No cupcake opener for Mississippi St this season
Mississippi State’s four previous season openers under coach Dan
Mullen have been laughers, with the Bulldogs beating overmatched
opponents by an average of nearly 44 points.
Humor might be harder to find this Saturday.
Mississippi State faces No. 13 Oklahoma State at Reliant Stadium
in Houston in the toughest opener of Mullen’s tenure. The marquee
matchup on a neutral field brings the potential for a galvanizing
victory, but also the risk of a humbling loss.
Mullen said playing such a difficult opponent isn’t necessarily
a problem, but poses different challenges. In easier openers, he
could slowly work freshmen into the playing rotation and in
situations where they’d likely find success.
That’s a luxury he won’t have against the Cowboys. He estimated
that ”six or seven” freshmen would make the trip to Houston and
many would be on the field regardless of the situation.
”It’s a little harder in this game,” Mullen said. ”This is
what amounts to a big-time game right from day one. So you’re
treating this game like you would a game in November when you’re
competing for a conference championship. It’s at that level.”
Oklahoma State is known for its prolific offense that averaged
about 45 points per game last season. Cowboys coach Mike Gundy
hasn’t chosen a starting quarterback during preseason practice, but
both options – senior Clint Chelf and sophomore J.W. Walsh – played
a lot in 2012 and had success.
It’s an intriguing challenge for Mississippi State’s young
secondary that’s using three new starters. Junior safety Jay Hughes
– who is one of those new starters – said the Bulldogs will be
”They say we’re the weakest part of the team,” Hughes said.
”But this is our chance to show the country what we can do.”
Mississippi State linebacker Deontae Skinner said the Bulldogs
must bounce back from adversity on Saturday, because it’s highly
unlikely the Bulldogs will keep the Cowboys completely off the
”You’ve got to understand the dos and don’ts of the big
picture,” Skinner said. ”Sometimes you get scored on and
sometimes you don’t. But being a leader, you’ve got to show the
young guys the game is never over until the clock hits zero.”
Mississippi State’s offense has fewer question marks, with
senior quarterback Tyler Russell leading the way. But Russell will
be throwing to several new receivers and there are also new faces
on the offensive line.
”You feel the ability is there, no doubt,” Mississippi State
offensive coordinator Les Koenning said. ”I mean we feel we’re
very proud of the receivers we’ve brought in. I think it’s how
quick they can retain and how quick they can get on the field, how
quick they can feel comfortable in what they’re doing.”
The game is a chance for the Bulldogs to prove they can play
with one of the country’s best teams. Mississippi State started
last season with a 7-0 record, but lost five of its last six games,
including all four against ranked opponents.
Mullen said win or lose, the game is also a great showcase for
the program, which has made three straight bowl games for only the
second time in school history.
Both teams are used to having success in season openers.
Oklahoma State has won five straight while Mississippi State has
won four in a row.
”The opportunity to play in this type of game is special no
matter what the outcome,” Mullen said. ”Obviously, it’s more
special if you win, but every game is that way. It is a great honor
for us to get invited to play in this game and it shows what our
program has become.”
AP college football site: http://collegefootball.ap.org/
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