The Associated Press
Mississippi State has won two straight games and is in relatively good health heading into November.
That momentum is nice for the Bulldogs, because the schedule is about to get very difficult, with No. 14 South Carolina, No. 12 Texas A&M and No. 1 Alabama looming in the next three weeks.
Mississippi State (4-3, 1-2 Southeastern Conference) travels to face the Gamecocks (6-2, 4-2) on Saturday in Columbia, S.C.
"We see this as a great opportunity to continue to show what we've got and to get better against great opponents," Mississippi State cornerback Cedric Jiles said.
That's an optimistic take on a punishing stretch of games, but the Bulldogs do have some reasons for confidence, including a more productive defense, a rapidly improving young quarterback and one of the league's most diverse playmakers.
Mississippi State was torched by LSU on Oct. 5 for 59 points and 563 total yards, but has played much better in recent wins over Bowling Green and Kentucky.
Now the Gamecocks will have to deal with South Carolina's talented offense that includes quarterback Connor Shaw, running back Mike Davis and receiver Bruce Ellington.
Even hobbled with a knee injury, Shaw helped rally South Carolina past Missouri in a 27-24 double overtime win on Saturday. He completed 20 of 29 passes for 201 yards and three touchdowns.
"That's what makes them a championship contender team — they've got a weapon at every position," Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen said. "If you want to go stop one of them, they have four other guys who can beat you."
Mississippi State's quarterback situation is still a little murky, with sophomore Dak Prescott sharing time with senior Tyler Russell.
Mullen says Russell is expected to play following an ankle injury in Thursday's 28-22 victory over Kentucky.
Both quarterbacks have had good moments, but it's the 6-foot-2, 230-pound Prescott who has had the breakout season, with 1,158 passing yards, 490 rushing yards and 13 total touchdowns.
"He's going to keep (improving) because he's going to keep working toward that," Mississippi State receiver Jameon Lewis said. "That's just how he is. He finds his weakness, he's going to go at it and he's going to get better. That's Dak being Dak. I'm glad I'm around him because it makes me go hard."
Lewis has become one of the SEC's most versatile playmakers. He's had a rushing, receiving and passing touchdown in two different games — the first time a player has done that at the FBS level since 2008.
The 5-foot-9, 190-pound junior was a quarterback in high school, even leading his team to a state championship, before transitioning to receiver at Mississippi State.
But he still looks very comfortable throwing the ball. He's thrown two touchdown passes — one for 36 yards and the other for 17 — in his only two attempts this season. Both were caught by quarterback Dak Prescott.
Lewis said it's nice that Mississippi State's coaching staff has confidence not to just practice those plays, but actually call them in a game.
"I'm just happy that the coaches have gained trust in me to call plays like that," Lewis said. "As long as we keep calling those plays, I think good things will happen. That's just me being a competitor."
Despite those trick plays, Mississippi State also leads the SEC with just six turnovers in seven games — a trend that will almost certainly have to continue for the Bulldogs to knock off some of the league's best teams in November.
"If there is a category that you like to lead, it's that one," Mullen said. "It shows you're taking care of the football."