STARKVILLE, Miss. — It’s a peaceful, green-laced countryside, filled with friendly southern folk who love their cowbells and will ring them loud and often come BYU’s Saturday visit to Mississippi State’s Davis Wade Stadium.
Cowbells. They’re sold at roadside stands, at gas stations, wielded as prized emblems of fandom. Yet, as loud and obnoxious as their clang can be, it will be the least of BYU’s concerns come Saturday.
Mississippi State (3-2), fresh off losses to Georgia and Auburn on consecutive weeks, is coming off a bye week and is a three-touchdown favorite over the 1-5 Cougars.
For BYU, there are losses, then, there are losses.
A key aspect of this game is that the Cougars must avoid injuries heading into another road trip next week to 1-5 East Carolina. That is a much easier assignment for BYU than these Bulldogs.
Kalani Sitake’s team has lost key personnel dating back to August when running back Ula Tolutau (foot), tight end Moroni Laulu-Pututau (foot), cornerback Austin McChesney (ACL), and linebacker Francis Bernard (suspension) couldn’t start the season.
What followed were injuries to running back KJ Hall, safety Zayne Anderson, deep snapper Matt Foley and another running back Kavika Fonua. While Totulau made his first appearance in the Wisconsin game, injuries took out starting safety Matt Hadley and quarterback Tanner Mangum. While Mangum returned against Boise State, the offense lost receiver Talon Shumway the same week. Both Hadley and Shumway are not listed on this week’s two-deep chart for Saturday's game.
In the first half of the USU game, middle linebacker and captain Butch Pau’u broke his hand in three places and had surgery with screws inserted. If he plays today, he’ll wear a cast. In that same Aggie game, quarterback Beau Hoge left with a concussion after his second start of the season. Meanwhile, defensive tackle Tevita Mo’Unga is lost for the season and freshman defensive end Lorenzo Fauatea’s injury has left his status uncertain; he is not on the depth chart.
Bottom line? Playing time by starters and backups is dwindling. BYU cannot afford to lose bodies come Saturday.
Sitake does not elaborate on injuries. So far, he has not used that as an excuse. But he could.
A second thing to watch will be BYU interceptions versus the Bulldogs' ability not to get any.
BYU quarterbacks have thrown 12 interceptions, Mangum with six. MSU is tied with seven other schools with the least amount of interceptions in the country with one.
Part of MSU’s futility at getting picks is that LSU threw the ball only 35 percent of the time; Georgia 26 percent; and Auburn just 24 percent. The Cougars throw the ball 51 percent of the time, a figure that has increased because BYU has pressed while trailing all but one opponent, Portland State.
MSU secondary coach Terrell Buckley told reporters this week in Starkville his guys had seen only two or three passes a game thrown to the outside. “We’re just not getting that many shots,” he said.
Buckley explained that he’s used the week off to instill drills designed to get his secondary every kind of pass-catch robbery he could imagine: straight to the chest; shots to each of the shoulders; cutting in front of receivers; over the shoulder catches running down the field.
“Any type of way I’ve seen possible to get a pick or make a play on the ball, we’ve tried to work on it at least once,” said Buckley to the Starkville Dispatch.
This week’s picks:
TCU 34, Kansas State 27: Gary Patterson’s found his touch.
Michigan 24, Indiana 17: Wolverines simply too stout on the lines.
Stanford 34, Oregon 24: Cardinal feeling tough after win over Utes.
San Diego State 37, Boise State 31: Rocky Long building MWC champ.
Colorado State 38, Nevada 17: Rams have too much firepower.
UCLA 27, Arizona 24: Bruins make one more defensive play.
Central Florida 28, East Carolina 17: BYU’s next opponent loses.
Colorado 24 Oregon State 14: Andersen-less Beavers whipped.
Memphis 28, Navy 21: Midshipmen lose first game.
USC 27, Utah 21: Trojans hurting but make big plays.
Mississippi State 38, BYU 17: Cougars shuffle QBs ... again.
Last week: 11-1 Overall: 51-20 (.718)