Mississippi State jumped out to a 38-0 halftime lead over Troy last week and cruised to a 45-17 victory to improve to 4-2 overall. It’s Homecoming week in Starkville and the Bulldogs host Louisiana Tech before turning full attention to the second half of the schedule and five SEC opponents over the final six weeks of the season. Louisiana Tech, the defending Conference USA Western Division champion, also is 4-2 and has won three games in a row after last week’s dramatic 34-31 victory over UTSA.
Louisiana Tech at Mississippi State
Kickoff: 12 p.m. ET (Saturday)
TV Channel: SEC Network
Spread: Mississippi State -13.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Mississippi State’s Attacking Defense
The Bulldogs were very aggressive on defense against Troy, which resulted in four sacks. That tied the season-high performances State produced against Northwestern State and Auburn, and improved Mississippi State’s season total to 17. State has had at least one sack in every game, and has gotten to the quarterback 13 times over the last four contests.
Ryan Brown recorded one sack and also contributed seven tackles and 3.5 tackles for loss against Troy, which helped the defensive end earn SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week honors. Beniquez Brown intercepted a pass, Nelson Adams recovered a fumble in the end zone for a touchdown and the unit held the Trojans to just 254 total yards. Overall, it was a very good day for the defense.
2. Louisiana Tech’s Jeff Driskel and Kenneth Dixon
Mississippi State is coming off one of its best defensive efforts of the season, but the Bulldogs will have their hands full with one of the best one-two combos they will face this season in Louisiana Tech quarterback Jeff Driskel and running back Kenneth Dixon.
Driskel, the former Florida quarterback, has completed 136 of 223 pass attempts (61 percent) for 1,812 yards (which ranks No. 11 in the country) and 11 touchdowns with three interceptions. He is also the team’s second leading rusher with 211 yards and has scored five times. Dixon leads Louisiana Tech with 583 rushing yards and six touchdowns. The senior, who set an NCAA freshman record with 27 rushing touchdowns in 2012 and has scored a grand total of 69 TDs in his college career, missed last week’s game with an ankle injury but did dress out and is likely to play Saturday.
3. The Rise of Wide Receiver Fred Ross
Record-setting quarterback Dak Prescott, NFL prototype wide receiver De’Runnya Wilson and an offensive line that has struggled to open holes in the running game have been the most talked about pieces of the Mississippi State offense this season, but receiver Fred Ross has quietly emerged as one of the Bulldogs’ most consistent performers this season. The 6-foot-2 junior leads the team with 35 receptions and 386 receiving yards, and scored his first two touchdowns of the season against Troy on a 59-yard reception and a 77-yard punt return.
With a three-point loss to WKU and a six-point loss to Kansas State as its only blemishes to date, Louisiana Tech is a strong program capable of competing for the Conference USA title. Mississippi State defensive coordinator Manny Diaz saw the potential up close last season as the DC in Ruston. Louisiana Tech may keep the game close early, but State is the better team and with Prescott, Wilson, Ross and an attacking defense trending up, expect Mississippi State to win by two touchdowns.
Prediction: Mississippi State 31, Louisiana Tech 17
— Written by Nicholas Ian Allen, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Allen's work on college football can also be found on SaturdayBlitz.com and FanSided.com. Follow him on Twitter @NicholasIAllen.