It's been an up-down-season for Mississippi State football as the Bulldogs currently post an overall record of 6-4 following Saturday's 45-19 loss to visiting Georgia.
Up next on the schedule, MSU faces an FCS opponent in the ETSU Buccaneers. While all coaches will rightfully harp on never playing down to a "lesser opponent", this is a game that should serve as more of a chance for the Bulldogs to make some tweaks before facing Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl rivalry game than anything else -- barring anything completely out of the ordinary.
Bulldogs head coach Mike Leach looks at this another opportunity for his team to improve.
"You try to do what you should have been doing the whole time. Improve yourself," Leach said earlier this week.
"Be the best player you can be. That’s what you have control over. It’s important to know what the other guy is going to do, but you have no control over what he does."
Mississippi State (6-4)
The Bulldogs struggled the play a consistent four quarters of football at several points in 2021, something they looked to have improved upon in a big way when they opened the season at 2-0 with wins over Memphis and Arizona before falling 31-16 to LSU in Baton Rouge. Since, there have been some matchups in which the Bulldogs have experienced some sputtering and lacked overall steadiness.
Head coach Mike Leach has noted the receiving corps as one of the team's primary issue, indicating that no one wideout has truly separated himself from the pack 10 games into the season. When Leach's Air Raid offense really gets rolling, it's practically unstoppable. Take the six instances in which the Bulldogs have put up at least 39 points in a game as a primary example of that.
Quarterback Will Rogers has been largely solid this season as he was recently named a semifinalist for the Davey O'Brien Award, presented to the nation's best signal-caller annually, for the second consecutive year. Over 10 games in 2022, Rogers has completed 67.1% of his passes for 3,173 yards, 27 touchdowns and five interceptions on 490 attempts.
The Bulldogs defense has been stout in many games this season -- as showed itself when the unit held Alabama to just 29 rushing yards despite suffering a 30-6 loss -- but not always consistent either in limiting explosive plays. The unit currently ranks No. 58 in the nation in total defense No. 77 in rushing defense and No. 52 in passing yards allowed.
The Buccaneers have had their fair share of struggles lately, currently on a four-game losing streak after most recently losing 20-17 to the Western Carolina Catamounts.
Some players to watch for the Buccaneers include running back Jacob Saylors and wide receiver Isaiah Wilson. Saylors currently totals 1,271 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns this season on 212 carries and has been a constant threat to opponents on the ground in 2022, crossing the century-mark in five games with a single-game high of 245 rushing yards in the 48-41 loss to the Wofford Terriers on Oct. 29.
While limited to just 12 receiving yards in last week's loss to WCU, Wilson is in the midst of the best season of his career and had back-to-back 100-plus yard games in the losses to Samford and Wofford.
Defensively, ETSU lacks a pass rush and has given up plenty through the air, averaging 265 passing yards surrendered per game. That doesn't bode well going up against a team that runs the Air Raid offense.
Final Score Prediction: MSU 52, ETSU 10
It's hard to draw this up any other way than a dominant, double-digit win for MSU one game away from the end of the season. The Bulldogs should snatch the momentum here quickly and should not take long to build an insurmountable lead against FCS competition.
MSU needs to get back into rhythm offensively before meeting its in-state rival, and going up against the 110th-ranked passing defense in the FCS presents the perfect opportunity to do just that.