The funny thing is, if you would've seen the first game of the season for both teams, you would've imagined they were both headed for a capital season. Vanderbilt gave Texas A&M fits before finally falling, 17-12. And everyone remembers the first game of the Mike Leach era, where the Pirate out-gunned Coach O and No. 6-ranked LSU, 44-34.
Since then VU has lost to LSU, South Carolina, and Ole Miss by a combined score of 135-35. MSU has been bulldozed to the tune of a combined 114-30 in losses to Arkansas, Kentucky, Texas A&M, and Alabama. Also, All-SEC running back Kylin Hill officially opted out for the rest of the season. Oof.
Vanderbilt at Mississippi State
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 7 at 3:30 p.m. ET
TV: SEC Network
Spread: Mississippi State -18
When Vanderbilt Has the Ball
Seals team eight. True freshman quarterback Ken Seals has been a real beacon for this program, hitting on 67 percent of his passes so far. Despite the lopsided score, he had a breakout game against Ole Miss, passing 31-of-40 for 319 yards for an efficiency 155.9 rating. He'll have his work cut out for himself this week, as the Bulldogs actually are tied with Kentucky for the best passing defense in the SEC at 212.0 yards allowed per game. Weird, right?
Be a ball hog. Vanderbilt really needs to give its defense a breather from time to time. The Commodores are converting on just 39 percent of their third downs, which keeps their defense on the field for too long. Seals and Co. will have to be a little bit more clutch. Of course, establishing some semblance of a running game would help (VU averages 109.0 rushing yards per game and a weakling 2.9 yards per carry). If the line can somehow block somebody, look for a concerted effort to get more carries to Ja'Veon Marlow (153 yards), Keyon Henry-Brooks (138), and Jamauri Wakefield (137).
Defense will be the difference. Vanderbilt is 108th in the country (out of 115 qualifying teams) in total defense, giving up 499.0 yards per game. Their struggle to get rudimentary stops in the first half against Ole Miss last week was difficult to watch. By contrast, the Bulldogs have a decent defense, ranking second in the SEC (and 24th nationally) at 336.2 yards per game. So you'll see a real difference in talent levels when the Bulldogs' D is on the field compared to VU's. That is what will be the difference in this one.
When Mississippi State Has the Ball
Start fast. Last week in their game with Ole Miss, the Commodores gave up 200 yards and 21 points in the first quarter alone. It was a freaking track meet. That seems to be a pattern for the Dores, as they have been outscored 38-3 in the first quarter of games so far this season. Look for the Maroons to set the tone early here.
A confidence-builder for the frosh QB. The Vanderbilt defense is pretty weak. I think we all know that. But the biggest problem is that the Commodores have a nearly non-existent pass rush, claiming just five sacks and 14 quarterback hurries through their four games. So look for quarterback Will Rogers (who was 24-of-37 for 147 yards vs. Alabama) to get some reps and to work through his progressions. As of press time, K.J. Costello's availability was unsure due to leaving last week's game with a concussion.
Take care of the ball. I emphasized the turnover battle in my preview for the Bulldogs-Crimson Tide game last week and, well… they didn't listen. Rogers threw a pair of interceptions and Jo'Quavious Marks also lost a fumble. The Bulldogs are ranked 113th nationally in turnover margin, having gained seven turnovers while committing 19 themselves. Oi vey.
Having 10 players opt out before the season started, you knew this would be a big struggle for Vanderbilt. Other than that curiously good Texas A&M game, the Commodores have been a sieve on defense. If the Bulldogs don't help them in the way of turnovers, penalties, and mental mistakes, this one should be a breeze of a win. But I'm still not convinced either of these two teams will avoid the cellar in their respective SEC divisions by the end of the year.
Man, too bad this isn't a baseball game.
Prediction: Mississippi State 24, Vanderbilt 7
Podcast: Week 10 Preview and Predictions
— Written by Eric Sorenson, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He is a college football, college baseball and college hockey addict... and writer. Follow him on Twitter @Stitch_Head.
(Will Rogers photo courtesy of @HailStateFB)