*This is Senior Day at Scott Field, with 25 Bulldog upperclassmen to be introduced in pregame ceremonies. Also to be recognized is the late Nick Bell, who passed in November 2010 and would have been part of this class. His name is emblazoned in the north end zone for this game.
*Mississippi State has won four of the last five Senior Day/Night games, the loss coming in 2010 to Arkansas in overtime.
*These seniors who have played 2009-12 have 28 victories, all under Dan Mullen, with three games left to play counting post-season. The modern MSU record is 33 wins by the 1997-2000 class.
*After three losses the Bulldogs are unranked for the first time since September 17. They reached as high as #13 (AP) after seven straight victories, the highest ranking of Mullen’s tenure to-date. Arkansas was ranked as high as #8 (AP) going into the season but have not been ranked since September 10.
*State’s last loss to an unranked opponent was at Georgia in October 2011. In fact that is the only loss to a non-ranked team in three seasons now.
*With 28 victories in his four seasons, Mullen can match W.D. Chadwick (1909-13) for the fourth-most wins among State coaches.
*Already guaranteed a bowl game, the Bulldogs are playing for the best holiday address available. With two wins most project State to play in either the Chick-fil-A Bowl (December 31) against a ACC opponent, or the Gator Bowl (January 1) against a Big Ten foe. Both bowls have been tracking State since October, along with the Liberty Bowl.
*Mississippi State last beat Arkansas in 2008, on Senior Day at Scott Field. Only one current Bulldog, WR Arceto Clark, played in that victory.
The Opponent: Ohhhh, how rosy—or cardinal in their case—the future was just a year ago at this time. It wasn’t merely Razorbacks themselves awaiting a brilliant 2012 either, anyone watching them in November ‘11 saw a serious national contender taking shape. Then it all went (sorry) into the ditch. Though the degree of Arkansas drop-off is still almost inexplicable because the playing personnel are still playing, often exceedingly well. Maybe it shows what a near-cybernetic play caller means in the modern game. Or maybe it reflects the modern athlete’s mindset, that once the great goals are gone so is some of their edge. Regardless, this weekend will be a good measure how badly these ‘Backs want to go to a low-level bowl after some pretty special seasons.
Offense: They can still score. Don’t dare downplay this fact, Arkansas can put the points on anyone and strike from any spot. In his two years Tyler Wilson will have put a deep dent in program passing records, having already re-written marks for career completions and percentage and 25 others. He’s notching 311 yards each week in the air including 510 in one afternoon against Texas A&M. In wet weather. In a loss. Nor does Wilson get taken down often with just 15 sacks surrendered so far, though he will get picked off at times. It’s not hard to ID the top target here as senior Cobi Hamilton has caught 73 of the 217 completed passes for a 15.7-yard average and four scores. MeKale McKay and Brandon Mitchell are quality wideouts as well netting 15 and 17 yards per reception. But when Wilson looks off Hamilton he quickly finds tight end Chris Gragg (22 balls, 3 TDs) or running back Dennis Johnson (17, 1). Johnson doesn’t get the same attention as other top SEC runners but his 5.5-yard average and eight touchdowns deserve it, with Knile Davis perhaps the best ‘backup’ in the league. The offensive line has a pair of 36-game starters in C Travis Swanson and G Alvin Bailey, both Outland nominees. The curious aspect though is lack of SEC game red-zone scoring with 11 touchdowns in 25 chances, worse even than Mississippi State’s rate. And turnovers remain an issue with 15 lost balls in six league games.
Defense: To be sure the departed coach was not one to focus on defense. Nor did Arkansas need to very often with that offensive output. But it’s all caught up this season. Not, surprisingly, on the ground where the Razorbacks are more than respectable giving away 122 SEC rushing yards and just 3.4 per carry. One clue: it’s not easy moving aside tackles toting 318 and 312 pounds apiece. While this pair entirely clogs up the interior two aggressive ends can charge, and do because Trey Flowers and Chris Smith have 11 sacks between them. Arkansas doesn’t mind rolling linemen in and out either so the pressure stays steady. It looked as if injuries to starting linebackers Alonzo Highsmith and Tenarius Wright would wreck the unit, but a couple of freshmen have raced to the rescue. A.J. Turner has scored 28 tackles in his four starts at OLB, and classmate Otha Peters has taken over at mike. Though listed in their secondary, Ross Rasner is a linebacker in all but title and leads in tackles with 74. He also has half his team’s six interceptions. There’s a lot of newness to the rest of the backfield and it’s shown in giving up 276 passing yards per SEC game with over nine yards-per completed pass.
