Mississippi State football vs. NC State: Scouting report, prediction

Andy Kostka
Mississippi Clarion Ledger

STARKVILLE — After Mississippi State football opened the 2021 season with a come-from-behind win over Louisiana Tech, the Bulldogs face a larger test Saturday (6 p.m., ESPN2) when NC State comes to Davis Wade Stadium.

The Bulldogs (1-0) came back from a 20-point fourth-quarter deficit to avoid an upset, with quarterback Will Rogers throwing three touchdowns and completing 11 straight passes down the stretch. And running back Jo’quavious Marks provided a spark, scoring three times and totaling 98 all-purpose yards.

But the Wolfpack (1-0) enter on the verge of a Top-25 placement. NC State is coming off a 45-0 win against South Florida, in which running backs Zonovan Knight and Ricky Person Jr. combined to run for 268 yards.

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Mississippi State offense vs. NC State defense

The Mississippi State offense of the first and fourth quarters against Louisiana Tech was strong, scoring 35 points. But the offense turned the ball over four times in the second and third quarters, including an interception return for a touchdown from Rogers.

NC State’s defense runs a 3-3-5 defense, the same scheme — albeit with slight variations — the Bulldogs use. That’s a double-edge sword of sorts, with both offenses having an idea of what’s coming.

“It’s helpful,” MSU running backs coach Eric Mele said. “Obviously, we see a 3-3-5 every day. It’s physical and it’s fast. Blitzers from all areas, that type of thing. So, it helps to see a kind of see someone like that, a common opponent like that. They provide they’re own challenges; they’re a big outfit, NC State. They’ve got a lot of big guys in the middle.”

NC State offense vs. Mississippi State defense

Person and Knight offer the biggest threat for Mississippi State, but the Bulldogs’ run defense has been strong, holding Louisiana Tech to 123 rushing yards — 59 of which came on one chunk play. The big plays have been Mississippi State’s Achilles heel, also giving up touchdowns of 72 and 24 yards.

NC State quarterback Devin Leary threw for 232 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. The Wolfpack does more damage on the ground than through the air, but defensive coordinator Zach Arnett said NC State can threaten the Bulldogs in both facets of the game.

“That’s as impressive of a running back duo as I’ve seen,” Arnett said. “You don’t run the ball well unless you’ve got big guys up front who can win the line of scrimmage and move people. And that’s to take nothing away from their quarterback and receivers, because they can hurt you equally in the passing attack.”

Special teams

While kicker Brandon Ruiz missed a 52-yarder, the Mississippi State special teams unit was a major bright spot during the first game. Lideatrick Griffin’s 70-yard kick return jumpstarted the offense, prompting three straight touchdown drives.

NC State has an experienced kicker in Christopher Dunn, who holds the program’s record in field goals with 56. He’s coming off a season in which he hit 12 of his 17 field goal attempts, with his longest make from 53 yards.

Prediction

NC State 35, Mississippi State 21: If Mississippi State’s offense can look like the fourth quarter version of itself for longer stretches, the prediction for final score  should be plenty closer. But until the consistency is proven, and the Bulldogs’ defense cuts down on the big plays they allowed in the first week and last season, NC State’s strong running game and physical defense will be a challenge.