The Bulldogs enter the game ranked 18th in the nation after walloping Stephen F. Austin by a score of 63-6. Conversely, Bill Snyder’s Wildcats had to rally to defeat South Dakota by a razor-thin margin of 27-24. This will be the third meeting between the two, and Kansas State will have to shrug off a near embarrassing loss to be ready for this one.
The Bulldogs offense appeared to be in mid-season form as it gained 618 total yards a week ago. Sophomore quarterback Keytaon Thompson lead the way with 364 passing yards and five touchdowns in the Bulldogs victory. But don’t expect to see Thompson this week as senior quarterback Nick Fitzgerald, who was serving a one-game suspension last week, returns to action. All Fitzgerald did a season ago was pass for 1,782 yards and 15 touchdowns before succumbing to a broken ankle.
Last season’s leading rusher, Aeris Williams, had a disappointing first week with 15 yards on just 2 carries. However, as a team, the Bulldogs rushed for 220 total yards on 37 carries for a 5.9 yard-per-carry average last week. Almost half of those 220 yards belonged to quarterback Keytaon Thompson (109). While Fitzgerald will have the reins this week, he also poses a run threat. He racked up 984 yards and 14 touchdowns on the ground last season.
Defensively, Mississippi State returns eight starters and continues to improve statistically under coordinator Bob Shoop. Under his leadership, the Bulldogs have dropped their points allowed per game by 11 points.
For Kansas State, they have the luxury of possessing an offensive line which returns all five starters from a season ago. Mississippi State defensive coordinator Bob Shoop has gone as far as to say that it’s the best offensive line his team will face this season. Senior right tackle, Dalton Risner, gets most of the attention from the press in this group, and deservedly so as many draft experts consider him to be the top offensive lineman prospect in next year’s NFL Draft. The performance of Risner and his unit will go a long way in determining how well the Wildcats fare on Saturday.
New offensive coordinator Andre Coleman had both sophomore Skylar Thompson and junior Alex Delton at his disposal at quarterback against South Dakota. Thompson completed eight of his 14 pass attempts for a paltry 61 yards, with one touchdown and an interception. Delton gained 91 passing yards, but threw an interception, while completing only five of his 14 pass attempts. There’s plenty to be said for growing pains here.
Running back Alex Barnes had a 103-yard rushing performance, but also had three fumbles to go along with it. The Wildcats turned the ball over four times in total and had 13 penalties for 129 yards. The Wildcats will need to build upon Barnes’ effort and try to ground and pound the ball more effectively while securing it. Had it not been for Junior wide receiver Isaiah Zuber’s two late touchdowns, one coming on special teams, the Wildcats would be sitting at 0-1 after an embarrassing loss.
Defensively, despite having two new co-defensive coordinators, the Wildcats allowed only 77 yards on the ground last week. Stopping the run seems to be the veritable strength of this unit.
The bad news is that the Wildcat defense allowed South Dakota’s Austin Simmons to complete 24 passes for 257 yards and a touchdown. The pass defense will need to be shored up against a much more talented aerial attack.
Kansas State Keys To The Game
Under Pressure – The Wildcats must find a way to get consistent pressure on the quarterback through their pass rush. They don’t need to be the 2000 Baltimore Ravens, but they do need to make the quarterback uncomfortable.
Balance – The Wildcats offense must find some offensive balance in order to effectively attack the Bulldogs defense. Using their offensive line to their advantage is a must in order to establish the run to set up the pass.
Hold On – The Wildcats can ill afford to cough up the ball in this matchup. Late game heroics won’t be enough to garner a victory if they don’t take care of the ball this week.
While KSU struggled mightily a week ago to stave off an embarrassing loss, don’t let that performance fool you. The Wildcats were dealing with new coordinators on both sides of the ball. The Wildcats seemingly play their best when faced with stiff competition, especially in Manhattan. Bill Snyder is 73-5 against non-conference teams since 1990 in the friendly confines of Manhattan. That all being said, I look for Mississippi State’s offense to go up by double digits later in the game to secure a victory.