No. 21 Mississippi State going for 4th straight win vs UMass
By DAVID BRANDT
STARKVILLE, Miss. (AP) Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen has a reputation for being rough on defensive coordinators and the Bulldogs have run through several coaches at that spot during Mullen's nine-year tenure.
Apparently, Todd Grantham didn't get the memo.
The veteran defensive coordinator has turned Mississippi State's defense into one of the best in the Southeastern Conference during his first season with the Bulldogs. No. 21 Mississippi State (6-2, CFP No. 16) is going for its fourth straight win on Saturday when it hosts UMass (2-6) at Davis Wade Stadium.
Grantham, 51, says he hasn't had any problems adjusting to life with Mullen and the Bulldogs. He said every situation has been different during his career, but it was obvious early that Mississippi State had the personnel to be successful.
"I don't know if there's really a book written - each time it's a little different," Grantham said. "But the biggest thing is you need the belief of the players."
Mississippi State's defense had arguably its best game in a 35-14 road win over Texas A&M last weekend. The Bulldogs held the Aggies to just 285 total yards and intercepted three passes, including one that was returned 90 yards for a touchdown by Jamal Peters.
"The biggest thing is I liked the way we played to our identity," Grantham said. "Guys were playing fast, moving around, and they really executed. For the most part, we did the things we have to do."
UMass should provide another good challenge for the Bulldogs. The Minutemen are averaging nearly 300 yards per game through the air and are coming off back-to-back wins over Georgia Southern and Appalachian State.
Some other things to watch when UMass travels to face Mississippi State:
100-100 MAN: Mississippi State quarterback Nick Fitzgerald has continued to be one of the best dual-threats in the SEC. The 6-foot-5, 230-pounder has run and thrown for at least 100 yards in the past three games against BYU, Kentucky and Texas A&M.
GRANTHAM'S GANG: Mississippi State's defense is putting up some impressive numbers this season. It's giving up just 281.8 yards per game, which ranks sixth nationally, and 17.4 points per game, which ranks 12th. The Bulldogs have intercepted six passes during their current three-game winning streak.
RUN FIRST, RUN SECOND: Mississippi State is averaging 260 yards rushing per game, which ranks third in the SEC and 13th nationally. The Bulldogs are 6-0 this season when running for more than 200 yards. Mississippi State also hasn't lost a fumble on offense this season.
CLOSE LOSSES: UMass has a 2-6 record this season, but all of its losses have been by 10 points or less. The Minutemen put a scare into Tennessee earlier this season in Knoxville before falling 17-13. UMass has played better over the past few weeks and its 670 total yards in a win over Georgia Southern on Oct. 21 are the most in a game in program history.
BIG PLAY DOWNEY: UMass defensive end Da'Sean Downey leads the team and ranks third nationally with 15+ tackles for a loss through eight games. His five sacks also lead the team.
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Updated November 3, 2017