- Associated Press - Friday, September 18, 2015

Mississippi State is still hurting nearly a week after a close loss to LSU.

But even if the Bulldogs’ last gasp 52-yard field goal attempt had sailed through the uprights and given Mississippi State an improbable victory, nothing much would have changed in coach Dan Mullen’s mind.

“We make that kick at the end of the game, we still have the same problems,” Mullen said.

And they’re problems Mississippi State needs to fix in a hurry if it wants to be a factor in the Southeastern Conference Western Division. The Bulldogs (1-1) have a non-conference game against Northwestern State (0-2) on Saturday.

The matchup against an FCS-level opponent doesn’t figure to be very close. But it’s still a useful game for the Bulldogs, who are trying to correct problems that plagued them in the loss to LSU.

The No. 1 issue: A mediocre running game.

Starting running back Ashton Shumpert has been disappointing so far, averaging just 3.8 yards per carry. Quarterback Dak Prescott - who had 986 yards rushing last season - has just 53 yards on the ground through two games.

Brandon Holloway has been the best of the bunch, leading the team with 88 yards rushing on 7.3 yards per carry. But at just 5-feet-8 and 165 pounds it’s hard to expect him to be an option when running between the tackles.

“I look at our two tailbacks and Ashton Shumpert goes out there for the first play of the game, but their rep difference is not a whole lot,” Mullen said. “Brandon (Holloway) is basically a starting tailback right now.”

Mississippi State also hopes for improvement from an offensive line that has three new starters this season. The Bulldogs were pushed around in the first half against LSU, but played much better during the team’s second-half rally.


Some things to watch when Mississippi State faces Northwestern State:

DAK’S RUNNING ATTACK: Mississippi State probably won’t risk running quarterback Dak Prescott in a game that should be well in hand by the second half. But the Bulldogs probably wouldn’t mind seeing Prescott break off a few big early runs in an effort to rekindle the form that made him so good in 2014.

RUNNING GAME PART II: Ashton Shumpert was supposed to be the next great thing in a long line of Mississippi State running backs that includes NFL players Anthony Dixon, Vick Ballard and Josh Robinson. The problem is he’s averaging just 3.8 yards per carry which is a big reason the Bulldogs are 13th out of 14 SEC teams in rushing through two games.

BIG PASSING GAME: While Mississippi State’s running game has been rough, the passing attack has been just fine. Prescott has thrown for 572 yards and three touchdowns and no interceptions. His favorite targets have been Fred Ross, De’Runnya Wilson and Gus Walley, who all have at least 10 catches.

A.J. JEFFERSON’S IMPACT: Mississippi State defensive lineman A.J. Jefferson has been arguably the team’s best player so far this year. The 6-foot-3, 277-pound junior is second on the team with 15 tackles, including four for a loss and two sacks.

LONG ODDS: Northwestern State’s chances of pulling a monumental upset on Saturday are not good. The Demons are 0-19 all-time against teams from the SEC. The most recent was a 49-3 setback against LSU in 2011.


AP College Football website: www.collegefootball.ap.org . Follow David Brandt on Twitter: www.twitter.com/davidbrandtAP

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