Mississippi State football is traveling in uncharted waters. The Bulldogs are 6-0 for the first time since 1999 and is right in the mix for the SEC West crown. The Bulldogs are also ranked 15th in the country according to the AP Poll and 12th in the first BCS standings of the 2012 season.
For head coach Dan Mullen's team to continue on the path of the unbeaten's and keep momentum, the Bulldogs must win their final non-conference game of the season as they entertain the Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders (4-2, 2-1 Sun Belt) Saturday for Homecoming.
Game time is set for 6 p.m. CT on ESPN2.
This is a classic trap game for the Bulldogs as they are coming off a 41-31 victory over Tennessee and head to Tuscaloosa next weekend to take on the Alabama Crimson Tide.
The Blue Raiders have already pulled one major upset this season as they went to Bobby Dodd Stadium and beat Georgia Tech 49-28. Middle Tennessee State will be without leading rusher Benny Cunningham as head coach Rick Stockstill confirmed a knee injury will sideline the Sun Belt's leading rusher for the rest of the season.
Adam Sparks of The Tennessean is also now reporting the Blue Raiders will be without wide receiver Marcus Henry, who broke his ankle in last weeks win over Florida International.
Sparks reports that Stockstill says this injury is just as big if not bigger than the Cunningham injury.
“From a numbers standpoint, I think that one hurts as much as losing Benny,” Stockstill said. “There were guys behind Benny. ... We are going to have to move some guys around at wide receiver.”
Even now without Cunningham and Henry, the Blue Raiders are still a very potent team and come into this game averaging right at 33 points per game.
The Jackson Clarion Ledger's Brandon Marcello reports that Dan Mullen is well aware of how dangerous a game this is and the potential of a trap.
“Every game is a trap game. We had a trap game Saturday, a trap game the week before. … If you don’t bring your focus in college football today, you’re not going to win.”
For the Bulldogs its not only about not overlooking Middle Tennessee State but also to continue to get better this week. Last week the Bulldogs looked crisp on offense and played arguably their most complete game from an offensive standpoint. Tyler Russell threw for 291 yards and two touchdowns and now for the season has 12 touchdowns to only one interception.
With a brutal stretch looming for the Bulldogs, with trips to Alabama and LSU and home games with Texas A&M and Arkansas, it is important for the Bulldogs to continue to get better on both sides of the ball.
The Bulldogs need to clean up areas on defense such as missed tackles and continue to work on providing a better pass rush on opposing quarterbacks.
The Bulldogs also need to continue to focus more on their two tight ends on offense, Marcus Green and Malcolm Johnson. Johnson returned last week after an arm injury and you saw the Bulldogs in a two tight end set in several series as both tight ends provided issues for the Volunteers defense. Very few teams have two tight ends as effective as Johnson and Green, and the Bulldogs need to use that to their advantage.
Green and Johnson combined for three touchdowns last week and their effectiveness helps open windows for other receivers and the running game.
For the Bulldogs the task is simple this weekend. Stay healthy, execute and clean up your game and take care of business against the Blue Raiders.
There is no need to look ahead; I can promise you Alabama will still be there and waiting on you come next weekend in Tuscaloosa.