Jackson State (0-0) at Mississippi State (0-0) Preview

Location: Starkville, Mississippi (Davis-Wade Stadium)

Time: 6:30 p.m.

TV: Fox Sports Net, ESPN3

Initial Analysis: The Mississippi State Bulldogs enter their opening season tilt, versus the Jackson State Tigers, looking to put a disappointing 2011 season behind them. As I mentioned in my season preview, there is a lot of optimism surrounding the season. The Tigers don’t present the Bulldogs with a tough challenge, but it does give them a chance to hit someone other than their own teammates.

I will now breakdown the key stats, players to watch, and keys to victory for both teams.

Offensive Stats

Jackson State (Multiple)

2011 Scoring Offense: 35.8

2011 Passing Yards Per Game: 348.1

2011 Rushing Yards Per Game: 142.8

MSU (Spread Option)

2011 Scoring Offense: 25.3

2011 Passing Yards Per Game: 181.8

2011 Rushing Yards Per Game: 175.3

 Defensive Stats

Jackson State (4-3)

2011 Scoring Defense: 15.3

2011 Passing Yards Per Game Allowed: 165.9

2011 Rushing Yards Per Game Allowed: 118.2

MSU (Multiple Fronts)

2011 Scoring Defense: 19.3

2011 Passing Yards Per Game Allowed: 197.2

2011 Rushing Yards Per Game Allowed: 153.5

 Players To Watch

Jackson State

A. Joseph Lebeau: Lebeau was a force last year in the Southwestern Athletic Conference. He had 16 sacks on the season and was named an All-Conference performer. While the talented edge-rusher did his damage on the lower division level, he should pose a challenge for inexperienced Bulldog offensive tackles.

B. Rico Richardson: Richardson had a stellar season in 2011 with 37 catches, 896 yards and 11 touchdowns. Again, he did it at the F.C.S. level, but he is someone the Bulldog secondary should keep an eye on.

C. Qua Cox: After looking at Cox’s highlights and career numbers, this kid is a legit NFL player that just so happens to be playing for “J-State”. He’s only one guy, but Tyler Russell better be aware of which side of the field the talented defender is positioned.

MSU

A. Tyler Russell: Russell is finally “the man” after three long seasons behind Tyson Lee and Chris Relf. He has taken charge of the team and seems ready to be a top-shelf SEC quarterback. Although the Meridian product isn’t facing great competition, it will be interesting to see if he can start the season with a bang. It would be huge for his confidence going into the first SEC game against Auburn.

B. Devon Bell: Bell is just a true freshman, but he could be a vital cog during the 2012 season. He will serve as the kickoff specialist and possibly kicker – or maybe even punter, if Baker Swedenburg gets hurt. The kickoffs have been moved up five yards and if Bell’s leg is as good as advertised, he could virtually eliminate opponents’ kickoff return game.

C. Blaine Clausell: Clausell, as I noted in my season preview, will be protecting Russell’s blindside. It will be interesting to see how he handles the role against a great pass-rusher, Joseph LeBeau.

3 Keys To Victory

Jackson State

A. Unleash The Tigers: I’ve always felt when a team is overmatched, the way the Tigers are in this match-up, they need to pull out all the stops offensively and defensively. It seems to be the Tigers’ style anyway and I expect nothing less in the first game.

B. Don’t Get Rattled: It would easy for the Tigers to feel the pressure against a superior opponent, but they must maintain their composure in a tough environment.

C. Capitalize On Turnovers: If the Tigers are able to force turnovers on Saturday, they must find a way to score every time. The Bulldogs won’t give them much, but when they do, the Tigers must take advantage.

MSU

A. Send A Message: The Bulldogs goal in this game is not to just win, but win convincingly. I think they must exorcise some demons from the 2011 season against the Tigers. I know some people don’t believe in running up the score, but I feel it is necessary in some cases. This is one of those cases – and I’m talking 70-plus points.

B. Get Young Players Reps: This is a pretty straightforward point. The Bulldogs must take care of business early and get their inexperienced players some reps. They must build up their depth for the stretch run and playing underclassmen will accomplish that goal.

C. Be Efficient: I will understand if the Bulldogs are vanilla against the Tigers, but the key is to be efficient with the plays that are called. The kinks needed to be worked out before they play Auburn in Week 2.

Final Analysis: While I would love to sound analytical and write that the Tigers have a chance, I don’t believe that is likely. The Tigers do have a solid offense and have a few playmakers, but I feel that the Bulldogs’ superior talent will take over before the first half is over.

The Bulldogs will win and win big.

My Prediction: 56-14

Jeremiah Short covers Mississippi State University football and basketball.  Follow him on Twitter, @DaRealJShort; join his Facebook blog, Real Story Sports: J.Short’s Blog, or e-mail him, JShort@realstorypublishing.com.

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