Behind Enemy Bylines: Mississippi State Bulldogs

To preview Vanderbilt’s upcoming matchup with Mississippi State, The Hustler goes Behind Enemy Bylines to interview Hunter Cloud of The Reflector.

Vanderbilt+falls+to+0-3+with+a+41-7+loss+to+South+Carolina+on+Oct.+10%2C+2020.+%28Hustler+Multimedia%2FHunter+Long%29

Vanderbilt falls to 0-3 with a 41-7 loss to South Carolina on Oct. 10, 2020. (Hustler Multimedia/Hunter Long)

Anish Mago, Staff Writer

Coming off four straight losses (five, if you count Vanderbilt’s final loss of 2019), the Commodores travel to Mississippi State this weekend to play the Bulldogs, where they’ll try to get their season back on track. Mississippi State is also trying to snap a four-game losing streak after a 41-0 loss to Alabama put them at 1-4 on the season.

 A win Saturday would be huge for either team, as they look to carry some momentum into the latter half of the season. To preview the upcoming matchup, The Hustler went Behind Enemy Bylines and interviewed Hunter Cloud, staff writer and former Sports Editor for The Reflector, to preview Vanderbilt’s matchup with the Bulldogs this weekend. 

 

Vanderbilt Hustler: The Bulldogs have struggled since their Week One upset of LSU. What have been the major causes of this slump, and what do you expect Mike Leach to do this week to get them back on the right track?

Hunter Cloud: I would say a general lack of offensive execution. They are an extremely pass-heavy team and have completely abandoned the run. I would fault Leach’s stubbornness in not using his rushing weapons, but I believe some of the reason for that is him trying to build this team for the future. I would also say Mississippi State hasn’t been able to pass-block well this year, so a lot of teams have been dropping eight men into coverage, which is of course really hard to pass into. I would say those have been the major causes for Mississippi State’s woes. The offense has not been able to score the football.

Quarterback KJ Costello also has not been able to play consistent football since Week One. What should the Vanderbilt defense expect from him this Saturday?

The tricky thing is I’m really not sure if he’s actually going to start—Leach has said Will Rodgers and Costello are still battling for the position. If Costello does start, he’s got to start getting rid of the football quicker and using his internal clock. During Week 1, when LSU got lots of pressure on him, he was able to get rid of the football quickly, but I still had concerns then about his internal clock and urgency to get rid of the football. I think that’ll be a big challenge for him this week. If Will Rodgers starts, I think that is something he has. 

How have the losses of Willie Gay and Cam Dantzler changed this defense from the one we saw a year ago? 

I would say State’s defense the past 3-4 years has been pretty consistent. They do give up a lot of points occasionally, but it’s difficult not to when you’re on the field constantly. The losses of Willie Gay and Cam Dantzler have challenged the secondary in particular. They’ve never been great against the pass, but losing experienced guys in the defensive backfield will always hurt your defense. Nobody in particular has stuck out to me on that defense so far, but I think they’ve played good football. 

Vanderbilt’s offense has not been able to consistently put up points this season. How do you expect Mississippi State’s defense to gameplan for Ken Seals and his offense?

I think they’re going to do what they’ve done well this year and in the past: pressuring the quarterback and stopping the run. They get enough pressure in the pass game to disrupt the offense usually, and I would look for them to try to do that on Saturday. 

The Vanderbilt defense has not played well this season since their Week One matchup versus Texas A&M. Who are the main weapons in Leach’s offense they should look out for this week?

This is honestly kind of hard for me to do because every day I go on Twitter and it seems like State’s lost another offensive player. I would say Jo’quavious Marks has really stepped up and has been really effective out of the backfield as a passing target. Austin Williams has been a solid possession receiver for us this year. Osirus Mitchell can be one of those weapons for us, but he’s been inconsistent so far this year. I would say State’s best offensive player isn’t even on the field anymore—Kylin Hill, who has opted out for the season. That has definitely changed how the offense has looked this year. 

What is your score prediction for this week’s game?

Mississippi State 17, Vanderbilt 14. 

 

This content has been edited for clarity and length.