Bowl-eligible Louisiana Tech travels to Starkville to face rejuvenated Mississippi State
Mississippi State (5-3, 2-3 SEC) moved back into the AP Top 25 at No. 21 after last week’s 28-13 win over then-No. 16 Texas A&M. Chatter surrounding Bulldog quarterback Nick Fitzgerald’s role as the starter has quelled after the senior tallied four touchdowns behind 241 yards passing and 88 yards rushing. Mississippi State’s defense held Texas A&M to its lowest scoring total this year, and the Bulldogs now shift their focus to Louisiana Tech for homecoming.
Louisiana Tech clinched bowl eligibility last Friday with a 21-13 road win against Florida Atlantic that snapped a 10-game home win streak by the Owls. Louisiana Tech defensive end Jaylon Ferguson, who leads the country in career sacks (38), shattered Conference-USA’s career sack record (38) in the win. Last week’s victory also kept Louisiana Tech (6-2, 4-1 Conference-USA) steady at No. 2 in the Conference-USA West. Ten players on Louisiana Tech’s rosters are from Mississippi.
Mississippi State and Louisiana Tech first met in Starkville, Miss., in 1904, and Mississippi State owns a 10-3 series record. Mississippi State defeated Louisiana Tech 57-21 last season and currently owns a three-game series win streak.
Louisiana Tech at Mississippi State
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 3 at 7:30 p.m. ET
TV: SEC Network
Spread: Mississippi State -24
Three Things to Watch
1. Cool Hand Nick
If the negative talk regarding Nick Fitzgerald’s four-interception performance two weeks ago against LSU bothered him, the quarterback certainly didn’t let it show against the Aggies. Fitzgerald opened the night’s scoring with a 25-yard touchdown pass to Stephen Guidry, and he capped it with a 76-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter. Fitzgerald was 14-of-22 for 241 passing yards and two touchdowns, and he added a team-high 88 yards rushing and two touchdowns on 16 carries to account for all of Mississippi State’s scores.
Fitzgerald will attempt to recreate last week’s magic against a Louisiana Tech defense that has proven to be stingy against the pass. Louisiana Tech is yielding 192 yards passing per game to opposing quarterbacks, which ranks No. 29 in FBS. And when it comes to allowing passing touchdowns, Louisiana Tech hasn’t surrendered many, either. Through eight games, the defensive unit has allowed just seven passing touchdowns.
2. Louisiana Tech’s sack machine
Ferguson, also affectionately referred to as Sack Daddy by the Louisiana Tech faithful, became Conference-USA’s career sack leader last Friday at FAU. His 10.5 sacks per game this year lead the nation, and he’s six sacks shy of tying former Virginia Tech great Terrell Suggs for career sacks (44).
Ferguson has recorded a sack in all but two of Louisiana Tech’s games this year. He posted a season-high four against North Texas on Sept. 29 and 3.5 against Texas-El Paso on Oct. 20. He’s also forced two fumbles and deflected two passes.
Mississippi State’s offensive line has allowed 15 sacks this season.
3. Mississippi State’s Montez Sweat
While Mississippi State’s offense has been the subject of criticism, the same can’t be said of the defense, which is allowing 13.5 points per game (No. 4 in FBS). Much of Mississippi State’s success on defense can be attributed to the presence of Sweat on the defensive line. The senior defensive end has tallied 33 total tackles this year and posted a season-high seven total tackles against LSU two weeks ago.
Sweat has recorded 8.5 sacks, which ranks him No. 9 in FBS, and since 2017, he’s tallied a Power 5-leading 17 sacks. Sweat’s 8.5 sacks are tied with Kentucky’s Josh Allen for an SEC-best, and Mississippi State’s defensive leader is positioned well to end the season as the conference’s sack leader for the second consecutive year.
Texas A&M win notwithstanding, it's not far-fetched to say first-year head coach Joe Moorhead's inaugural year in Starkville has lost some luster. But even with Alabama sitting on the schedule next week, an eight-win season isn't outside the realm of possibilities. Mississippi State closes the year against Arkansas and at Ole Miss.
Louisiana Tech takes its three-game win streak into a feisty SEC environment for the second time this season — Louisiana Tech traveled to LSU on Sept. 22. Louisiana Tech has shown it has the ability to play with SEC-caliber athletes, as it trailed LSU by just three points early in the fourth quarter in the September matchup.
Louisiana Tech will give Mississippi State a scare, but the home team will pull away late for the win.
Prediction: Mississippi State 30, Louisiana Tech 17
— Written by Elton Hayes, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. A sports reporter for The Meridian Star, Hayes also has been an invited guest on "The Paul Finebaum Show." Follow him on Twitter @EHDC12.