Mississippi State lost a hard-fought battle last week against LSU in Starkville. Trailing 21-3 in the second half, the Bulldogs stormed back behind the strong right arm of quarterback Dak Prescott. Unfortunately, Prescott and running back Ashton Shumpert couldn’t hook up on a fourth quarter two-point conversion and Devon Bell couldn’t connect on a 52-yard field goal attempt as time expired.
The 21-19 loss hurt, but the Bulldogs must regroup this week against FCS opponent Northwestern State. And, as Auburn found out last week and defensive coordinator Manny Diaz saw firsthand last year, FCS teams can be very dangerous.
Northwestern State at Mississippi State
Kickoff: 4 p.m. ET (Saturday)
TV Channel: SEC Network
Three Things to Watch
1. Can Mississippi State run the football?
One of the biggest concerns for Mississippi State entering the 2015 season was replacing the production of running back Josh Robinson. Through two games, there still isn’t a clear answer.
The Bulldogs averaged 233 rushing yards per game last season but this year State has just 248 rushing yards total. Part of the problem is that the Bulldogs have not committed to running the football, and instead have relied on the passing game. State has attempted 92 passes compared to 54 runs, and last week attempted 54 passes against LSU.
Brandon Holloway leads the team thus far with 88 yards on 12 carries — an impressive 7.3 yards per attempt — but top ball carriers Prescott and Shumpert both have just 18 carries through two games. Prescott, with two touchdowns, is the only player to score on the ground.
2. Northwestern State is no pushover
The Demons may be 0-2, with losses to Southeastern Louisiana and Louisiana-Lafayette, but they are a dangerous squad capable of pulling an upset. Just ask Manny Diaz. Last season, Mississippi State’s defensive coordinator led the defense at Louisiana Tech, who despite winning Conference USA’s Western Division championship, lost to Northwestern State 30-27 early in the season. The Demons forced five turnovers in the game and kicked two field goals in the final 1:05 of the fourth quarter to steal the win.
3. The offensive line must protect Dak Prescott
Mississippi State may have only run the football 26 times last week, but they averaged only 1.7 yards per carry, which means the offensive line didn’t open very many holes for State running backs. But the offensive line struggled even more to protect Prescott, who was sacked three times for a loss of 28 yards. Prescott was on the run from LSU defenders all game, and the Tigers recorded eight official quarterback hurries. That means of the 57 times Prescott dropped back to pass, he was under heavy pressure 19.3 percent of the time.
After the loss last week, Mississippi State has come up short in three of their last four games, and has four losses in their last six contests. The Bulldogs should get back in the win column this week because they are a bigger, stronger, faster and more talented team at nearly every position. If the offensive line shows improvement, State should win in impressive fashion.
Prediction: Mississippi State 41, Northwestern State 7
— 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.