Starkville, MS (SportsNetwork.com) - The fourth-ranked Mississippi State Bulldogs will try to bounce back on Saturday night at home when they welcome the Vanderbilt Commodores to Davis Wade Stadium for an SEC clash.
There's been plenty of growing pains for Vanderbilt in year one of coach Derek Mason's tenure, as the squad is just 3-7 overall and winless in the SEC in six tries. The Commodores had a bye week to recover from a Nov. 8 set back to Florida, 34-10.
"We're always motivated," quarterback Johnny McCrary said. "That's just who we are at Vanderbilt. We go out there each and every game and give it our all...As for the rest of the season, we're going to go out there and play like it's our first game and try and win."
Mississippi State was the nation's No. 1 team heading into last week's marquee matchup with Alabama in Tuscaloosa, but it suffered its first loss of the season, 25-20, to lose its grip on the SEC Western Division race.
"We've handled winning very well this season, so we'll see how we handle this adversity at this point," coach Dan Mullen said. "It's late in the year for that to happen, but we'll see how our guys handle it."
Despite the loss, the Bulldogs still have hope at an SEC Championship Game berth if they win out and Alabama loses to Auburn on Nov. 29. Even if they can't contend for a league championship, their impressive resume of wins (LSU, Texas A&M, Auburn, Arkansas, potentially Ole Miss) could be enough to get the attention of the College Football Playoff committee.
Mississippi State leads the all-time series with Vanderbilt, 12-7-2, with the Bulldogs taking the last meeting in 2009, 15-3.
Vanderbilt's offense (18.9 ppg, 296.5 ypg) is the SEC's worst by a large margin. It scores nine fewer points per game than the second-worst team and amasses nearly 60 fewer yards per outing than anyone else.
The Commodores' struggles have come mostly due to a lack of continuity under center, as four quarterbacks have combined to complete 51.5 percent of passes for 1,821 yards, 12 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. Johnny McCrary (.535 completions, 806 yards, nine TDs, six INTs) has settled in as the starter of late but threw a pair of interceptions against Florida while completing a woeful 14-of-35 attempts.
Ralph Webb earns the majority of the backfield work and has turned 185 carries into 843 yards and three touchdowns.
Steven Scheu (33 receptions, 442 yards, three TDs) is an solid pass-catching tight end. C.J. Duncan has 26 receptions for 422 yards and four scores.
The Commodores' defense has not been up to par either, allowing 32.4 ppg and 406.1 ypg while forcing only 11 turnovers.
Nigel Bowden (74 tackles), Stephen Weatherly (7.0 TFL, 3.5 sacks), Caleb Azubike (6.0 TFL, 4.0 sacks) and Taurean Ferguson (two INTs) are the only defensive playmakers to speak of.
Despite being slowed down by Alabama a week ago, Mississippi State (37.8 ppg, 512.7 ypg) still boasts one of the best offenses in the nation, with a great balance between the run (243.2 ypg) and the pass (269.5 ypg).
Dak Prescott threw three costly interceptions in last week's loss, giving him 10 on the season, but that hasn't completely soured his outstanding season. In addition to passing for 2,521 yards and 20 touchdowns on greater than 60 percent completions, he rushed for 861 yards and 11 scores in a campaign up for Heisman Trophy consideration.
Prescott is just one half of the Bulldogs' dynamic rushing attack. The quarterback's dual-threat ability has opened up plenty of holes for Josh Robinson, who's turned 158 carries into 1,021 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Although seven receivers have at least 200 yards and 11 players have caught a touchdown pass, De'Runnya Wilson has emerged as Prescott's favorite target with 30 receptions for 458 yards and six touchdowns. Jameon Lewis (21 receptions, 267 yards, two TDs) returned last week after being hampered by a leg injury for most of the season.
Mississippi State employs a bend-but-don't-break style of defense, as it gives up plenty of yardage (418.0 ypg) but only allows 20.2 ppg.
Benardrick McKinney (58 tackles, 7.5 TFL, 3.0 sacks, FF) and Preston Smith (12.5 TFL, 8.0 sacks, two INTs, two FF, two blocked kicks) are both likely to be All-Conference selections at year's end. Will Redmond and Richie Brown have three interceptions apiece.