BYU at Mississippi State: 5 things you should know

Mississippi State looks to regroup after a much-needed bye week when the Bulldogs play host to BYU on Saturday afternoon in Starkville.

Dan Mullen’s squad entered its week off losers of two straight — albeit to No. 4 Georgia and No. 10 Auburn. The Cougars, however, might be just what Mississippi State (3-2, 1-2 SEC) needs to reignite its season.

BYU has skidded to five straight losses after winning its opener against Portland State. That run of futility includes a 27-0 loss to LSU, whom the Bulldogs beat 37-7 the following week.

In fact, this is Mississippi State’s first home game since upending the Tigers nearly a month ago. But consecutive losses to Georgia and Auburn, in which the Bulldogs were badly outplayed, have tempered expectations in Starkville.

Here are five things to know about the matchup against BYU:

1. The quarterbacks

The “Nick Fitzgerald-for-Heisman” talk cooled as quickly as it started. Granted, Fitzgerald’s uncharacteristically bad games came against Georgia, owner of the nation’s fifth-ranked rushing defense, and Auburn, which is fourth-best against the run in the SEC.

BYU is allowing opponents to rush for an average of 167.7 yards per game. That’s good news for the junior quarterback (68.6 rushing YPG) and a Mississippi State rushing attack that is posting 252.8 yards per game on the ground.

Fitzgerald’s passing numbers have slipped. He hasn’t thrown for more than 200 yards since the opener against Charleston Southern. BYU is allowing about 200 yards per game to opponents through the air. Fitzgerald’s 156.6 yards per game clocks in well below that.

Tanner Mangum will get the start for BYU, despite a nagging ankle injury that’s plagued him for several weeks. The junior has passed for 630 yards and just 2 touchdowns to go with 6 interceptions this season.

2. Series history

This matchup with BYU is the back end of a home-and-home arrangement with the Cougars. Mississippi State can even its all-time series at two wins apiece on Saturday. BYU has won the last two contests. The two programs played a similar series during the 2000 and 2001 campaigns.

3. Opening line

Oddsmakers aren’t giving BYU much of a chance. The Cougars were 24-point underdogs (-110) at the start of the week.

4. Player to watch

NT Jeffery Simmons

The Chuck Bednarik Award committee named Simmons to its 2017 watchlist this week. The nose tackle is up for the award for the country’s best defensive player after a torrid start to the season. Simmons has 4 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks and a pair of impressive touchdowns atop his sophomore résumé.

5. What’s at stake

Mississippi State needs a confidence boost. Unfortunately for BYU, the Cougars are likely to be the sacrificial lamb that Dan Mullen’s program needs right now. Conversely, should the Bulldogs struggle, it could be a sign of bigger problems in Starkville.

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