Specialists: As if RB Johnson wasn’t already busy with his main job, the senior has more kickoff return yards than anyone in SEC history. At least others handle the punts, either Nate Holmes or Keante Minor with consistent seven-yard averages. PK Zach Hocker is 11-of-16 on field goals with a long make of 46 this season, and already owns the school record for kicker points. He’s notched 37 touchbacks on kickoffs and obviously gets lots of practice. A 58-yard week against Tulsa pushed P Dylan Breeding’s average up to almost 46 on this senior season.
Bulldog Notebook: Mississippi State punt coverage continues to be the NCAA’s best, with 0 yards allowed on ten attempts. Kansas State is second with two yards allowed.
*P Baker Swedenburg has punted 42 times with just ten of these returned and 22 kicks fair-caught.
*After leading the NCAA in turnover ratio for weeks in October and early November, Mississippi State has slipped to 8th nationally. But they are in a four-way tie for that slot…and the other three are also SEC teams; Alabama, Florida, and LSU.
*The Bulldogs have not intercepted a pass in three games now, but remain 25th nationally with a dozen picks.
*Senior cornerbacks Johnthan Banks and Darius Slay (and 15 other players around the country) are tied for 15th nationally with four interceptions this season.
*The Dog defense comes in only 88th in NCAA sacks this year. But the offense has allowed just nine in as many games, 14th-best in the country this week.
*A week ago LB Benardrick McKinney had a one-tackle lead on LB Cameron Lawrence to pace the defense. Lawrence had a huge weekend in Baton Rouge though and now is setting the pace with 87 tackles to McKinney’s 79.
*Still McKinney is first among SEC freshmen in tackles, and third nationally.
*The Bulldog offense is averaging 13 plays a game gaining ten or more yards against Division I opponents. The high is 20 against Tennessee.
*During their seven-win streak the Bulldog offense was 54% rushes (scrambles and sacks included) and 46% passes. In the three losses, the breakdown is 72 rushes and 105 throws, or 60% passing.
*In SEC games, only 30% of State’s yardage has come on rushes; in non-conference games it was 48% rushing.
*Not a surprise really, because the offense increasingly relies on QB Tyler Russell’s strong right arm. He is coming off a career-high 295 yard night at LSU, with another career-best at 26 completions.
*In seven wins Russell is 122-of-203 passing, or 60%, with one interception and 15 touchdowns. In the three losses Russell was 60-of-98, or 61%, but with three picks and two touchdowns.
*Russell has six 200-yard passing games this season, tying him for the program season record.
*More notable though is his touchdown passes record as Russell threw #17 of the season last week. That erased the mark set in 1995.
*And with any sort of typical day, he will claim two more season marks. He is 173 yards away from the 1978 record by Dave Marler (2,422); and just four completions behind Kevin Fant’s 2003 standard of 186.
*He currently owns the most-accurate season by a Bulldog quarterback at 60.5%. Interestingly he’s just ahead of two former teammates in second (Chris Relf) and third (Tyson Lee) places.
*And a season mark few thought would ever fall here, Jackie Parker’s record 24 touchdowns-responsible-for of 1952 (!) is within reach. Russell has 19 this year and three more games to play.
*In SEC games, Russell’s completed passes average 11.6 yards; while the non-SEC rate is 14.1 yards.
*In 28 career games, 14 of them starts, Russell has thrown 30 touchdowns.
*The prime beneficiary of Russell’s throwing is WR Chad Bumphis. The senior is coming off a SEC-career night with nine catches and 140 yards at LSU, and one touchdown. He has 13 grabs and 190 yards in the last two weeks.
