Starkville, MS (SportsNetwork.com) – The fourth-ranked Mississippi State
Bulldogs will try to bounce back on Saturday night at home when they welcome
the Vanderbilt Commodores to Davis Wade Stadium for an SEC clash.
There’s been plenty of growing pains for Vanderbilt in year one of coach Derek
Mason’s tenure, as the squad is just 3-7 overall and winless in the SEC in six
tries. The Commodores had a bye week to recover from a Nov. 8 set back to
“We’re always motivated,” quarterback Johnny McCrary said. “That’s just who we
are at Vanderbilt. We go out there each and every game and give it our
all…As for the rest of the season, we’re going to go out there and play like
it’s our first game and try and win.”
Mississippi State was the nation’s No. 1 team heading into last week’s marquee
matchup with Alabama in Tuscaloosa, but it suffered its first loss of the
season, 25-20, to lose its grip on the SEC Western Division race.
“We’ve handled winning very well this season, so we’ll see how we handle this
adversity at this point,” coach Dan Mullen said. “It’s late in the year for
that to happen, but we’ll see how our guys handle it.”
Despite the loss, the Bulldogs still have hope at an SEC Championship Game
berth if they win out and Alabama loses to Auburn on Nov. 29. Even if they
can’t contend for a league championship, their impressive resume of wins (LSU,
Texas A&M, Auburn, Arkansas, potentially Ole Miss) could be enough to get the
attention of the College Football Playoff committee.
Mississippi State leads the all-time series with Vanderbilt, 12-7-2, with the
Bulldogs taking the last meeting in 2009, 15-3.
Vanderbilt’s offense (18.9 ppg, 296.5 ypg) is the SEC’s worst by a large
margin. It scores nine fewer points per game than the second-worst team and
amasses nearly 60 fewer yards per outing than anyone else.
The Commodores’ struggles have come mostly due to a lack of continuity under
center, as four quarterbacks have combined to complete 51.5 percent of passes
for 1,821 yards, 12 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. Johnny McCrary (.535
completions, 806 yards, nine TDs, six INTs) has settled in as the starter of
late but threw a pair of interceptions against Florida while completing a
woeful 14-of-35 attempts.
Ralph Webb earns the majority of the backfield work and has turned 185 carries
into 843 yards and three touchdowns.
Steven Scheu (33 receptions, 442 yards, three TDs) is an solid pass-catching
tight end. C.J. Duncan has 26 receptions for 422 yards and four scores.
The Commodores’ defense has not been up to par either, allowing 32.4 ppg and
406.1 ypg while forcing only 11 turnovers.
Nigel Bowden (74 tackles), Stephen Weatherly (7.0 TFL, 3.5 sacks), Caleb
Azubike (6.0 TFL, 4.0 sacks) and Taurean Ferguson (two INTs) are the only
defensive playmakers to speak of.
Despite being slowed down by Alabama a week ago, Mississippi State (37.8 ppg,
512.7 ypg) still boasts one of the best offenses in the nation, with a great
balance between the run (243.2 ypg) and the pass (269.5 ypg).
Dak Prescott threw three costly interceptions in last week’s loss, giving him
10 on the season, but that hasn’t completely soured his outstanding season. In
addition to passing for 2,521 yards and 20 touchdowns on greater than 60
percent completions, he rushed for 861 yards and 11 scores in a campaign up
for Heisman Trophy consideration.
Prescott is just one half of the Bulldogs’ dynamic rushing attack. The
quarterback’s dual-threat ability has opened up plenty of holes for Josh
Robinson, who’s turned 158 carries into 1,021 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Although seven receivers have at least 200 yards and 11 players have caught a
touchdown pass, De’Runnya Wilson has emerged as Prescott’s favorite target
with 30 receptions for 458 yards and six touchdowns. Jameon Lewis (21
receptions, 267 yards, two TDs) returned last week after being hampered by a
leg injury for most of the season.
Mississippi State employs a bend-but-don’t-break style of defense, as it gives
up plenty of yardage (418.0 ypg) but only allows 20.2 ppg.
Benardrick McKinney (58 tackles, 7.5 TFL, 3.0 sacks, FF) and Preston Smith
(12.5 TFL, 8.0 sacks, two INTs, two FF, two blocked kicks) are both likely to
be All-Conference selections at year’s end. Will Redmond and Richie Brown have
three interceptions apiece.