MSU to see bigger challenge on road at Kansas State

Kylin Hill (8) and the Bulldogs return to the sideline after a touchdown.

Staff Writer

Getting a week one win was nice for the Mississippi State Bulldogs.

Everyone likes to start 1-0. Yet the fact remains, that first victory came against FCS opponent Stephen F. Austin. The Bulldogs are bracing for a bigger challenge Saturday as they battle Kansas State on the road at 11 a.m. The game will be televised by ESPN.

Make no mistake about it, the Wildcats out of the Big 12 are a leap forward in competition level than the Lumberjacks MSU saw last week.

“They've been to eight-straight bowls and they're the third-winningest team in the Big-12 since the start of the 2011 season,” Mississippi State first-year head coach Joe Moorhead said. “They started the year off with a 27-24 comeback win over South Dakota, who is a very good FCS team. They return 18 starters and went 8-5 last year, and they had a win over UCLA in the Cactus Bowl.

“They do an unbelievable job (at Kansas State). It's going to be an incredible challenge, but one that we're excited to prepare for.”

With a stronger opponent, that means the Bulldogs are looking for improvements out of themselves Saturday. Yes, there were signs MSU is plenty strong last week. The Bulldogs put up 618 yards of total offense against Stephen F. Austin while the Mississippi State defense shined, holding the Lumberjacks to just a pair of field goals, getting four sacks and 17 tackles for loss.

However the MSU coaching staff wants the Bulldogs crisper. It’ll be needed if MSU is to win its first Power Five non-conference regular season game since 1995.

“I look for everybody to have big strides this week and kind of settle down a little bit and execute a little bit better,” Mississippi State offensive coordinator Luke Getsy said. “I expect us to be more detailed.”

MSU should get a boost from a pair of returning players. Starting quarterback Nick Fitzgerald will see his first action of 2018. He missed last week’s game due to a violation of team rules. Defensive lineman Cory Thomas is also back from his one-game suspension after breaking team rules. That’ll give State even more depth on its already-deep defensive front.

The returns should be a huge help for the Bulldogs on both sides of the football as they look to turn away a Kansas State team that Moorhead believes has plenty of talent too.

“The (Kansas State) offense is a fundamentally sound unit,” Moorhead said. “They do what they do with a quarterback counter, quarterback power and zone read. They play with two experienced dual-threat quarterbacks and they force you to play with great eye discipline and gap integrity.

"Their best players are the quarterbacks in Skyler Thompson and Alex Delton."

Moorhead was impressed with the Wildcat offensive line that averages 22 starts per player and calls Dalton Risner, the right tackle, one of the top offensive linemen in the country. He also likes Kansas State receiver Isaiah Zuber.

As far as the defense, Moorhead said the Wildcats are very good under coordinator Blake Seiler.

"They are a four-down defense and play a mixture of coverages," Moorhead said. "They are a mirror image of their offense and program. They are tough, smart, disciplined, physical and run to the football. They won't beat themselves. We think the impressive guy up front is Trey Dishon. He creates a lot of havoc from his defensive tackle position. On the back end, Duke Shelley is one of the corners. Denzel Goolsby has also stood out to us in preparation."

Moorhead said MSU must not sleep on the special teams unit of Kansas State.

"They are one of the top special teams units in the country," Moorhead said.

After the stress-free four quarters the Bulldogs enjoyed last week, it’s evident the Wildcats are better suited to put up more of a fight against MSU. Moorhead is anxious to see how his team responds.

“We're excited to go out there and play,” Moorhead said.