QUESTIONS WITH THE ENEMY: Mississippi State Bulldogs

Spruce Derden-US PRESSWIRE

Traded some Q&A with our SB Nation brethren at For Whom the Cowbell Tolls for the upcoming tilt between the Cowboys and the Bulldogs.

My responses are a part of their big preview.

Enjoy their responses below...remove the team references, and a couple of these could be about OSU.

1. A lot of OSU fans are viewing this game as a pretty big deal, Big 12 vs SEC, a chance for the Cowboys to gain some respect for themselves and the conference. How are Bulldogs fans viewing the matchup?

I'd say the fanbase is split on this game. Most believe Dan Mullen has gotten the program to the point where we are ready to play a team like Oklahoma State in the non-conference schedule, but the problem is the difficulty of the SEC schedule this year for MSU leaves a narrow margin in the eyes of many for returning to a bowl game, so it may have been wiser to schedule a for-sure win to get back to a bowl game. If this game was on last year's schedule, or next year's, it may not have been a big deal as the conference slates aren't as difficult. Still, many fans are excited to play another BCS team, as it's the first time we've done so since Georgia Tech in 2009.

2. Cowboys offensive lineman Parker Graham handed out some bulletin board material recently. Gundy always claims that stuff is not that big of a deal, but I'm convinced the assistants definitely try to use it as motivation for the players. Do you see Graham's comments as something that will whip Mississippi State's D into a foaming at the mouth, raging monster?

When I saw those comments I immediately put them up on our blog to ensure the players would catch wind of them, and sure enough some players shared the article via twitter, and the coaching staff and players discussed it with the media after practice that day. They downplayed it and took the high road, but I would bet the house on that quote being posted in the locker room as motivation. I can't believe a favorite would give the underdog any motivation like that, but that is what happened. As far as what affect it will have on the game - probably not much. I think it may push players a little harder in practice and may pump them up a little more before the game, but once the whistle blows the best man will win.

3. There are definitely some great matchups in this game:

-An experienced power running game vs one of the best rush defenses in the Big 12;

-A Sr QB and young WR's vs a secondary that struggled to stop the pass in 2012;

-The best WR talent in the Big 12 vs a secondary reloading from the loss of NFL talent;

-A retooled offensive line for a team that doesn't give up many sacks vs a big, physical defensive line;

Do you think any one of them particularly holds the key to this game?

The most glaring matchup is obviously OSU's WR vs. MSU's corners, but I'm not sure that is the key to the game because OSU is going to have the advantage and will get their yards, my only question with regards to that is does the OSU quarterback make a mistake and can an MSU corner capitalize and get a pick?

But my key matchup is MSU's running game vs. OSU's rush defense. The Dawgs have a veteran O-line and a full compliment of experienced and talented tailbacks who should be able to run the ball. Entangled in this matchup is also the MSU passing game vs. a questionable OSU secondary because if Russell and his young wide outs aren't able to get that going and OSU loads the box to stop the run then it's going to be a long day. But if OSU's rush defense proves better than MSU's rushing offense on it's own merit allowing them to put more man power into stopping the pass, it could also be a long day. I think Bulldog fans are expecting to be able to run the ball, and if that doesn't happen it could spell trouble, because I don't think the aerial attack can be relied on to win this one; and the game plan will likely be playing keep away, which needs to be done on the ground.

4. The Bulldogs started out great in 2012, going 7-0, before struggling through a brutal home stretch, losing five of their last six. How does this season's schedule look to impact the teams' fortunes?

The schedule this year is much tougher. We are trading South Alabama for Oklahoma State for one. We beat Kentucky, Arkansas and Auburn is 2012 - all 3 of them got new coaches and are expected to trend up this year and we play Ark and Aub on the road. We trade a home game with Tennessee for a road game at South Carolina. And Alabama and LSU are marked as a loss every year, so you'd rather just play them on the road, but they'll be at home. Add in Ole Miss who is everyone's preseason darling and a trip to Texas A&M. So the expectation is MSU will be a better team in 2013 but will likely finish with a worse record.

5. Mississippi State finished 4-4 in conference play last season. When you take away losses to Alabama, LSU, and A&M, it appears like they handled the rest of their conference foes fairly well. What will they need to do in order to pick off one of the "big boys" and edge closer to the upper echelon of the SEC?

At MSU it's all about building a program. Nick Saban was able to step in at LSU and Alabama and immediately recruit the best prospects to put those programs back on the map quickly. In Starkville we've been able to put together some solid recruiting classes but we likely aren't going to scratch the top 10 unless we sell ourselves to the devil like some have. So the name of the game is putting together winning seasons and building the team with 3-star guys, sprinkle in a few 4-stars and hope to land the golden goose that spurs you to the next level. Five years in, Mullen has built that base - the roster is as solid as it's ever been. But breakout stars and big time play-makers are probably lacking. I think this is the first year under Mullen where I can legitimately say I think we have the talent to hang with the big boys and pull down a major upset....lord knows we'll have plenty of chances with our schedule.

As far as what we need to do on the field - run the ball with more consistency: we averaged 55 yards per game vs. Bama, A&M and LSU last year. And play with more aggression on defense, which has been addressed in the offseason.

6. At OSU, OU, and Texas, a mediocre season or two can be tolerated if you beat the hated rival. How do the fans/boosters view this in Starkville?

I would say the same about Mississippi State. In 2011 MSU was expected to win about 8 games, but we ended the regular season 6-6, however, we stomped Ole Miss. The feeling around the program was really positive. In 2012, the same 8 wins were expected, and achieved, however, we lost to Ole Miss and for some the sky is falling. So yes, beating Ole Miss is a big deal and even if we end the year 5-7, as long as there is a W next to the Ole Miss game in the record book many many MSU fans will be happy.

7. The Cowboys have always been known for a fan base that "travels well," meaning they will have a pretty strong contingent at Reliant Stadium. Do the Bulldogs anticipate a big turnout for what essentially is a road game?

Yes, I think we are an underrated fan base in terms of traveling well. There will be plenty of folks in Houston wearing maroon. I'm not sure how many to expect, but rest assured you will hear plenty of cowbells.

8. A lot of news was made in Stillwater when "noise making" during the play of the game came under scrutiny last season. Have the cow bells been affected at all? I hear they will definitely make the trip to Houston.

The rules of the cowbell are that you cannot ring them during any plays - only during timeouts, after a touchdown, between quarters, etc. Typically our fans obey those rules for the first 3 quarters but if the game is close in the 4th quarter there's no stopping the CLANGA.

9. Last but not least...outlook for the game? Do you foresee any possibility that this will be anything other than the Bulldogs trying to grind it out and keep OSU off the field?

I really think this is a swing game. I'm sure OSU fans don't see it that way, and many MSU fans don't see it that way. But I think there are mismatches for both teams, and it should be a back and forth affair. I do look for MSU to grind it out and try to play keep away as much as possible, and the ability to do that will come down to how well the Cowboy's run defense fairs. My hope is that the Bulldogs play aggressive D to try and create some turnovers that could really swing the game even if it means giving up some quick points, because I do think OSU will get their points somehow, so the MSU defense may need to create some turnovers to provide good field position for the offense, and the offense doesn't need to turn it over...which shouldn't be too big of a problem as they were good with the ball last year.

I've gone back and forth on this game all summer. It's going to be a great game I think, and I'm going with my Dawgs to win, 28-27. I don't feel like it's going to be a 40+ point affair, mostly because I think MSU's defense is vastly underrated... and if the Bulldogs are going to win they will grind it out and run some clock.

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