A potential sellout crowd will be on hand at Floyd Stadium Saturday as Middle Tennessee battles Mississippi State in a key non-conference matchup.
The Blue Raiders and Bulldogs both need a win to generate some midseason momentum, and MT is trying to knock off its second Power Six conference opponent of the year.
GoMiddle.com breaks down who and what to watch when MT and MSU tee it up.
THE BIG STATS
MSU'S FIRST DOWN RUSHING YARDAGE- Mississippi State boasts one of the nation's best rushing attacks and the Bulldogs will almost certainly try to establish it early and often against the Raiders. It is vital for MT that the defense slows down Anthony Dixon and the rest of the Bulldog ground threats on first down. If MSU is successful on first down, the Bulldogs playbook can become much more dangerous. MT needs to keep the Bulldogs in long yardage situations. MSU is just 6 for 40 on the season converting 3rd-and-7 or longer.
RED ZONE TOUCHDOWNS- It was MT's ineffectiveness in the red zone last year that cost the Raiders a good chance at winning at Mississippi State. Having to settle for three short field goals was very costly. MSU has scored 12 touchdowns in 24 red zone trips this year. MT has 9 touchdowns in 17 red zone trips. Finishing drives with six points is a must for both squads on Saturday.
YOU'LL KNOW IT'S GOING WELL IF...
TURNOVERS HOLD TO FORM- MSU has not been good at protecting the football and it has cost the Bulldogs dearly. Dan Mullen's team is -8 in turnover margin and opponents have turned the giveaways into 58 points. Taking care of the ball has been a strength for the MT offense and the Raider defense has been adept at hawking the ball as well. If the turnover trends continue for both teams, the Raiders will have an excellent chance.
THE MT DEFENSE GETS TO REST- Tackling the 235 pound Dixon for much of the game will likely lead to a worn down MT defensive front late in the game unless the Raider offense can control the ball in the early stages and win the time of possession battle. Doing that will increase the likelihood of MT being able to hold a lead late into the game. MSU has lost 11 straight games when it trailed after three quarters, but MT probably can't get to that position if the offense fails to keep the chains moving and forces the defense to log a ton of plays early.
YOU'LL KNOW IT'S GOING POORLY IF...
MSU SCORES A NON-OFFENSIVE TOUCHDOWN- The Bulldogs have had a knack for scoring in all phases of the game. After not scoring a single non-offensive touchdown all of last season, MSU has tallied four already this season. The Bulldogs have scored on a blocked punt, a kickoff return, and two interception returns. If they achieve the feat again this week, the Raiders will have a steep hill to climb.
MSU PROTECTS THE BALL- While it was touched on above, it's important to emphasize again how much the game's tone will be set by MT's ability (or inability) to force Bulldog miscues. If MSU's offense doesn't turn the ball over, it becomes very difficult to stop. The Bulldogs have punted just twice in their last 25 offensive possessions. The ball has been slippery in their hands this year. MSU has lost 10 fumbles on the year, which must make MT linebacker Danny Carmichael lick his chops. Carmichael leads the nation with four forced fumbles.
MISSISSIPPI STATE BULLDOGS: WHO TO WATCH
QB Tyson Lee, 5-10/200, Senior
THE NUMBERS: 56.6 percent completion percentage, 826 yards, 3 TDs, 6 INTs
WHY HE'S IMPORTANT: Lee shares QB duties with Chris Relf, but Lee has taken the most snaps so far.
BEST CASE: Lee's touchdown to interception ratio has been very disappointing for MSU and MT would love to continue that poor trend.
WORST CASE: Lee is capable of managing a game well, but worst case for MT is that Lee doesn't have to make plays because of the luxury of a strong running game.
WR Chad Bumphis, 5-10/195, Freshman
THE NUMBERS: 235 receiving yards, 25.4 kick return average, four total touchdowns
WHY HE'S IMPORTANT: Bumphis isn't listed as a first team receiver, but he leads MSU in receiving yardage and gets several touches.
BEST CASE: Bumphis has been somewhat hit or miss in his freshman year. The Raiders have a much better chance to win if Bumphis is a non-factor.
WORST CASE: Bumphis is the secondary kick return man and is certainly capable of a long return. He can be explosive after a catch as well.
RB Anthony Dixon, 6-1/235, Senior
THE NUMBERS: 561 rushing yards, 5 touchdowns
WHY HE'S IMPORTANT: Dixon is one of the best running backs in the SEC and the focal point of the MSU offense.
BEST CASE: MT slows Dixon down, particularly on first and second down in order to force 3rd-and-long plays.
WORST CASE: Dixon pounds on the MT front seven and wears the Raiders down, similar to how he did in last year's matchup.
LB Jamar Chaney, 6-1/240, Senior
THE NUMBERS: 43 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 4 QB hurries, 1 interception
WHY HE'S IMPORTANT: Chaney is the heart of the defense and is a key to all of MSU's defensive schemes.
BEST CASE: MT is able to block Chaney when he rushes and doesn't let him get his hand on passes.
WORST CASE: Chaney can turn a game in a heartbeat with a big defensive play and is more than capable of knocking a ball loose.
SS Charles Mitchell, 5-11/295, Sophomore
THE NUMBERS: 33 tackles, 2 interceptions,88 INT return yards
WHY HE'S IMPORTANT: Mitchell is the starter at strong safety and has a knack for finding the ball.
BEST CASE: The Raiders have to be careful when throwing in Mitchell's area to prevent any big plays the other way.
WORST CASE: Both of Mitchell's interceptions this year have been returned for sizeable yardage. He is very capable of a big play each week.