Mississippi State visits Sun Belt's South Alabama

MOBILE, Ala. (AP) Mississippi State is venturing into unfamiliar territory for its latest nonconference game.

The Bulldogs (2-0) visit Sun Belt Conference team South Alabama for the first time on Saturday, trying for only their second 3-0 start since 1999. They're unbeaten in five previous road nonconference games under coach Dan Mullen.

Luckily for Mississippi State fans, it's only a short drive from the state line and 3-1/2 hours from Starkville.

''When you look at scheduling these games, we're doing our philosophy which is to schedule games our fans can get to,'' Mullen said.

The Bulldogs have scored 96 points in wins over Southern Miss and UAB. They won their first three games in 2012.

The Bulldogs are two-touchdown favorites in their final nonconference game before facing No. 10 LSU. South Alabama coach Joey Jones, a former Alabama receiver, knows the challenge his team is facing against a Southeastern Conference opponent.

''They are a big football team on the offensive line and the defensive front,'' Jones said. ''They are SEC-sized bodies, so the whole key is for us to keep fighting and slugging with them through the third and fourth quarter.''

South Alabama (1-0) opened with a 23-13 win over Kent State. This game is a big deal for the Jaguars, whose 2012 game at Mississippi State remains the only time they've faced a ranked opponent in five-plus seasons of competition. It's the first sell-out in program history, and the school expects to break the attendance record of 26,783 set in the Jaguars' first-ever game against Hargrave (Va.) Military Academy on Sept. 5, 2009.

''There is a lot of excitement and buildup to the game,'' South Alabama linebacker Maleki Harris said. ''It's a game everyone asks you about in the preseason, and the one everyone talks about when you go home to visit your family. It's finally here, and we're just excited and ready to play.''

---

Things to watch for when Mississippi State plays at South Alabama

RARE VISIT: This is the first time South Alabama has hosted an SEC team at off-campus Ladd-Peebles Stadium. It's also the first SEC team to play at the stadium since Alabama's 17-14 win over Southern Miss on Sept. 28, 1968. South Alabama will visit Starkville for a second time on Sept. 3, 2016. Mississippi State won 30-10 in the previous meeting.

HOT PRESCOTT: Mississippi State's Dak Prescott became the program's first quarterback to rush for 100 yards and throw four touchdown passes in the same game against UAB. He already has eight touchdown passes.

FACING BRIDGE AGAIN: Mullen remembers South Alabama quarterback Brandon Bridge clearly from his days at Alcorn State. Bridge broke a 78-yard touchdown run against Mississippi State in 2010. The Bulldogs won 49-16. ''I do remember a blur of him running by me on the sidelines that day,'' Mullen said. ''I think what you see in him is more of a quarterback. He was a guy there running around making plays. He's a guy now that is playing like a quarterback.'' UAB scored touchdowns on passing plays of 88, 81 and 75 yards against Mississippi State and had 435 total yards through the air.

RUNNING GAMES: Mississippi State has averaged 246.5 rushing yards in its first two games. The Jaguars have only allowed 228 combined yards on the ground over their past four games. On the flip side, South Alabama's Jay Jones has three straight 100-yard games.

500 YARDS: Mississippi State is trying to reach 500-plus yards of total offense for the fourth straight game. It's already the school's longest such streak.

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide—from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Andy Staples, Grant Wahl, and more—delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.