yards and three touchdowns.
Their leading rusher is junior LaDarius Perkins (5-10, 190) with 57 carries for 389 yards, good for nearly seven yards a carry, and five touchdowns. With 97.2 yards per game, he ranks third in the SEC.
It always seems like the Bulldogs put an emphasis on their ground attack and Perkins is just continuing that theme. In their last 42 games, the Bulldogs have eclipsed the 200-yard rushing mark 24 times, including each of the last three games.
Senior wideout Chad Bumphis (5-11, 200) leads the team with 271 yards and five touchdowns. WIth 113 career receptions, he is seventh in MSU history and his 17 career touchdowns are tied for sixth. His 1,619 career receiving yards ranks ninth.
Their leading pass catcher is senior Chris Smith (6-2, 210), who has 13 catches for 177 yards.
This group of pass catchers is as deep and experienced as Mississippi State has ever seen. Along with Bumphis and Smith they are led by a totla of six seniors that have the school’s single-season passing touchdown record each of the last two years. Russell spreads it around to these guys, too. Through the first four games, he has completed passes to 13 different receivers.
Their ball-hawking defense is led by senior cornerback Johnthan Banks (6-2, 185), who entered the season as a consensus All-American. He has three interceptions on the season, including two in their win over Auburn. He is second among all active players with 15 career picks and needs just one more to tie the MSU school record with 16. If he gets to 20 interceptions, he will tie the SEC career record which has happened twice.
Head coach Dan Mullen is in his fourth season at MSU and is 25-17 in three-plus seasons. Last season he led the Bulldogs to a 7-6 overall record and a win over Wake Forest in the Music City Bowl. He is 3-0 all-time against Kentucky and 2-0 at Commonwealth Stadium.
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