*Bumphis has three 100-yard receiving games this season, as many as he posted in the previous three years.
*Bumphis has caught eight touchdowns this year, tying for the second-best season by a Bulldog receiver. He’s one back of Justin Jenkins’ 2003 season record. And his 676 yards are most by a State receiver in Mullen’s tenure.
*The senior already owns one career record too, with 20 touchdown catches…and counting. Of those six have been in SEC play, including in the last two weeks.
*His 144 receptions are third-most in program annals, and he is also third in yardage at 2,024.
*Bumphis has caught at least one ball in 46 of 47 college games, missing out only in 2010 against UAB. He has a 27-yard receiving streak going.
*RB LaDarius Perkins had his season put on-hold last week with a muscle strain that sidelined him at LSU. The junior already was taking punishment from better defenses, with 38 and 42 rushing yards in the previous two games.
*Coincidence or not, Perkins had a touchdown in every Bulldog win and eight total; and none in the three losses.
*With 804 yards though a healthy Perkins has his shot at reaching the 1,000 mark. Only eleven times has a Bulldog broke four-digits in rushing for a season.
*Perkins has not caught a touchdown pass so far this season, after scoring on five throws the first two years.
*While Russell re-writes the record book, his backup is making an impression too. QB Dak Prescott has rushed for three touchdowns, out of 23 carries this season; and thrown for three more on 20 completions.
*WR Chris Smith had a seven-catch night at LSU, matching his career high.
*The senior has caught two or more passes in 27 of 35 games the last three seasons.
*His 12.1-yard average each catch is a career best.
*WR Arceto Clark had a slow start to the season with five catches the first four games. Since then the senior has been on a tear with 22 balls in six games. And in the last three games Clark has averaged 11.6 yards each reception.
*Yet Clark is still looking for the first touchdown of his senior season.
*One reason might be the rising presence of sophomore WR Robert Johnson with seven catches the last three games.
*TE Marcus Green isn’t catching as many balls as in mid-season, but he makes his chances count. His one reception at LSU was good for a touchdown.
*Green’s sixth scoring catch ties him for the NCAA lead among true tight ends. Five of those touchdowns have been in SEC games. And Green is good for 11.1 yards per catch.
*Bulldog tight ends average 11.9 yards each reception.
*Junior OG Gabe Jackson will make his 37th consecutive start this week.
*Senior DT Josh Boyd has blocked two field goals in his career, one against Texas A&M this season.
*It’s been three games since CB Johnthan Banks tied the MSU career record with his 16th interception. So the senior is due to get his hands on a ball soon and set the standard.
*Banks has three two-interception games in his career, one this season (Auburn).
*Banks just surpassed the 200-tackles standard, with 209 through his 48 games.
*Banks and SS/CB Corey Broomfield do remain tied with three career touchdown returns, one ahead of CB Darius Slay.
*Broomfield is tied for 7th himself in the career-picks list, with ten.
*Slay has gone seven games without an interception, after notching four in the first three contests. Slay has five career picks, two returned for touchdowns (Georgia 2011, Jackson State 2012).
*Slay has averaged 31.6 yards returns on his picks.
*FS Nickoe Whitley has eight career interceptions of his own. Thus the current starting State secondary quartet has 39 picks between them.
*LB Cam Lawrence now has 258 career tackles in 46 games. And the senior has had double-digit stops in four of the last five games. He matched his season-best with 13 against A&M, then broke it with 15 tackles at LSU.
*Lawrence has averaged 10.5 tackles in SEC games this season.
*PK Devon Bell snapped his slump by hitting a season-long 47-yard field goal at LSU, into the wind no less. He is now 10-of-16 on the freshman season.
*Five Bulldogs have played in all 48 games under Mullen: Banks, Boyd, Broomfield, FB Sylvester Hemphill, and WR Brandon Heavens. None have started every game. Banks has the most Mullen-era starts with 42.
*Five true freshmen have played: PK Bell, DT Nick James, DT Quay Evans, DE Ryan Brown, and CB Cedric Jiles (injured). Only three true freshmen played in both 2010 and ’11.