It will be an all-Magnolia State battle this weekend when the Mississippi State Bulldogs host the Southern Miss Golden Eagles. Kickoff is set for 3:30 EST on Saturday, September 7 at Davis Wade Stadium in Starkville, Mississippi. Fans can watch the game on ESPNU.
According to the Week 2 college football odds, the Bulldogs are 16.5-point favorites at home. The over/under for the game is set at 51.5 points.
Joe Moorhead had a successful first season at Mississippi State, leading the Bulldogs on an 8-5 campaign, and last week they got the 2019 season started off on the right foot. State had to endure a late comeback against Louisiana but ultimately held on for a 38-28 win. They were far from dominant in the game, but it was a positive start to the season. The goal for Moorhead and the Bulldogs now is to survive a couple more tricky non-conference games before starting the always-challenging SEC portion of their schedule.
Southern Miss is also sitting pretty at 1-0 after the opening weekend, although they only had to beat FCS opponent Alcorn State. Nevertheless, the Golden Eagles took care of business, particularly on special teams, where they returned both a punt and a kickoff for a touchdown. Now the real season starts for Southern Miss, who are lined up to play both Mississippi State and Alabama before the end of September. But the Eagles won’t be a pushover. They played a tight game with Auburn last year and lost by just a touchdown to Kentucky two years ago after beating the Wildcats in 2016. In other words, they have a history of playing close games with SEC teams.
That being said, Mississippi State had their way with the Golden Eagles when the two in-state foes met in both 2014 and 2015. State won the first meeting 49-0 before knocking off Southern Miss on the road 34-16 the following year. Of course, both programs have different head coaches and different rosters, so those results may have little bearing on Saturday’s game.
Despite Southern Miss proving in recent years that they can hang with SEC teams, I like the Bulldogs to beat their in-state little brother by a comfortable margin. While the Eagles have a chance to make some noise in Conference-USA this year, they have flaws that Mississippi State should be able to exploit enough to cover.
The Bulldogs had a solid offense last season, even if the passing game was limited at times. But that’s no longer the case. Penn State transfer Tommy Stevens won the starting job and showed in the season opener that he brings a dimension that the Mississippi State offense hasn’t had in a long time. Stevens was 20 for 30 passing against Louisiana, racking up 236 yards despite State being a little inexperienced at wide receiver.
In addition to Stevens giving them a competent passing game, the Bulldogs can still run it as well as any SEC team. Kyle Hill went off for 197 yards on 27 carries in the season opener. The impressive part is that he averaged 7.3 yards per carry despite his longest carry only being 20 yards. The MSU offensive line looks as strong as it was a year ago, and with a back like Hill, the Bulldogs are going to be tough to stop on the ground. Add Stevens, who’s not a bad runner himself, to the equation and the Mississippi State offense is in great shape early in the season.
For what it’s worth, Southern Miss was outstanding defensively last season and returns six starters on that side of the ball. But it’s fair to think that they’ll take a little bit of a step back this season. It was hard to get a good idea of where they’re at against an FCS team. However, I’m willing to bet that they’ll have trouble containing a balanced MSU offense, especially given the strength of the offensive line and dynamic playmakers like Hill.
Meanwhile, it’s the other side of the ball that worries me most about Southern Miss. The Eagles were dreadful on offense for large chunks of the 2018 season. More importantly, I didn’t see enough improvement in the season opener. Remember, 14 of their 38 points were scored via special teams. That’s unlikely to happen against Mississippi State, and 24 points against an FCS team is not good enough. The offensive line that struggled last year didn’t look much better, as Southern Miss couldn’t even crack 100 yards rushing.
Even though Mississippi State is a little young and inexperienced in the front-7, they should have the talent to dominate Southern Miss at the line of scrimmage. Admittedly, they gave up some points late in last week’s game after they had a comfortable lead. But I don’t think the Golden Eagles have the playmakers to do much damage against MSU, especially with last year’s leading receiver Quez Watkins unavailable.
All things considered, I’m a believer in the Mississippi State offense with Stevens at quarterback. The Bulldogs have a good balance on that side of the ball that I don’t think Southern Miss can stop or match with their own offense. The spread is reasonable, so I’ll lean toward Mississippi State to cover 16.5 points.