STARKVILLE – It didn’t take long for Mississippi State’s coaching staff to get its message across on Monday.
When MSU senior offensive lineman Ben Beckwith reported for practice on Monday afternoon, the Yazoo City native says MSU offensive line coach John Hevesy shared a few words of wisdom.
“Last week was big for us coming off that win at LSU, which we expected to get,” said Beckwith following Monday’s practice. “But Coach Hevesy told us before practice today that nobody cares about last week. The only thing that matters is this week, and what we do next.”
That opportunity has arrived for the Bulldogs. Nine days after earning a 34-29 win over then-No. 8 LSU in Baton Rouge, MSU returned to its game-week preparation on Monday afternoon as the No. 12 Bulldogs now turn their attention to a visit this Saturday from No. 6 Texas A&M.
“It’s all about the Texas A&M game now,” said Beckwith, who will draw the start at center in place of MSU senior Dillon Day, who will sit out the Texas A&M game due to a one-game suspension handed down by the Southeastern Conference. “In this league, you can’t stand still. There’s always another good team coming up. I think it’s an honor to be able to go out there and line up against a very good Texas A&M team.”
The meeting, set for Saturday at 11 a.m., will be the third between the two SEC Western Division rivals since the Aggies joined the conference prior to the 2012 season. Texas A&M has won the first two.
“There’s a reason they’re ranked No. 6 in the country,” said Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen. “They’re all-around a really good football team that knows how to win and knows how to find a way to win. We’re going to have to come out and play an excellent game in every phase of the game. We certainly need our crowd support to give us that home-field advantage. This is what it’s about in the SEC. You need every bit of home-field advantage you can get. The fact we get this game at home is a huge plus for us, and we need all our fans there creating that big advantage for us.”
Saturday’s showdown between the Aggies and Bulldogs will mark the first meeting of top 15 teams at MSU’s Davis Wade Stadium since 1986, and MSU’s No. 12 ranking is the program’s highest in six years under Mullen. MSU will go after its second 5-0 start under the veteran head coach, first since 2012.
To earn that fifth win, the Bulldogs will have to slow down a prolific Texas A&M offense, one that averages 51 points per game – good for second in the country – behind freshman quarterback Kenny Hill.
“You know you’re going to have to score,” said Mullen. “They’re averaging 51 points per game. If they hit their average, it means we have to score 52. If you hold them just below the average, we’ll have to score 50. Offensively, you know you’re going to have to score points against them if you’re going to beat them.”
Hill, a freshman from Southlake, Texas, has passed for 1,745 yards and 17 touchdowns in his first season at Texas A&M, and the young signal-caller has thrown just two interceptions.
“He has a great understanding of what they want to do offensively,” said Mullen of Hill. “He really anticipated throws well down the field. That’s one thing you see, when he’s letting the ball go before receivers get in and out of breaks. There’s a lot of that confidence that goes in that.”
MSU counters with an All-SEC caliber quarterback of its own. MSU junior Dak Prescott, the SEC’s Co-Offensive Player of the Week after his 373-yard, three touchdown showing at LSU, has thrown for 964 yards and 11 touchdowns, and like Hill, has thrown just two picks. Prescott is also the league’s sixth-ranked rusher with 378 yards and three touchdowns.
“It’s another huge game, but that’s life in this league,” said Prescott. “The LSU game is over, in the past. We know this is a really good team that can score a lot of points. As an offense, it’s up to us to take care of our business and we have to trust the defense to do the same.”
SEC Nation visits
Mullen spent three years coaching former Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow at the University of Florida, where the former quarterback had a hand in two national championships under Mullen, then the Gators’ offensive coordinator.
This weekend, as Mullen prepares for one of the biggest games of his six-year tenure as coach of the Bulldogs, the two will be reunited as Tebow comes to MSU as part of the SEC Network.
Tebow, who won the 2007 Heisman Trophy, is part of the SEC Network’s weekly Saturday morning show, SEC Nation, which will visit Starkville for the first time in anticipation of No. 12 MSU’s 11 a.m. showdown against No. 6 Texas A&M.
When asked about his former quarterback, Mullen joked about Tebow’s last trip to Starkville, a 29-19 Florida win in 2009.
“I’m excited to see Tim,” said Mullen. “He’s probably not. The last time he was here Johnthan Banks had two pick-sixes so I don’t know if he’s too excited to come back to the stadium. I haven’t seen him in a long time so it’s going to be great to see him and get him here.”
SEC Nation will emanate from just outside of Dorman Hall with MSU’s Davis Wade Stadium and The Junction serving as the backdrop. The show will begin at 9 a.m. and continue until 11 a.m., ending just prior to the Bulldogs’ kickoff with Texas A&M, which is scheduled for 11:01 a.m.
“Obviously to have the pregame show here on our network and they’re covering right here on campus is a pretty neat deal,” said Mullen. “Great opportunity for our student body and our fans to show how much they support our team and for the whole country to see that on national television. That’s a really neat experience and neat deal. Everyone around the country gets to see what Starkville, Mississippi is all about.”
Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin and MSU’s Mullen have crossed paths often during Mullen’s six seasons in Starkville. The two coaches, who have combined to start 9-0 this season, have played four times in Mullen’s previous five seasons. Sumlin has won three of the previous meetings, starting with a win over MSU in Starkville in 2009 as the head coach of Houston and continuing to last year’s 51-41 win over the Bulldogs in College Station.
For Mullen, the frequent meetings against Sumlin have created a mutual respect.
“I’ve talked to Kevin,” said Mullen. “We get to spend time together at the Adidas retreat every year. Football-wise, it’s kind of tough because we played him at Houston then he moves on to A&M so we’ve always kind of played each other. We’ll watch what they do every year in the offseason, not just when you’re playing them, but really do a study of what their offense is, what things they’re doing and what they’re doing well and things we can kind of steal from them. I would guess that’s a great form of flattery to them that we’re trying to steal all their ideas and what they’re doing offensively, what they do well.
“I think he’s done an amazing job with the program he has there.”
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brandon Walker on Twitter @BWonStateBeat