For Whom The Cowbell Tolls is the outstanding Mississippi State Bulldogs blog for SB Nation, and Jeremy Flint has been kind enough to ask us to participate in a Q&A with FWTCT about the game this Saturday in Starkville.
As everyone knows, Mississippi State is the permanent "rival" team that Kentucky plays every year from the SEC West. It may seem strange to some that MSU and Kentucky would be considered rivals, but there is a history between the two schools that is becoming stronger as time goes on. Mississippi State's basketball program is consistently among the best in the SEC and has regularly challenged Kentucky for supremacy in the league, and the football teams have played a very competitive series lately, with the record standing at 3-3 since 2004. Not only that, the home field advantage has not meant much at all in this series, with UK and MSU winning more on the road than at home in that six year time period.
You can find my answers to Jeremy's questions here. So let's find out a little bit more about the MSU Bulldogs from Jeremy. To wit:
Q1: Despite being 6-2 on the year, the Bulldogs are currently ranked #8 in scoring offense in the SEC, while UK is #2. Do you think that the Dawgs can score enough points to beat the 'Cats?
A1: I don't think it will be a case of out-scoring the Cats as much as it will be the need to prevent UK from scoring. Our defense has proven itself effective against high-powered offenses this year. We are the only team so far this year to hold Auburn to less than 20 points.
Our offense is definitely capable of scoring points, but that is not all we need to do to win. We are also comfortable with letting our defense do their work and getting us great field position.
Q2: You'd have to say that Dan Mullen has done a good job with MSU, particularly this year. How do Mississippi State fans feel about Mullen halfway through his second year? What has been the biggest factor in his success so far?
A2: I think he has been able to elevate the confidence of the players tremendously. He has preached from day one about getting the team to play above their abilities and talents. We don't have a lot of 4 and 5 star recruits on our team. Instead, Mullen looks for opportunities to put the team in the best position to win. That involves play calling, putting the right packages on the field on defense and offense, and making sure that everyone executes their roles.
He has also really inspired the fan base to support the team, and that has shown through 7 straight sellouts of Davis Wade Stadium going back to the Egg Bowl last year, including games against Memphis, Alcorn State and UAB. The little jabs he takes at The School Up North, the emphasis he puts on getting the best players in Mississippi to stay in-state and play for the Bulldogs, and just his general attitude has really helped the program succeed.
Q3: What do you think has made the Mississippi State rushing attack so effective this year, besides Chris Relf and Vick Ballard's considerable talent? What schematically is Mississippi State doing to make these guys so effective?
A3: We have a good bit of experience on our offensive line. We returned starters at just about every position, and also have players like Quentin Saulsberry who can move around and fill in just about anywhere to give someone a breather.
It also seems that this year we are doing a lot of triple-option and zone read option plays. This gives multiple people the chance to carry the ball, including full back Patrick Hanrahan and wide receiver Chad Bumphis.
Relf has also improved his passing game this year, so that opens up the passing opportunities, keeps the defense honest and prevents them from crowding the box on ever play.
Q4: Mississippi State has really struggled in the kicking game this year, currently last in the league in kickoffs, next to last in punting and last in field goals. With dangerous returners in Cobb and Locke, do you worry about what might happen when the Bulldogs kick the ball? Is it just the kickers, or is there some other reasons for MSU's struggles?
A4: We have had some issues on special teams this year. On average, our punters are not that great. We have had some busted coverage on kick returns, but I don't think we have had any returned on us yet. Mullen coaches special teams himself and takes great interest in making sure that part of our game plan is functioning properly.
Q5: Who is Mississippi State's best player that nobody knows about?
A5: Before the Florida game, most people outside of Starkville had probably not heard of Chris White, our middle linebacker. He has really stepped up his game this year. He has tremendous speed and finds a way to get involved in just about every play on the field. So far this year, White has collected 33 solo tackles, 9 for loss, and 4 sacks.
Thanks to Jeremy for doing the Q&A with us, and here's to a clean game with no injuries for both sides.