Last time we were at home, it was an electric atmosphere. Our fans gave us a great home-field advantage. —Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen
STARKVILLE, Miss. — As BYU schleps into town this weekend lugging a five-game losing streak, don’t expect Mississippi State to show the Cougars any sympathy.
Or any of that famous Southern hospitality.
The Bulldogs have lost two consecutive games — against a pair of top-10 teams, Georgia and Auburn — by a combined score of 80-13.
After a bye week, Mississippi State is looking to bounce back against the Cougars Saturday (10 a.m., MDT, SEC Network) before finishing its Southeastern Conference schedule.
The Bulldogs are thrilled to return to Davis Wade Stadium, in a town affectionately known as Stark Vegas, for the first time since beating LSU, 37-7, on Sept. 16.
Yes, that’s the same LSU team that walloped BYU on Sept. 2 in New Orleans, 27-0.
"It's great to be back at home. We haven't been at home in about 28 days, which is kind of unusual,” said MSU coach Dan Mullen, a former Utah assistant. “That's how the schedule panned out for us this year.
"Last time we were at home, it was an electric atmosphere. Our fans gave us a great home-field advantage. That's so critical in this league. Hopefully we have a great turnout for the game and an electric atmosphere and a great home-field advantage to work to our benefit.”
On top of that, Mississippi State would like to avenge a bitter 28-21 double-overtime loss to BYU in Provo one year ago.
MSU’s dual-threat quarterback Nick Fitzgerald completed 17 of 36 passes for 214 yards and a touchdown against the Cougars that night and he also ran for 41 yards on 16 carries for another two TDs.
"They kind of run some base defense with a few crazy blitzes here and there,” Fitzgerald said of BYU. “It's going to be a lot similar to what it was last year."
This season, the junior QB leads an offense that ranks No. 17 nationally in rushing, averaging 252.8 yards per game.
Fitzgerald has rushed 54 times for 343 yards (6.4 yards per carry) and five touchdowns. He’s also completed 70 of 132 passes for 783 yards with five interceptions and eight touchdowns.
“Their quarterback has another year under his belt. He’s a lot more effective, especially in the run game,” said BYU coach Kalani Sitake. “He can do some really good things with his feet. They’ve had some really good success with him running behind center. But they’re an SEC team that’s physical. They’re used to big games and we’re going to their house. It will be a different deal.”
BYU cornerback Troy Warner said covering MSU’s receivers is a challenge.
“If (Fitzgerald) scrambles out of the pocket, receivers have the tendency to adjust their routes and do things on the run,” he said.
“He’s a good quarterback,” BYU defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki said of Fitzgerald. “He’s a little bit better this year as far as going through his reads. A big guy that can run like that is always concerning. He made a lot of plays with his feet against us last year. We’ve got to make sure we bottle him up.”
It’s uncertain whether Mississippi State’s starting left tackle, Martinas Rankin, will play against BYU. He left the game against Auburn with a sprained ankle. In the second half against the Tigers, the Bulldogs tried to fill Rankin’s void with a redshirt freshman tackle, Greg Eiland.
Against Auburn, MSU was victimized by big plays, something Mullen hopes his team corrected during the bye week. The Bulldogs are No. 17 in the country in total defense and No. 9 in pass defense, but just No. 95 in pass efficiency defense.
Fitzgerald was 13 of 33 for 157 yards with two interceptions and one touchdown against Auburn. He ran 13 times for 56 yards.
But this week the Bulldogs are facing a 1-5 BYU team — not a top-10 opponent like Georgia or Auburn.
“Hopefully the guys are mentally and a little physically fresher and get ready to go,” Mullen said. “Hopefully we've got a huge turnout with our fan base and a great home-field advantage for us."
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Cougars on the air
at Mississippi State (3-2)
Saturday, 10 a.m. MDT Davis Wade Stadium
TV: SEC Network
Radio: 1160 AM, 102.7 FM