2015 Belk Bowl
Wednesday, December 30
3:30 p.m. on ESPN
Mississippi State Bulldogs (8-4, 4-4)
During the height of the hysteria surrounding this year’s coaching carousel, Dan Mullen was connected to a couple of ACC jobs, but ultimately decided to stick it out for now in Starkville. He’s built an impressive program in the SEC posting a 54–35 overall record in seven seasons and this marks the Bulldogs’ sixth consecutive bowl appearance.
The very recent success includes 18 wins over the last two seasons and an Orange Bowl berth in 2014. That’s largely thanks to talented quarterback Dak Prescott. This season he’s completed 66.9% of his passes for 3,413 yards, 25 touchdowns, and a meager four interceptions. Those numbers are good enough for the Bulldogs to have the No. 16 passing offense in the country, but Prescott can run too picking up 541 yards and 10 touchdowns on the ground.
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) December 18, 2015
Prescott has a couple of proven targets led by Fred Ross and De’Runnya Wilson. Ross leads the team in catches (81) and yards (933) while Wilson has 55 grabs for 822 yards and a team-high nine touchdowns. State has three more receivers with more than 300 yards on the year, so while he has his favorite targets, Prescott still spreads the ball around.
The Bulldogs possess a terrific passing offense, but the ground game is Dak Prescott or bust. The rest of the team has eight rushing touchdowns combined compared to Prescott’s 10, and Brandon Holloway is the team’s second leading rusher with 372 yards. As a result, Mullen’s offense averages just 140.3 yards on the ground per contest which puts them just 96th nationally.
As for the defense, they haven’t stopped much of anything giving up 388.4 yards per game for an average of 5.32 yards per play. Of course those numbers are against SEC competition, but that’s still not a very daunting group against the pass or the run.
North Carolina State 7-5 (3-5)
The Wolfpack resume is light on substance with the bulk of their victories this season coming against weak opponents as has been discussed frequently. Still, there is talent on Dave Doeren’s squad and they have the ability to cause fits for teams above their weight class. We saw that in shootouts against North Carolina and Clemson as well as tough losses against Louisville and Florida State.
Jacoby Brissett hasn’t had quite the senior season many expected from him, but he’s been solid considering the talent around him. Brissett passed for 2,448 yards this season with 19 touchdowns and four interceptions. He also ran for 303 yards and five touchdowns, but the Wolfpack offense hinged almost entirely on his play.
His best weapon is talented sophomore tight end Jaylen Samuels who does a little bit of everything. He has 315 rushing yards, a team-high 599 receiving yards, and a team-high 14 total touchdowns. If you’re Mississippi State defensive coordinator Manny Diaz, it’s pretty clear that neutralizing Samuels is the top priority.
N.C. State lacks playmakers and the running game virtually disappeared with a season-ending injury to running back Matthew Dayes who amassed 865 yards and 12 touchdowns in just eight games. Samuels will be asked to carry the ball some as will freshman Reggie Gallaspy who gained 158 yards and a touchdown in the final two games of the regular season.
The Wolfpack defense has had its moments, but its been gashed against the toughest opponents. Florida State scored 34 points, North Carolina scored 45 and Clemson rang up 56 against an N.C. State club ranked 20th nationally in total defense. They can pressure the quarterback and stuff the run with a solid defensive line led by Mike Rose and his 10.5 sacks. It’s an intriguing match up they’ll have against Dak Prescott who will have to be pressured early and often for the Wolfpack to gain traction.
It’s going to be a sloppy day in Charlotte and the National Weather Service has issued a flash flood watch in effect until Wednesday night. That gives N.C. State a better chance if the Mississippi aerial assault can’t get off the ground in soggy conditions. If the Wolfpack can piece together a solid running game with Samuels, Gallaspy and maybe a scramble or two from Jacoby Brissett they could very well pull off the upset, but I don’t like the chances of catching Dak Prescott when he takes off running in those conditions. The Bulldogs have more depth and overall talent, and ultimately that should be the difference.
Mississippi State 31
N.C. State 20