Your Questions About Dogs Answered

From time-to-time publishers of Scout-affiliated sites cooperate when the teams they cover are playing one another. This is one of those examples.



Gene Swindoll is publisher of GenesPage.com, which covers Mississippi State University. He is answering questions from Alabama fans about the Bulldogs. I have done the same, answering questions about the Crimson Tide from Bulldogs fans on his site.

Alabama goes to Mississippi State Saturday for a 6 p.m. CST kickoff. The game will be televised by ESPN. Bama is 9-0 overall, 6-0 in Southeastern Conference play. The Bulldogs are 4-5 overall and 2-3 in SEC play.

1.Although the home record is not great because of a brutal schedule, do most believe Mississippi State is playing better at home?

Answer: No doubt about it. As you said, Mississippi State has faced a very brutal schedule at home this season. They have played three teams currently ranked in the top nine in the nation and a fourth that is ranked 13th. And they lost to those four team by a total of 32 points. I'm sure a lot of so-called experts would have expected Mississippi State to have lost to each of those teams by 2 or 3 touchdowns. But State not only played them very competitively, they could have easily won a couple of those games if they hadn't made a couple of crucial turnovers or penalties. And what is even more amazing about this Mississippi State team is they are doing it despite playing a lot of young players, especially on the defensive side of the ball (3 true freshmen and 2 sophomores are starters).

2. MSU historically is known for having a strong defense, but this year it appears that opponents are putting up more points than the fan-base is probably used to. What's driving the difference?

Answer: The perception among many folks is Mississippi State is usually a strong defensive team, but in the last ten years Mississippi State has been middle to lower of the pack defensively in the SEC. And they are that again this year. But when you look a little deeper you realize this team has actually played fairly well defensively. Ok, 24.6 points a game is not exactly an indication of a strong defense, but State has played four of the top 14 offensive teams in the nation this year (Houston, Florida, Auburn and Georgia Tech). And points-wise they've give up about what each of those teams has averaged this season. Against average offensive teams, MSU has fared much better, giving up just under 16 points per game. And, as I mentioned in my first answer, they are doing it with a lot of young players.

3. Where does MSU think they'll have the most success on offense? Pounding the ball with Dixon, or dink-n-dunk passing attack like Utah did out of the spread in the Sugar Bowl?

Answer: Mississippi State's strength on offense is their running game, not their passing game. Dan Mullen knows that. Nick Saban knows that. And every person who has watched Mississippi State this season knows that. And that is the type offense you will see from Mississippi State this weekend. If it's not successful, then MSU will have to go by way of the pass. But that is definitely not a formula for success for this year's Bulldogs. Each time they have had to pass more than 20 times this season (with the exception of DI-AA Jackson State) has put MSU in the loss column at the end of the game.

4. What's the general attitude on campus and with alumni re: new coach?

Answer: Mississippi State fans are attending games this season in record numbers, despite a losing record. They had their largest crowd in stadium history against Florida and are expecting to surpass that this Saturday. Mississippi State fans are excited about this year's team and even more excited about what lies ahead under Dan Mullen.

5. What do you consider to be the strong / weak points on offense and defense for MSU?

Answer: Without question, the weak point on the offensive side is the lack of a strong passing attack. While starting quarterback Tyson Lee has played ok this season, he doesn't have a great downfield passing attack in his arm. Plus, the most talented wide receivers are freshmen and redshirt freshmen. It's taking time for them to adjust to the SEC. The strong point is a solid offensive line and a great running back.

On defense, the main weakness is inexperience. Five of the starters are either freshmen or sophomores and two are junior college players starting for the first time. But the talent is there. There are probably five or six players on this current defense who will end up All-SEC (and maybe All-American) before their MSU careers end - senior Jamar Chaney, juniors K.J. Wright and Pernell McPhee, and true freshmen Johnthan Banks, Josh Boyd and Fletcher Cox. All should be in the starting lineup against Alabama. The strength of the defense is the talent level of the youth, especially the youngster who are currently starting.

6. Four heart-breaking losses to ranked teams LSU, Georgia Tech, Houston and Florida. "Close" doesn't feed the bulldog, but is there a sense of "Moral Victories" behind any of these game experiences? Is there a sense of optimism coming from that, or the usual negativity that comes with a losing record?

Answer: No coach or player will admit publicly that they have a sense of moral victory by playing those teams close, but there is no doubt by playing them close they have more confidence in themselves. Think about it - they played those teams within a four-week period and played each one of them toe to toe. That can do nothing but give a team confidence.

7. What's the biggest "selling point" Mullen pushes to recruits? Early playing time? What else? How does he differentiate his program from the other in-state SEC school?

Answer: His selling points are many. First, he is considered one of the top young offensive minds in the nation and a great developer of quarterbacks. Second, he is proving this year if you are a player who has talent you are going to play whether you are a senior or a freshman. Third, he will play two-deep if the talent is there. He's pretty much played two-deep everywhere but on the offensive line and the linebacker positions.

As for the Ole Miss comparison, he can simply tell recruits, especially Mississippi recruits, come play with us and you will play with almost all the other top recruits in the state of Mississippi.

8. What did Mullen see at Mississippi State that made him want the job, and what is going to be his biggest challenge in making State a contender in the West?

Answer: You know, I don't really know what he saw. Nothing really stands out about the Mississippi State football program. State has had its moments in the past, especially under Jackie Sherrill, when it won pretty big, but there is no true tradition that a coach can hang his hat on and say that proves you can win on a consistent basis at Mississippi State. I guess he is simply a very confident person who believes he can win. And Mississippi State has given him that opportunity.

As for the biggest challenge, bringing in talent on a consistent basis will be the biggest challenge. If he can do that, then he will have MSU contending for the SEC West.

9. Alabama fans have a fondness for Sylvester Croom and wished him success in all but one week (and he had success in that week a couple of times, too!). Is there a feeling that he was a positive for Mississippi State, or is he remembered as not being able to get the job done?

Answer: Many MSU fans have the belief that his tenure at State was unsuccessful. And if you look at his overall numbers that will easily prove their case. But very, very few fans really know what it was like when Sylvester Croom first got to State. I've talked off the record to numerous players who were here at the time and it was truly a mess. I won't go into detail, but suffice it to say it was really bad. Then you add in the fact that the NCAA was investigating State the first year, then State was put on probation after that. That made it almost impossible to recruit. Factor all that in and it was a very tough first few years for Sylvester Croom and the rest of the coaches and players in the MSU football program. But give Coach Croom credit, once all that was out of the way he started bringing in some very talented players. All you have to do is look at the starters on both sides of the ball and you see that.

10. Is it asking too much that Mississippi State fans keep their cowbells quiet when Alabama's offense is at the line of scrimmage?

Answer: No, it's ok for you to ask that, but I really don't think MSU fans will pay much attention to you. Your best recourse may be to point out to the SEC officials at the game that it is illegal to ring cowbells during an SEC football game. Who knows, they may actually get that call right. (:

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