Know Your Opponent: Mississippi State

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K-State pulled off a win against the South Dakota Coyotes on Sept. 1, 2018. (Alex Todd | Collegian Media Group)

The No. 18 Mississippi State Bulldogs are coming to town for what’s sure to be a great football matchup, but how will the Wildcats fare against a team that has one of the best defensive lines in college football?

First-year head coach Joe Moorhead leads a talented team that finished 9-4 last season under former head coach Dan Mullen.

The fact that they are one of the biggest and strongest defensive lines K-State will see will likely be enough to stymie K-State’s offense, but they also run aggressive and complicated blitzing schemes.

An overlooked part of out-of-conference matchups is the physical makeup of a team’s offense and defense. For example, defensive coordinator Dan Shoop (and his predecessor, Todd Grantham) has designed a defense to do well in the SEC.

SEC defenses are built differently than Big 12 defenses because of what SEC offenses are built to do. SEC defensive coordinators see a lot more power running and running spread-type offenses than Big 12 defensive coordinators.

While that difference may not show up as much in actual schemes—there are 4-3 base defenses in the Big 12—it does show up in the types of players that fill those positions.

Mississippi State has big, physical, run-stopping type linebackers and lineman as opposed to the typical Big 12 defense, which is focused on stopping the quick pass-first offenses.

On offense, Mississippi State will run a spread offense with an excellent quarterback at the helm: fifth-year senior Nick Fitzgerald.

Fitzgerald, who sat out last week due to a one-game suspension, is a powerful runner and a more-than-capable passer. K-State head coach Bill Snyder compared him to former Wildcat great Collin Klein, which seems to be pretty accurate.

Fitzgerald is not afraid to tuck the ball and run it, or take a designed run and run a defender over. He is tough to take down and a little shiftier than Klein was. In the passing game, he flashes excellent accuracy and a strong arm.

He’s the kind of quarterback that gives conservative defenses fits because if they try to sit back and defend the pass on third and middle distances he will easily just wait for a hole and get the first down with his legs.

K-State will need to get pressure on him, but keep him contained if they want to have a chance to stop him on offense. They cannot let him scramble out of the pocket or sit and tear them apart.

The Mississippi State offense presents a number of issues for K-State. The biggest may be that it is a little different from what Mullen’s teams ran and there is almost no film of what it may look like with Fitzgerald under center.

K-State’s coaching staff will have trouble evaluating what schemes will be used with Fitzgerald and if they are struggling to predict it this week, they will struggle to stop it this weekend.

What they do know is that they put up nine touchdowns on an overmatched Stephen F. Austin team with backup quarterback Keytaon Thompson in the game.

Key match-ups of the game

Moorhead versus Snyder — The coaching matchup in this is fascinating because it is a head coach with over 300 games at the FBS level (Snyder) versus a coach in his second FBS game (Moorhead.)

Further, each coaching staff has unknowns to deal with heading into this game. Moorhead does not know who will play at quarterback or what K-State’s offense will look like. Snyder has to prepare for a quarterback and system that there is no film on.

It is possible the Snyder was being intentionally vanilla on offense and defense to limit what was on tape for Moorhead. The head games that have gone into this game will make it an exciting chess match.

K-State offensive line versus Mississippi State defensive line — K-State’s offensive line, headed by senior Dalton Risner, was considered one of the best heading into the season, but it looked bad against South Dakota.

This will be an interesting test for K-State’s offensive line. K-State’s only chance to win is if that offensive line can open up running holes for junior running back Alex Barnes and whoever is playing quarterback at that particular time.

If K-State is not drawing extra defenders to stop its run game, they will struggle to move the ball. The Wildcats do not have a quarterback or receiving corps that is talented enough to move the ball only through the air.

Prediction

K-State’s only chance is if Fitzgerald is rusty and the Wildcats are on fire on offense. They have to avoid all of the mistakes that they made against South Dakota as well. The Wildcats were negative-four in the turnover margin and were penalized for over 100 yards. I do not think any they will be able to turn all of it around and Mississippi State will win this one going away, 35-28.

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