Friday night the BYU Cougars and Mississippi State Bulldogs will face of for the first time since 2001. The teams have faced off twice in football with each winning on the other teams home field. Many BYU fans will be happy to forget about the 2001 game on the road as fan favorite running back, Luke Staley, broke his leg on the last drive of the game. This would prove costly as the Cougars were fighting for a BCS berth, and Staley was never quite the same. The Cougars coaching staff does have a little history with the program as Kalani Sitake played in the game against the Bulldogs in Provo and Reno Mahe played in Starkville.
Starkville, MS 2001 (41-38)
The Cougars and Bulldogs fought to the end in a game that was postponed due to historic 9/11. Going into the game the Cougars found themselves ranked 7th in the country and two games away from going 13-0 in the regular season. In a high scoring affair the Cougars defense struck first with an interception on the first offensive play of the game. BYU would capitalize on the turnover, with a little luck, as a pass from Brandon Doman bounced off a defender into the hands of Mahe. The Bulldogs would score the next 21 points before the Cougars would tie it up with a couple of touchdowns. With the teams trading punches the final score came down to a game winning field goal by Matt Payne from 25 yards out. Although Staley left with the injury he recorded 149 yards rushing to compliment the career games by Mahe and Doman. Mahe had his game after coming off Appendicites a few weeks before. He set a Mountain West Conference record, at the time, with 189 receiving yards on 10 catches and two touchdowns. Doman finished the game with three interceptions but also had five touchdown passes and 390 yards through the air.
Provo, UT 2000 (28-44)
The Cougars shot themselves in the foot against a good Bulldogs team, and could never recover. The theme of the night for the Bulldogs was defensive touchdowns. BYU would come out flat and find themselves down 10-0 early before a 39 yard touchdown pass from Charlie Peterson to Jonathan Pittman pulled the Cougars within three. Then the wheels fell off for the Cougars. The Bulldogs quarterback, Wayne Madkin, would break off a 56 yard touchdown run to give the Bulldogs momentum. The defense would build on it when they recovered a Cougars fumble in the endzone for their first defensive touchdown on the night. Once again the Bulldogs offense would strike as a 78 yard touchdown pass would put the Cougars in the 31-7 hole. The Cougars would fight back a little but a 97 yard fumble return for a touchdown and a 34 yard pick-six would seal the deal and BYU would add on a few points to make the score look better than it really was. Peterson would finish the game only 27-50 with 268 yards passing, two touchdowns, and two interceptions.
This year the trip to the state of Michigan ended much better, and with points on the scoreboard. The first half looked a bit rough as the teams combined for 10 points, with the Spartans scoring on their first drive of the game and the Cougars kicking a field goal on the last play of the half. The second half turned out to be a different story. The offense was methodical as they wore out the defense and put up 28 points in the second half. The defense also showed they can make adjustments as they only allowed a touchdown in each half.
There were a number of positives in this game as the defense played extremely well, Jamaal Williams ran for another 163 yards, the defense held their Big 10 opponent to 14 points, and the special teams did a great job when called on. However, the game ball from Saturday has to go to Taysom Hill. He may not have filled the stat sheets with numbers, he ended with 138 yards passing and 47 yards rushing to go with a passing and a rushing touchdown, but he managed the game and made key plays that gave BYU the opportunity to win. Hill found the extra drive to beat the Spartans as he dove, pushed, and dodged his way to first downs on third and fourth down plays that extended drives. With no turnovers, a 67% completion percentage, and a little help from his receivers, Hill made sure the Cougars put their best effort out on the field and wouldn't let the team walk out with a loss.
It is hard to find fault in how the Cougars played, but one area of improvement would need to be the ability to finish drives. The first half of the game the Cougars were moving the ball, but couldn't get the yards they needed to extend drives and put themselves into scoring position. With a third and short the Cougars twice ran the ball, but didn't give it Williams and it resulted in a turnover on downs. The coaching staff showed their confidence in the offense as they allowed them to go for it on fourth down four times in the game. Although converting two of four was great, the offense shouldn't have been in the position to go for it that many times in one game. If this area can be cleaned up, the Cougars could turn heads.
BYU Rushing game vs Mississippi State Rush Defense
The strength of the Cougars offense will face off against the strength of the Bulldogs defense. Williams and company are moving their way up the offensive ranks as they are now ranked 36th in the country in rushing offense. This is even after being a bit underutilized in a couple of games this year. Williams has been on a tear and is less than 70 yards away from becoming the Cougars all-time leading rusher. Mississippi State on the other hand has the 36th ranked rush defense and will look to stuff the Cougars running game and force the pass.
The Keys to Watch
When the Bulldogs have the ball:
Watch for the Bulldogs to use their true dual threat quarterback to move the ball. Sophomore Nick Fitzgerald leads the team in passing yards, rushing yards, yards per carry, and the longest rush from scrimmage. The Bulldogs try to play with a balanced offense as they have 167 passes to 190 rushes. Fitzgerald is averaging over six yards a rush and has a third of the teams rushes. Watch for Brandon Holloway and Ashton Shumpert to play a support role to Fitzgerald and try to keep the defense honest in the running game. Fred Ross and Donald Gray lead the receivers as they have almost half the catches and over half the yardage. Ross is Fitzgerald's primary target in the end zone as he has five of the 10 receiving touchdowns.
Watch for the Cougars defense to continue to improve after being embarrassed in two of the last three games. The Cougars made strides last week as they moved up from 96th in the country to 69th after playing extremely well against Michigan State. Watch for the Cougars to place a spy on Fitzgerald as they try to keep him in the pocket where he does less damage with his legs.
When the Cougars have the ball:
Watch for the Cougars to use Williams and Squally Canada until the Bulldogs stop them. Ty Detmer will look to set up the pass with the run and force eight men into the box. If the Bulldogs commit to stopping the run, leaving the receivers one on one, the Cougars will have a good opportunity to use the tight end and quick slants in the passing game.
Watch for the Bulldogs to trust their 46th ranked defense to make plays in solo coverage and to make their tackles. They will need to commit more defenders to stopping Williams and so their athletic secondary will need to be ready to play. Watch for the Bulldogs to force Hill to stay in the pocket and pass the ball, leaving it to the receivers to make plays downfield.
For years opponents of the Bulldogs have been trying to stop one of the nation's most recognizable traditions, the ringing of the cowbell. Like most traditions the origins of it are highly debatable and shrouded in mystery. According to Hailstate.com the most common belief is that during a home game between Mississippi State and Mississippi a cow wandered onto the field. With a big win over their rival the cow suddenly became a good luck charm. Rumor has it that students continued to bring a cow to the games for a bit before deciding on the more practical cowbell.
The Cougars and Bulldogs will next meet on Saturday, October 14th at Davis Wade Stadium in Starkville, Mississippi.
The Broadcasting Details
Time: 8:15 pm MT
Where: Lavell Edwards Stadium-Provo, Utah
Radio(BYU): KSL 1160 AM/102.7 FM, BYU Radio-Sirius XM 143
Listen Live via Internet(KSL): Click Here