Mississippi State comes back home after a heartbreaking loss at Auburn, 24-20. They finish a home-and-home set with the Troy Trojans at Davis Wade Stadium and start a four-game home slate.
Who: Mississippi State (1-2) vs. Troy (2-1)
Where: Starkville, Miss.; Davis Wade Stadium at Scott Field
When: Saturday, September 19; 6:30 p.m CT on Fox Sports South
Series Record: MSU leads, 2-1; The Last Time: MSU, 30-24 at Troy 2012.
MSU is coming off of another heartbreaking loss against Auburn, something that seems to have become a recurring nightmare for Dan Mullen in his program. Three of the last four years, MSU has been one play from tying or beating Auburn with two of those games coming on the road. Last Saturday, they had a three-point lead with less than two minutes remaining and Auburn drove 88 yards for the win. Needless to say, it hit the team hard again.
This week is a good opportunity for the Bulldogs to get back on the winning track and get some positive momentum heading into the bye week before a big matchup at home against the LSU Tigers who could come to Starkville ranked in the top five.
Let's take a look at what I think MSU has to do to win today's ball game against the Trojans of Troy.
Use the Weather to your Advantage : Forecasts for the rest of the day is not pretty, but this could be a positive factor for the Bulldogs. MSU has a running game in the arsenal but I'm not sold on Troy's. The Trojans have relied solely on quarterback Corey Robinson throughout his career and even more for his senior season. Robinson has already thrown 102 passes through three ball games averaging 34 passes per game. With the leading rusher being the backup quarterback, Troy doesn't have a running game to fall back on and if the field is sloppy or worse, rain is pouring down throughout the game, the running game is the best option. Consider MSU a big favorite if conditions worsen.
Produce on Third Downs: This has gone from just a bad game to a big problem for the Bulldogs. In the first three games, MSU has managed only 12 third down conversions in 44 tries for a measly 27%. I'm no genius, but that's not good. In fact, the Bulldogs are more efficient on fourth downs (7-12, 58%) than thirds. Last week, MSU looked to have righted some of their wrongs on third downs. State had converted 5-of-8 on thirds before missing their next seven and finishing 5-15. If MSU wants to take the next step in the SEC, third downs are crucial. This is a good game to get back on track but still a tough opponent to do it against. Troy has allowed just 31% of third downs to be converted and has a much more aggressive defense than in years past.
Hit Robinson Early and Often: Troy runs an offense designed for short passing routes that lead to big shots down the field as they lure the defense in. The offensive unit is set to protect their quarterback as he has a quick release and the receivers are out on their routes early. MSU needs to shutdown those routes and get in Robinson's face allowing him to make a mistake. Last week, he threw three interceptions against Arkansas State. He's also set the NCAA record for single-game completions percentage so he's usually a very accurate quarterback. Flushing him out of the pocket and his comfort zone will go a long way.
Prediction: I believe this game will be similar to the one we saw two weeks ago as far as the players' focus and attitude. I don't think the score will be similar to Alcorn State because of the quality opponent, but I think MSU knows that they have to get a win this weekend and they have to continue to win the games they're supposed to for an opportunity at a bowl game. The Bulldogs could be playing in sloppy weather conditions that could cause a lot of sloppy play on both sides, but in the end I think that plays in their favor. Bulldogs get back on track this week.