STARKVILLE, Miss. — After starting the season with three straight wins by 30 points or more — including a 37-7 home win against previous BYU opponent LSU — Mississippi State had lost two straight games by an average score of 40-6.5 before a bye last week.
Even though BYU has faced an SEC opponent in four of the seven seasons since going independent, this will be the first true road game against an SEC team since the Cougars beat Ole Miss 14-13 in 2011.
Here are five numbers for Cougars fans to watch for as Kalani Sitake looks for a second win in as many seasons against the Bulldogs on Saturday (10 a.m. MDT, SEC Network).
Prior to the season, Fred Warner was elected a captain of the Cougar defense. The senior from San Marcos, California, has proven to be an important key in Sitake’s defense. Warner is leading the team in tackles this season with 32 solo tackles. He has been credited with another 19 assisted for 51 total tackles on the season. He has also added six tackles for a loss, one sack and two pass break-ups.
Barring injury, Warner will play in his 49th game as a Cougar later this year. He also has the chance to move into the top five all-time rankings in total tackles if he continues to average 8.5 per game. Warner has tallied one fumble recovery this year, and if he can account for two more this season, it would move him into first place in career fumble recoveries.
BYU’s offensive struggles have been well-documented this season. So far, 78 different quarterbacks have thrown for more total yards than the 935 that Cougar signal callers have amassed. Due to injuries and ineffective play, Ty Detmer’s offense has had five different quarterbacks lined up under center, with four of those — excluding Austin Kafentzis, who has been used exclusively in wildcat formations — completing passes.
The last time that BYU played five different rostered players at quarterback was during the 2003 season when Matt Berry, John Beck, Todd Mortensen, Jackson Brown and Lance Pendleton combined to throw for 2,580 yards and 13 touchdowns en route to a 4-8 season.
If the Cougars are going to have a chance to pull off an upset, it will most likely have to be in large part because of the running game. Bulldog defensive coordinator Todd Grantham has a top 10 defense against the pass, allowing only 156.6 yards per game through the air along with five passing touchdowns.
If there is an aspect that the Cougar offense may be able to take advantage of, it would be in the length of their pass completions. The Bulldogs are one of seven FBS teams allowing more than 15 yards per reception; currently they are allowing 15.06/catch. Their defensive secondary is also one of only 25 teams to allow more than 8 yards per pass attempt. If BYU can improve on its current 10.16 yards per completion, it would go a long way toward helping extend drives.
BYU’s defense will be facing another potentially explosive playmaker this weekend in running back Aeris Williams. The Cougars have already faced three players this season who are currently ranked in the top 200 of individual all-purpose yardage (Jonathan Taylor from Wisconsin, Cedrick Wilson from Boise State and Darren Carrington of Utah). They will face a fourth such player in the junior from West Point, Mississippi.
Williams has accrued 453 total yards — 409 rushing, 44 receiving — on 82 plays from scrimmage, or 90.60 total yards per game. His long run was 59 yards with one touchdown so far. The Cougars will need to be aware of Williams as the game goes on.
The Bulldogs have another player ranked in the top echelon of individual rankings; this time it is one of their specialists. Senior punter Logan Cooke is ranked No. 12 in punting average. Cooke has punted 22 times for a total of 996 yards, which works out to be an average of 45.3 yards per punt.
The Cougars' Jonny Linehan has also been good this year; he is credited with 31 punts for 1,310 total yards (a 42.3 yard average). The Cougars' defense will be hoping to get the stops needed so that Cooke spends a lot more time on the field than Linehan.
Landon Walters studied history and political science at Salt Lake Community College. He is an avid sports fan and loves writing. Email: [email protected]