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Mississippi State Bulldogs vs. BYU Cougars Preview and Prediction

Jamaal Williams

Jamaal Williams

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BYU (3-3) returns home after a dominating 31-14 victory over Michigan State a week ago on the banks of the red cedar in East Lansing.

Mississippi State (2-3) travels west for the first time since 2002 (loss at Oregon) and is reeling after an embarrassing loss at home to Auburn. The Bulldogs were down 35-0 in the first half before ultimately falling 38-14 to the Tigers.

This is the first of a two-game series between the two schools. Next year BYU will travel to Starkville.

Friday night contests are not uncommon for BYU, but this is a rare occasion for Mississippi State. The Bulldogs haven’t played a regular season Friday game since a visit to New Orleans against Tulane in 1965.

Will the Bulldogs keep their bowl hopes alive or will BYU notch a victory against another Power Five team?

Mississippi State at BYU

Kickoff: Friday, Oct. 14 at 10:21 p.m. ET

TV Channel: ESPN

Spread: BYU -7.5

Three Things to Watch

1. Jamaal Williams set to become BYU’s all-time leading rusher
If the country wasn’t aware of Williams entering the season, they are now becoming familiar. Williams has been dominating his opponents the past two games, and the 163-yard performance against Michigan State has put Williams in the conversation as one of college football’s best running backs.

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Williams is 64 yards away from becoming BYU’s all-time leading rusher, and he should get that by the end of the first half.

Mississippi State wants this game to be low scoring and the Bulldogs will rely on their front seven led by DE A.J. Jefferson, who currently is tops in the SEC with 1.8 tackles for a loss per game.

2. How will Mississippi State adjust to the late kickoff?
Friday’s game will be a unique challenge for the Bulldogs. Kickoff is set for 8:21 p.m. in Provo, Utah, which would be 9:21 p.m. in Starkville, Mississippi. That would be the latest start in the history of Mississippi State football.

Head coach Dan Mullen acknowledged in his press conference this week that the late kickoff will be a unique challenge.

It’s rare for teams in the SEC to leave the south, and it’s even rarer when they travel out west. Getting adjusted to the altitude, late start time, and a hostile BYU crowd that hasn’t hosted a SEC team since the Bulldogs last traveled to Provo in 2000, there’s a reason why going west isn’t common for the young men in the SEC.

3. What can we expect from Mississippi State QB Nick Fitzgerald?
The redshirt freshman has had some ups and downs, which are to be expected from a young quarterback. But Mullen is excited about the future with Fitzgerald. Mullen has said that the young signal-caller is already a better passer than former Mississippi State great Dak Prescott was at this same point of his collegiate career. That’s lofty praise when you consider Prescott is the greatest quarterback in Bulldogs history and is now starting for the Dallas Cowboys in the NFL.

Fitzgerald is a good passer, but just like Prescott, he also can make plays his legs. BYU’s secondary has been vulnerable to giving up the big pass completion at times, and if the Bulldogs hope to pull off the upset, they’ll need Fitzgerald to air it out like he did against UMass earlier in the season when he threw for 305 yards. If Fitzgerald doesn’t put up big numbers through the air, it will be hard for Mississippi State to come away victorious.

Final Analysis

BYU is a confident football team right now, especially on the offensive side of the ball. Led by Jamaal Williams and QB Taysom Hill, the Cougars have found their groove in this new pro-style offense.

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But the key to BYU’s offensive success has come up front. Three offensive linemen from last year’s team that were expected to start are currently not playing, yet the Cougars’ line has performed better than anyone could have expected. The emphasis on adding weight in the offseason has paid off as BYU dominated Michigan State at the line of scrimmage in last week’s upset victory in East Lansing.

Mississippi State will try to keep this a low-scoring game, but don’t count on the Bulldogs to be able to stop the confident backfield of Williams and Hill, who are ready for another offensive explosion in front of a national television audience.

Prediction: BYU 34, Mississippi State 20

— Written by Mitch Harper, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Harper is publisher of Rivals' BYU site, CougarNation.com, and also is the BYU reporter and insider for 1320 KFAN and co-host of "The Cougar Center" podcast. Follow him on Twitter @Mitch_Harper.