After a month of many changes around the program, Mississippi State has a chance to end their season on a high note in the TaxSlayer Bowl.
The Bulldogs will face 2016 Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Lamar Jackson and the Louisville Cardinals (8-4). While Jackson leads the nation in total offense with nearly 5,000 yards and 42 total TDs; the Bulldogs face uncertainty at the most important position on the field. Keaytaon Thompson will make his first start for MSU at QB in relief of Nick Fitzgerald, who suffered a gruesome injury in the Bulldogs’ loss in the Egg Bowl. Thompson was able to find success throughout the game against the Rebel defense using his feet, Thompson finished with over 120 rushing yards, so look for the Bulldog offense to try and establish the ground game to set up quick throws for the young QB.
If Thompson does decide to air it out, he gets some assistance as Louisville’s All-American defensive back Jaire Alexander is sitting out to prepare for the NFL draft.
On Defense, Bulldog defenders like Jeffrey Simmons have to get pressure on Jackson and make sure they wrap up or else he will make them pay. The Cardinals’ offense averages 560 yards per game and 39 points per game this season. Jackson does it all for Louisville as he leads the team in not only passing, but rushing as well. If Mississippi State wants to walk off the field with a win, they have to ensure that one player doesn’t beat them. They have to make Louisville turn to plan B rather than allowing Jackson to drop back and improvise, which is what he does best.
For the first time in 9 years, Dan Mullen won’t be on the sideline for Mississippi State. New Bulldog head coach Joe Moorhead will not coach in the game, so interim coach Greg Knox will lead MSU. Knox told ESPN that the changes haven’t affected the team’s preparation and they are ready to go.
“It has been challenging,” Knox said. “It has been a tough deal, but again, we’re family. Once you have a foundation, (the players) understand what we expect. Whether it’s Coach Mullen standing in front of them, me or Coach Moorhead, it doesn’t matter. They understand what we expect, and we expect them to work hard. They’ve done a great job of it.”
Louisville is a slight favorite going into the game, which is most likely a result of Fitzgerald’s injury. Mississippi State has plenty to play for as young players are out to show their new head coach what they’re made of.
Kick-off from Jacksonville is set for 11 a.m. central time.