Mississippi State and NC State are both undefeated heading into Saturday night's Week 2 matchup, but only one team will leave with an unblemished record.
Mississippi State is coming off a 35-34 victory after the visiting LA Tech missed what would have been a game-winning field goal in the final two seconds of the contest.
Now, they face a Wolfpack team that is fresh off a 45-0 shutout victory against USF and may be one of the best teams in the ACC.
Here's a look at four things to watch in tonight's game:
1. The NC State running back corps.
The Wolfpack combined for nearly 300 rushing yards in their shutout win. The Bulldogs' run defense is going to have to be incredibly stout to avoid NC State getting things going on the ground.
The two standouts at this position for the Wolfpack are rushers Zonovan Knight and Ricky Person Jr. Knight totaled 163 yards and one touchdown on 16 carries and Person recorded 105 yards and two touchdowns 16 carries in last week's win.
Here's a look at some additional insight on the pair from Ryan Fowler, college football writer for The Draft Network:
"Zonovan Knight, better well known as “Bam,” is the Batman to Person’s Robin. The bellcow, the workhorse, Knight captains the Wolfpack running game like a lead dog in a sled race. He’s confident, stout, productive, and looked upon to lead each and every time he straps up. But, every captain needs a co-captain, and to be a leader you must first learn to follow, exactly why he and Person could progress into football’s most dynamic backfield tandem as the season runs on, if all comes to fruition."
Each with their own individual skill sets, similar to that of Williams and Carter, the two backs present a bevy of traits to prepare for as an opposing defensive coordinator. While Person, at least for this week, took the backseat to Knight as the de facto RB1 in the ground game, his totals as a wideout trumped Knight’s by a large margin, recording 43 receiving yards to Knight’s 16, including a touchdown catch."
2. Consistency, consistency, consistency.
There may have not been another world we heard the MSU coaching staff use more during the offseason that "consistency" (other than maybe "improvement"). The Bulldogs didn't look very consistent in their latest performance, trailing by a 20 points before staging the largest comeback in school history. We saw just how explosive the offense could be, and really, how all three sides of the ball could rise together at once in the win. If the Bulldogs can steadily give four quarters of that type of performance, this is a team to be reckoned with.
If not, we know just how much things can come down to the wire for them.
3. Can Will Rogers pick up where he left off?
MSU quarterback Will Rogers showed steady improvement throughout fall camp, but did have his ups and downs throughout his first performance of the season and struggled with ball security at times. Once he settled in, though, the offense seemed to follow and the Bulldogs pulled off what no one expected them at as the quarterback finished out the game with 11-straight complete passes. Rogers finished out the game completing 39-of-47 passes for 370 yards with three touchdowns and one interception.
Rogers has been impressive to this point in his career after taking the reins as just a true freshman last year, and he'll aim to continue building upon his momentum.
4. Who will be the superior defense?
The Bulldogs entered the season with what some of us considered to be the best secondary in the country between names like safety Fred Peters and cornerbacks Martin Emerson Jr. and Emmanuel Forbes in the mix. The Bulldogs also have standout linebacker Aaron Brule and showed a strong pass rush in fall camp. The unit came up with 10 "sacks" in the first scrimmage of the fall during the offseason.
Overall, the defense did show some weakness in the 2021 debut before seeming to find itself a bit more toward the end of the game. Like both other sides of the ball, they'll look to stay consistent on Saturday.
The Wolfpack defense is coming off a solid showing in which it allowed the Bulls just 271 total yards and came up with three combined interceptions off of two USF quarterbacks.