Which Western Michigan players should Mississippi State football fans worry about?
Evan Ertel: Who are three Broncos that Mississippi State fans should know about going in to Saturday’s game?
Steve Helwick: Offensively, Jalen Buckley is the focal point of the offense. The redshirt freshman running back has taken the MAC by storm this fall with a league-high 557 rushing yards on 5.9 yards per carry. Ranked seventh in rushing in the FBS, Buckley has a pair of 190-yard games under his belt, and he’s an explosive runner who can strike from long distance. His 5’11”, 210 pound frame is useful for shedding tackles at the first and second levels of the defense before breaking free, and he possesses a desirable combo of strength and speed.
Defensively, Keni-H Lovely is an intriguing name to watch in the secondary. The cornerback picked off a team-high four passes in 2022, and he’s already contributed to the turnover effort this fall with an interception, two forced fumbles, and a fumble recovery. While Mississippi State’s passing attempts have plummeted with Zach Arnett at the helm, Lovely still has an opportunity to make his name heard on every play. He’s quite the backfield invader from the cornerback position, producing six tackles for loss in 2022 and two thus far in 2023.
The X-factor in this game is the matchup between Mississippi State’s offensive line and Western Michigan’s pass rush in the trenches. This is the rare position battle where the Broncos could possess an upper hand Saturday, considering Western Michigan has excelled in getting to quarterbacks with 3.0 sacks per game (notably registering four on Iowa) while Mississippi State ranks near the basement by surrendering 2.8 per contest. One problem is, defensive end Marshawn Kneeland suffered an arm injury in the Iowa game. Still, the pass rush produced six sacks last Saturday against Ball State so the Broncos must rely on other talent like outside linebacker Donald Willis (tied for team-high with 3.0 sacks) to spearhead this effort.