It's a matchup of schools from the Magnolia State when Southern Miss heads to Starkville to take on Mississippi State. Both teams got off to solid starts, as new Bulldogs quarterback Tommy Stevens led his team to a 38-28 win over the Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans. In his debut, the Penn State transfer went 20-of-30 for 236 passing yards and a pair of touchdowns, adding 37 yards and a score on the ground. Junior running back Kylin Hill had 197 rushing yards as head coach Joe Moorhead's team showed a balanced offense in the opener.
It was a little easier time for Southern Miss as Jay Hopson's team rolled past FCS opponent Alcorn State 38-10 at home. The Golden Eagles were led by junior quarterback Jack Abraham, who threw for 293 yards and a touchdown.
The all-time series between these in-state programs is knotted at 14-14-1. Mississippi State has won the last four meetings, the most recent a 34-16 victory in Hattiesburg in 2015.
Southern Miss at Mississippi State
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 7 at 3:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Mississippi State -17
When Southern Miss Has the Ball
The Golden Eagles will follow the lead of their quarterback, Jack Abraham. The junior did his part last week in the win over Alcorn State. The question will be how much of a ground game can Southern Miss establish? The Eagles managed just 96 rushing yards against the Braves from the FCS ranks, needing 31 carries (3.1 ypc) to get there. Dee Baker was the leading rusher with 35 yards on eight carries. Steven Anderson also got eight attempts but he finished with 22 yards. Besides Abraham, the big playmaker for Southern Miss last week was Jordan Mitchell. The senior wide receiver came up big with 133 yards on seven catches, the longest one covering 54 yards.
Mississippi State lost several key pieces from what was the nation's stingiest defense last season in term of yards allowed per game (263.1). With just three starters returning, some regression was expected and that was the certainly the case against Louisiana. The Ragin' Cajuns racked up 430 yards against the Bulldogs, including 163 on the ground. It didn't help that expected starting defensive end Lee Autry and linebacker Willie Gay Jr. were suspended for the opener due to a violation of team rules. Even though Mississippi State gave up a bunch of yards, four takeaways helped mitigate the damage Louisiana did on the scoreboard.
When Mississippi State Has the Ball
Expect a solid run-to-pass ratio from the Bulldogs offense. That was the expectation heading into the season opener and that's what transpired last Saturday. There's is no reason to believe that head coach Joe Moorhead will deviate from that plan this week against Southern Miss. Kylin Hill came close to running for 200 yards last week and wide receiver Osirus Mitchell was the big target with six catches for 88-yards.
On paper, Southern Miss figures to provide more resistance this week to Mississippi State compared to the Ragin Cajuns. The Golden Eagles were third nationally last season total defense (278.4 ypg) and 19th in scoring defense. They were stout against both the run (102.7 ypg, sixth) and pass (175.6 ypg, 10th). Six starters are back from that unit, which held Alcorn State to 219 total yards last week.
Tommy Stevens and the Bulldogs are a three-score favorite for a reason. That said, I believe Southern Miss' defense will keep this game interesting until the fourth quarter when Mississippi State will pull away. I'm expecting a lower-scoring game than the experts believe and for two reasons. Southern Miss' defense will make the Bulldogs put together long, sustained drives and the Bulldogs' defense should do a better job against the run this week. Mississippi State improves to 2-0 before Kansas State comes to town next week.
Prediction: Mississippi State 30, Southern Miss 17
— Written by Nick Kayal, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network as a college football and NFL writer. Nick is a Morning Show Host in Nashville on 102.5 The Game. Follow him on Twitter @NickKayal.
(Top photo courtesy of @HailStateFB)