If ever there was a remedy for some of Mississippi State’s defensive issues, it comes this week.
The Bulldogs are back home for the first time in a month, taking on one of the nation’s worst offenses in BYU. The Cougars (1-5) come to town ranked 127th nationally in scoring offense and total offense. They’re 120th in rushing, and 116th passing.
It comes on the heels of back-to-back road beat downs to Georgia and Auburn in which State was outscored 80-13. An off week was good for the Bulldog soul and gave the team a chance to reset.
“We had the opportunity to get back to some basics and take your time on some of the basics of stuff,” MSU coach Dan Mullen said. “We just spent time on the guys’ basics, communication, talking and comfort level of making plays.”
MSU still has some good numbers defensively on the year as they’re 17th nationally and fourth in the SEC total defense giving up just 307 yards per game and they surrender just 157 yards through the air which is ninth in the country. BYU (1-5) enters with a healthier veteran quarterback in Tanner Mangum, but averaged just 254 yards per game.
The defense hasn’t been MSU’s only problem during the two-game losing streak. The defense has at least shown stingy signs at times against strong offensive units. The Bulldogs’ offense, however, struggled for four quarters in both losses because of its inability to be multidimensional.
MSU has been searching for a down-the-field threat in the passing game and spent the off week hoping to find one. It could be in the form of two six-foot-four wide receivers: sophomore Jamal Couch and freshman Reggie Todd. Couch caught two passes for 60 yards at Auburn. Todd has five catches on the year for 36 yards.
“Somebody’s got to step up and give a lot more production,” Couch said. “When we take deep shots, somebody has to be the guy. I’ll do anything to help. It just feels like another chance to show your talents and help my team. I’m taking it and running with it.”
MSU is in this predicament because it lacks size on the perimeter and injuries to other receivers. That starts with slot receiver Malik Dear who has missed the first five games with a torn ACL that occurred in the spring. Mullen mentioned Monday he will likely redshirt. Senior Gabe Myles has also been out for the last three games with an injury, but is expected to return Saturday.
With leading receiver Donald Gray playing on the outside limited to just 13 catches for 114 yards through five games, MSU needs to open up more opportunities.
“I thought (Couch and Todd) both had a really good approach to practice, of working hard and doing what we hope they do and what we expect them to do,” Mullen said. “To see them be successful, we need to see them continue to grind and continue to improve and continue to grow up and move up the ladder.”
All of those things also must happen on the offensive line. Starting left tackle Martinas Rankin, a former Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College standout, is expected to miss the next two games. Redshirt freshman Greg Eiland will start in his place. That has MSU starting to first-year players at each tackle spot with seven games still on the schedule.
BYU vs. Mississippi State
When: 11 a.m., Saturday
Where: Davis-Wade Stadium, Starkville
Radio: 1580 AM
TV: SEC Network