|Photo: Gene Sweeney, Jr., Getty Images|
Last year, the BYU Cougars (1-5) and Mississippi State Bulldogs (3-2) treated fans to a double overtime thriller. An encore would be one of the big surprises this weekend in college football. The Vegas odds makers have Mississippi State listed as a 24-point favorite. ESPN's football power index gives the Bulldogs a 95.1 percent chance to win.
Both teams are looking to turn their seasons around. BYU has lost five in a row since winning the season opener. Mississippi State had a promising 3-0 start, but they have had back-to-back reality checks since then.
While there may be little doubt about the final outcome, this is still an intriguing game for BYU. The way to beat Mississippi State is with a run first philosophy. Georgia and Auburn used the run to set up the pass. Neither team threw the ball more than 17 times, but they both averaged over 15 yards per pass. The Bulldogs' run defense is suspect. Louisiana Tech had 152 yards rushing. It would have been close to 250, but Tech lost 87 yards on a bizarre fumble.
BYU's offensive strength is running the ball. The Cougars don't have to be terribly effective on the ground to win. Just keep moving the chains. Georgia averaged a modest 4.8 yards per carry.
Time of possession has been an issue for BYU this year. LSU and Wisconsin both had over 40 minutes time of possession. The Cougars haven't had the majority in time of possession in a single game all year. The Bulldogs are not time of possession hogs. Their best game was 35:55. Charleston Southern had just 33 yards of total offense, but still managed to hold the ball for 27:35.
Moving the ball and scoring points is only half the battle. The BYU defense will need to find a way to stop Mississippi State. Even in these last two losses, the Bulldogs have had at least 280 yards each game. Nick Fitzgerald doesn't appear to be much improved passing the ball (115.3 pass efficiency rating), but he is still an effective runner. He is the team's second leading rusher, is averaging 6.4 yards a carry, and has scored five times.
Fred Warner has come to play every game this year for the Cougar defense, but his supporting cast has not. Guys like Corbin Kaufusi, Sione Takitaki, Micah Hannemann, and Troy Warner need to make big plays and be a consistent force all game.
BYU doesn't have to force a lot of turnovers to win. Mississippi State had just two turnovers in each of its two losses.
KEYS TO THE GAME
1. Have a sustained run game.
2. Limit Mississippi State to field goals with bend but don't break defense.
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