Nobody has to convince Mississippi State’s Joe Moorhead or Kansas State counterpart Chris Klieman that the teams they will be facing Saturday will be well-coached and assignment-sound.
They know each other’s paths to major college football quite well.
Just a few years ago, Moorhead was head coach at Fordham, a program in the Football Championship Subdivision. He also had a long stint at lower-level Georgetown and stops at Akron and UConn before he parlayed a job as the offensive coordinator at Penn State into the Mississippi State gig.
While Moorhead was taking Fordham to three straight FCS playoffs, Klieman was winning four national championships in five years as the head coach at North Dakota State.
In other words, don’t say anything disparaging about the division formerly known as I-AA.
“I don’t want to say ‘took a similar path,'” Moorhead said of Klieman, “but he really did a great job at the FCS level. He has the third-highest winning percentage among all active NCAA head coaches and has won 23 straight games, so that’s pretty impressive.”
Not that what Moorhead has done in Starkville is unimpressive.
He went 8-5 in his first season on the sideline, including a 31-10 rout at Kansas State in then-coach Bill Snyder’s last season with the Wildcats. The Bulldogs wound up reaching the Outback Bowl, and have kept the momentum going with a pair of wins to start this season.
“Kansas State had a great opportunity early on,” Klieman said of last year’s game in Manhattan, “but just wasn’t able to capitalize on some things. It’s a game that we’re watching, but systematically some of the things have changed. So, we aren’t putting all of our emphasis into that.
“We’re looking at more of these first couple games,” Klieman added. “With what they are doing, obviously, they are looking at more our first two games rather than last year as well.”
The Wildcats trounced Nicholls and Bowling Green to start the season, but this will be their first big test of Klieman’s tenure.
The Bulldogs’ Kylin Hill needed just 17 carries to run for 211 yards and two scores against the Wildcats last season. The junior running back has been just as dynamic this season, going for 320 yards and two scores while averaging 7.8 yards per carry.
“He’s a difference-maker,” Klieman said. “He’s a phenomenal tailback and can beat you in so many different ways. We need to do a good job keeping our leverage on him and doing a good job of tackling him.”
GROUND AND POUND
Mississippi State isn’t the only team that can run the ball. The Wildcats have piled up a nation-leading 694 yards rushing through the first two weeks, and they have 10 touchdowns on the ground.
Mississippi State quarterback Tommy Stevens was day-to-day this week after sustaining an upper-body injury against Southern Miss. He was 9 of 10 for 105 yards and two touchdowns before leaving late in the first half. If he’s unable to go, junior Keytaon Thompson could play after spending about two weeks in the transfer portal after losing the competition for the starting job.
SPEAKING OF QBS
The Wildcats’ Skylar Thompson spent a good chunk of last week’s rout of Bowling Green standing on the sideline, his job done after establishing a big early lead. The junior quarterback is 26 of 35 for 363 yards and three touchdowns without an interception through the first two weeks.
“I wouldn’t take back anything from the first two games. I feel like we played great,” he said. “It’s going to come down to our leadership and the guys on our football team sticking together. When times get harder, that’s when you have to come closer together and not pull apart and separate.”
Wide receiver Isaiah Zuber was standing on the Kansas State sideline last season. He’ll be on the Mississippi State sideline Saturday after switching schools as a graduate transfer.
“I am sure some of the guys will talk to him and pick his brain on maybe some specific skills or tendencies or what can you find,” Moorhead said.
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