STARKVILLE, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi State finishes the nonconference portion of its schedule against Football Championship Subdivision program Abilene Christian.
The Bulldogs (4-6) must win their final two games to become eligible for a 10th consecutive bowl appearance. The matchup with Abilene Christian (5-6) on Saturday gives Mississippi State an opportunity to sort out its biggest concerns heading into Thursday night’s Egg Bowl showdown with Mississippi (4-6).
"I think it goes back to our 1-0 mindset and mentality," Mississippi State coach Joe Moorhead said. "Regardless of the opponent, we are here competing against a standard and with a process rather than focusing on who you are playing. ... Regardless of who you are playing, opponent one or opponent 12, FCS or FBS, we are going to approach it the same way. The process will determine the product on Saturday."
Mississippi State is attempting to bounce back from a 38-7 loss to No. 5 Alabama (No. 5 College Football Playoff ) in which the Bulldogs trailed 35-0 at halftime.
Against Alabama, the Bulldogs produced 270 yards of offense and had just 82 yards passing. Whether Tommy Stevens or Garrett Shrader is playing quarterback, Mississippi State’s passing game has shown promise at times but not much consistency.
The same can be said for the receivers. In the first six games of the season, leading receiver Osirus Mitchell had 24 catches for 335 yards and four touchdowns. Over the last four games, Mitchell has been limited to just two catches for 42 yards and one touchdown.
Moorhead sees Saturday as an opportunity to get the offense, particularly the passing game, back on track.
"We need to get that back clicking, get Osirus going a little bit more, (along with) Deddrick Thomas and Stephen Guidry, and get the quarterbacks to (being) confident," Moorhead said. "This is a good opportunity run-game and pass-game-wise to work on some of those things in a game setting and get those back to being effective, heading into the last week of the regular season."
This will mark Abilene Christian’s second game against an FBS opponent this year. The Wildcats opened the season by losing 51-31 to Conference USA program North Texas.
Some things to watch when Mississippi State hosts Abilene Christian:
FINAL GAME FOR NCAA-RELATED SUSPENSIONS
Entering the season, Mississippi State announced that 10 players would miss eight regular-season games. That includes the likes of three starters on defense in linebacker Willie Gay, defensive tackle Lee Autry and safety Marcus Murphy.
The suspended players will miss their eighth game of the season Saturday. Mississippi State will have all of them available for the Egg Bowl on Thanksgiving night.
The suspensions are related to an NCAA investigation that showed a part-time student tutor completed coursework for 10 football players and one men's basketball player in an online class.
INJURIES UPON INJURIES
The injury bug hasn’t been kind to Mississippi State.
Moorhead announced Monday that safety C.J. Morgan is out for the season with a knee injury. Other players to have season-ending injuries this year include cornerback Marcus Smitherman and defensive linemen Fletcher Adams and Cameron Young.
HILL CONTINUES TO PACE SEC
Mississippi State tailback Kylin Hill gained just 21 yards against Alabama, but he remains the SEC’s leading rusher. Hill has run for 1,062 yards and 10 touchdowns. He has gained 621 yards after contact.
Once the Abilene Christian game ends, Mississippi State has little time to rest. The Bulldogs must quickly turn their attention to Ole Miss.
Ole Miss has an open date this week and therefore has more time to prepare for the Egg Bowl.
In the first 10 games of the season, Mississippi State has a played a total of 20 freshmen (10 true freshman, 10 redshirt freshman). That trend will continue for the final two home games, especially now that Morgan is hurt. The top two reserves behind Morgan include redshirt freshman Shawn Preston Jr. and true freshman Collin Duncan.
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