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Southern Miss (0-0) at Mississippi State (0-0)



The Sports Network

DATE & TIME: Saturday, August 30, 7:30 p.m. (ET)

FACTS & STATS: Site: Davis Wade Stadium (55,082) -- Starkville, Mississippi. Television: SEC Network. Home Record: USM 0-0, MSU 0-0. Away Record: USM 0-0, MSU 0-0. Neutral Record: USM 0-0, MSU 0-0. Conference Record: USM 0-0, MSU 0-0. Series Record: Southern Miss leads, 14-12-1.

GAME NOTES: Magnolia State rivals kick off the 2014 season against each other on Saturday night, as the Mississippi State Bulldogs play host to the Southern Miss Golden Eagles.

Southern Miss head coach Todd Monken certainly has a lot he needs to show in his second year in charge. Monken did improve upon the Golden Eagles' win total in the year before he was hired, but going from 0-12 to 1-11 isn't exactly deserving of much praise.

For Mississippi State, its recent fortunes have not been so dire, but in the ultra-competitive SEC, the Bulldogs have not really been able claw their way out of the middle of the pack. Last season they finished at 7-6 and went to their fourth straight bowl game. However, they went just 3-3 in conference, with those wins coming by slim margins against Kentucky (28-22), Arkansas (24-17 in OT) and Ole Miss (17-10 in OT).

This is the first meeting in 24 years between these two programs. The last one came during the 1990 season when Southern Miss squeezed out a 13-10 triumph in Starkville. The Golden Eagles hold a 14-12-1 edge in the all-time series.

It should come as no surprise that the Golden Eagles really struggled to find much of a rhythm on offense last year. They only posted 17.1 ppg and mustered up just 315.5 yards on average each week. They are set up to improve this season with eight starters returning on that side of the ball.

Chief among the returning starters is Nick Mullens, who played in nine games at quarterback (six starts). Mullens showed some flashes, especially when he threw for 370 yards and five scores in the season finale against UAB. However, he completed just 49.3 percent of his pass attempts and had more interceptions (14) than touchdowns (13) overall. Part of the problem was a lack of protection, as he was sacked 25 times, including the seven he took against Middle Tennessee.

Jalen Richard will be the club's primary running back. He started eight games last season, but only managed to accumulate 324 yards on 85 carries. He also failed to score a touchdown on the ground. He will have more chances to up his production this season with Kendrick Hardy (417 yards, two TDs) gone.

Receiver Markese Triplett (33 receptions, 558 yards, four TDs) is back, and that is a major development. Triplett was second on the team in receptions, but was the only player with more than 500 receiving yards. His four scores also led the team. Tyre'oune Holmes (53 receptions, 410 yards, two TDs) has reliable hands, but he only averaged 7.7 yards per reception.

One area that Southern Miss did show some strength in last season was in defending the pass. The Golden Eagles were actually 25th in the country in pass defense (210.9 ypg). However, it didn't make a difference as the team still gave up far too many points (41.9 ppg).

The top returning tackler is linebacker Terrick Wright, who was one of two players to have 90 or more stops last season. Kalan Reed (41 tackles) and Ed Wilkins (39 tackles) are solid corners, as each came up with an interception.

For Mississippi State, the offense begins and ends with Dak Prescott. The junior quarterback is on the precipice of stardom after a solid finish to last season. Prescott still needs to improve as a passer, but he is a lethal weapon when he tucks the ball and makes a run for it. He rushed for a team-leading 829 yards and 13 touchdowns last season. He also added 1,940 yards and 10 scores on 58.4 percent passing.

Josh Robinson (459 yards, three TDs) should be the focus of more traditional running plays. He saw time in all 13 games last season.

Prescott will have a few familiar faces to work with in the passing game, which should help him as he takes on the full-time job. Jameon Lewis (64 receptions, 923 yards, five TDs) is simply a fantastic athlete, who also added in 117 yards and three scores on the ground. Robert Johnson (34 receptions, 389 yards) and tight end Malcolm Johnson (30 receptions, 391 yards two TDs) fit in nicely as secondary threats.

As is the case with most teams in the SEC, Mississippi State is an extremely stout defensive squad. The Bulldogs ranked 18th in the country in total defense (349.3 ypg) last season. However, they sat in the bottom half of the conference in red zone defense, allowing 31 touchdowns in 48 chances.

The strength of the unit is in the secondary where corners Taveze Calhoun (45 tackles, three INTS) and Jamerson Love (27 tackles, three INTs) have proven themselves to be opportunistic playmakers.

Mississippi State can be a dark horse in the SEC, if Prescott lives up to the hype and the defense remains effective. This bout should serve as a nice appetizer for the rest of the schedule.

Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Mississippi State 43, Southern Miss 9

08/29 15:15:24 ET

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Scoreboard
Local
15th
ROC 2
DUR 5
 
Final
KAN 1
NYY 14
Final
COL 5
CIN 4
Final
PHI 3
NYM 6
Final
HOU 3
BAL 4
Final
BOS 2
MIN 7
Final
SFG 8
MIL 4
Final
WAS 2
CHC 1
Final
DET 0
OAK 4
9th
TEX 10
CLE 8
 
10th
ARI 2
STL 2
 
2nd
MIA 1
PIT 3
 
2nd
CWS 0
TOR 4
 
2nd
SEA 2
TAM 0
 
8:10pm Tonight
ATL
LOS
9:05pm Tonight
SDP
ANA
9:00pm Tonight
GSW
HOU
9:00pm Tonight
CHI
ANA
15th
ROC 2
DUR 5