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Louisiana Tech Faces Stiff Road Test at #18 Mississippi State

The Bulldogs face their second SEC opponent of the season

NCAA Football: Mississippi State at Louisiana Tech Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

Date: Saturday, November 3, 2018

Kickoff Time: 6:30 p.m. CT

Location: Starkville, Mississippi

Stadium: Davis Wade Stadium

TV: SEC Network

Streaming: Watch ESPN

Series Record: MSU leads 10-3

Last Meeting: MSU won 57-21 in 2017

Betting Line: MSU -22.5

Over/Under: 48

The Louisiana Tech Bulldogs, fresh off a big road win, face an even tougher road trip against Mississippi State this Saturday.

This will be the fifth game in a six-game series between the two Bulldog teams. The Dawgs defeated Mississippi State in Ruston back in 2008, but have lost three straight to the team from Starkville since. After an overtime loss in Starkville in 2011, Tech has lost big in Starkville and Ruston in 2015 and 2017, respectively.

After Saturday’s game, the Bulldogs will travel to Starkville one more time in 2021.

Louisiana Tech Overview

The Bulldogs are bowl eligible for the fifth straight year under Skip Holtz following a big 21-13 win in Boca Raton on Friday. There’s little time to celebrate, however, as Tech heads into SEC country yet again.

Tech’s defense continues to get the job done. After a less-than-stellar outing against UTEP, they responded well and held FAU to 13 points in their own building. Marshall is the only other team to allow just one touchdown to FAU.

One area where the defense has struggled in previous games, however, was against a mobile quarterback. That’s exactly what Nick Fitzgerald is. The only way Tech has any hope is if they can keep him in the pocket and make him throw the ball. Last year, Fitzgerald ran for 111 yards and two touchdowns against the Bulldogs.

Louisiana Tech v Florida Atlantic
Jaqwis Dancy
Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

The Tech offense continues to struggle, especially through the air. Tech can’t win by relying on J’Mar Smith and his arm. The run game has to get some momentum, and the charge needs to be led by Jaqwis Dancy. Dancy was heavily featured at running back against FAU with 24 of the team’s 40 total carries. That trend needs to continue, but he probably needs the ball even more than that.

Against LSU, however, La Tech as a team only attempted 26 total rushes. If Tech takes that same philosophy against this SEC opponent, it will be a long day.

Louisiana Tech was perfect in the red zone this season until last week. Still, they have gotten points out of every red zone trip but one this year. That must continue against Mississippi State, but the larger problem is actually getting that far downfield.

Mississippi State Overview

Mississippi State sits at 5-3 after a home win over Texas A&M last week. Their three losses are all to teams currently ranked 11 or higher.

Mississippi State v LSU
Nick Fitzgerald
Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

Nick Fitzgerald’s legs are the main cog of this offense. He has attempted more rushes than he has completed passes in every game but one this season, when those numbers were the same. Primary running back Kylin Hill has 76 carries this season; Fitzgerald has 137.

The Bulldogs from Starkville don’t tend to score many points. Yes, they put 63 on the board against Stephen F. Austin and 56 against the Ragin’ Cajuns, but otherwise the most they’ve scored has been 31 against Kansas State. But if Tech can’t contain Fitzgerald, they could very well break that number this week.

However, Mississippi State usually doesn’t need to score many points. They allow an average of just 13.5 points per game on defense. #9 Kentucky is the only team to score more than 19 points against MSU this season.

With a road trip to Alabama coming up next week, Mississippi State may play somewhat conservatively against Tech. With that said, unless Tech can put together one of its most impressive offensive performances yet this year, it may not matter.

Final Thoughts

Mississippi State is a very bad match-up for Louisiana Tech. Tech’s struggling offense will have to face a dominant defense, and a Tech defense that struggles to contain a running quarterback will face one of the best.

La Tech’s best hope of the upset is to stack the box, contain Fitzgerald, and force him to throw the ball. That is much easier said than done, though, and Tech hasn’t shown they can do it. Even if they can, they’ll still need to force turnovers on defense.

With Alabama up next for State, don’t be surprised if Tech starts fast in this game, After all, they’ve done so each of the last two times these two teams have met. Tech held an early 14-0 lead in 2015 and a 9-0 lead last season. Neither lead lasted long, however. It will take a perfect storm to shock the home team and earn Tech’s first SEC win since 2011.