Today’s game: Mississippi State (0-0) vs. No. 13 Oklahoma State (0-0), 2:30 p.m., ABC/ESPN2 (Bob Wischusen play-by-play, Rod Gilmore analyst, Quint Kessenich sideline), XM 91/200, Sirius 91/113
HOUSTON | The season opener is upon us, and the most interesting pregame news – and this is always a hot topic for the season opener – is who’s here and who isn’t. So here’s a rundown of who made the trip for MSU and who got left at home.
• Sophomore defensive tackles Quay Evans and Nick James are not here. A team spokesman said we’ll have to wait until after the game to find out why they’re not here. Last season, Evans appeared in 10 games and made seven tackles, forced one fumble and had a fumble recovery. James posted six tackles in eight games. Neither player was listed on MSU’s two-deep in this week’s game notes.
• There are eight true freshmen on the travel roster: CB Tolando Cleveland, DB Kivon Coman, DE Chris Jones, WR Fred Ross, TE Artimas Samuel, RB Ashton Shumpert, QB Damian Williams and WR De’Runnya Wilson. Coman and Samuel both went to Hargrave Military last year and went through spring practices with MSU.
• On the injury front: Also here is backup middle linebacker Ferlando Bohanna, who earlier in the week was listed as questionable for today’s game due to a concussion. Not here today is backup tight end Rufus Warren, who has an ankle injury.
• MSU brought seven receivers to Houston.
OK, remember to follow me on Twitter for updates throughout the day. Let’s review MSU’s three keys to victory, as found in Thursday’s GameDay section.
1. Respect the run. Oklahoma State’s passing game has earned plenty of well-deserved attention, but MSU’s defense can’t lose track of the running game. The pass sets up the run nicely for OSU, which last season ranked 21st nationally in rushing offense, averaging 215.3 yards per game.
Gone from that team, though, is Joseph Randle, who gained 1,457 yards and scored 14 touchdowns. There are some capable returnees, with Jeremy Smith (371 yards, eight TDs) and Desmond Roland (301, four) leading the attack this year behind an offensive line that’s been one of the best in the Big 12 year after year.
2. Hold the middle. Oklahoma State has a pair of tough tackles in Calvin Barnett and James Castleman, who last year combined for 60 tackles and 15 tackles-for-loss. Both of them are pushing 300 pounds and will test the strength of MSU’s offensive line – the interior.
That group is led by first-team All-SEC pick Gabe Jackson at left guard and veteran center Dillon Day. The one question mark could be sophomore right guard Justin Malone, who has some experience but is pulling full-time duty for the first time.
3. Win field position. Oklahoma State’s explosive offense can cover a lot of ground, but there’s no sense in MSU giving it a short field. That’s where the punt coverage unit, which was the best in the nation last year, can play an important role.
OSU had 11 offensive plays of 50-plus yards last year, while MSU’s defense allowed only two plays of such distance. Something has to give.
• Notable stat: MSU is 4-0 in season openers under Dan Mullen.
• Weather: Outside Reliant Stadium, it’s hot. Inside, with the roof closed, it feels great. By the way, this game is being played on artificial turf.