Q&A with Gene's Page

Publisher Gene Swindoll from the Mississippi State site with Scout.com answered questions from HawgsIllustrated.com subscribers pertaining to this week's Arkansas game with the Bulldogs.

Question: With us presumably stacking against the run, does MSU have the weapons to consistently burn us with the pass ?

Answer: Mississippi State's strength on offense is the running game thanks to senior RB Anthony Dixon, one of the top 2 or 3 running backs in the SEC. When MSU has had to pass this year, those games have almost always resulted in a loss. State has some weapons other than Dixon such as a talented but young group of wide receivers and a very talented sophomore TE, Marcus Green, but the talent level at QB, at least the ones that the MSU coaching staff is playing, is just not quite at the level needed to produce a great passing attack.

Question: With Arkansas, of late, demonstrating the ability to run the short and intermediate passing game are they more concerned about stopping the homerun or the running game? Answer: I don't think the answer is either of those. I think the MSU coaches are most concerned about the passing of Ryan Mallet, short, long and intermediate. Unless he simply has an off-night, I don't know if there is a way to stop him. Maybe State's defensive coaches can figure out a way to slow him down or cause Arkansas to run the ball a little more than is normal for them.

Question: What are State's biggest strengths and weaknesses on both offense and defense? I know Anthony Dixon is the man on offense but is it all him or is the o-line fierce?

Answer: State's biggest strength on offense is the running of Anthony Dixon and a veteran offensive line, all but one who is starting on the offensive line for the second straight year. They also have a talented TE, Marcus Green, and a bunch of young and talented WRs. Their weakness on offense is the lack of a solid passing attack. That's partly due to the youth at the skill positions on offense and the lack of a great passing QB.
The most talented QB on the team is true freshman Tyler Russell, a Parade All-American his senior season of high school. All reports are he's doing great in practice now but the State coaching staff is not going to burn his redshirt for two games.
As for defense, Mississippi State is playing a lot of young guys (freshmen and sophomores) as well as juco transfers on that side of the ball. That is both MSU's strength and weakness on defense. Several of those players have a chance to be All-SEC before leaving State, so the talent level is there. But they are young and/or inexperienced and there is a price to pay when starting those type players in large numbers in a conference such as the SEC. They are having to learn on the go against some of the best teams in the nation.

Question: Will the tradition surrounding the Egg Bowl be enough to make the MSU-OM game competitive next week?

Answer: Head coach Dan Mullen has keyed on the Ole Miss game since day-one. That will make it competitive. Plus, other than the Auburn and Alabama games, Mississippi State has been competitive against everybody they have played. And they have played one of the toughest, possibly the toughest, schedules in the nation.

Question: From the perspective of someone who is well informed about MSU's strengths and weaknesses . . . what do you think is MSU's biggest concern/fear about Arkansas, and where do you think the Bulldogs have reason to be optimistic that they can hurt the Hogs (on either offense or defense)?

Answer: Without question, the passing of Ryan Mallet is MSU's biggest fear. State is probably weaker against the pass than against the run. A few teams have ran up some big numbers on the ground against the Bulldog defense but that's been great running teams such as Alabama, Florida and Auburn. Average running teams such as LSU, Vanderbilt haven't had much success running the ball against MSU. I would put Arkansas in the average running category based on their stats. But Arkansas is a great passing team and MSU, when facing a pass-happy team, hasn't had a lot of luck.
Another fear is Arkansas' great turnover ratio. MSU is one of the worst teams in the SEC when it comes to turnovers. If those two trends continue in this game, then that could spell major trouble for the Bulldogs. Where MSU can possibly hurt Arkansas is the return game. MSU has a couple of players who have looked good returning kicks and punts, true freshman Chad Bumphis and juco transfer Leon Berry. And maybe, just maybe, Arkansas' poor passing defense can be taken advantage by the young, talented wide receivers and TE I mentioned earlier.

Question: UA offensive coordinator Paul Petrino said that teams have mostly attacked MSU by just running the ball. Is that due to MSU struggles to stop the run or have teams struggled to throw the ball against them due to good pass defense/pressuring the QB?

Answer: At times, MSU has struggled against the run and other times they have struggled against the pass. But like I wrote earlier, State is playing quite a few young players and juco transfers. Add in the fact that MSU not only has played some of the best teams in the nation, but some of the best offensive teams in the nation (Auburn, Alabama, Florida, Georgia Tech, Houston) and the offensive numbers will pile up on a team no matter how good that team is.

Question: How has Houston Nutt impacted MSU's recruiting instate? Is it easy to recruit against Ole Miss? Who is the best recruiter on the MSU staff?

Answer: He's had almost no impact in-state. He only signed one good in-state player last year and is only leading for two good ones this year, both of whom have ties to Ole Miss. And Mississippi State, over the course of the past three or four years, has dominated the state recruiting-wise. If you want the facts I use to back up that statement all you have to do is go look at the last few recruiting classes of the two schools in the Scout.com recruiting database and you'll see that MSU has won the in-state in dramatic fashion. And with the emphasis that Dan Mullen and his staff are putting on in-state recruiting I don't see that changing much over the course of the next few years other than with the players who have Ole Miss ties.
As for being easy or hard to recruit against Ole Miss, it's never easy to recruit players but State has had great success against Ole Miss when it comes to in-state players.
I don't know much about the recruiting prowess of most of this current staff but I do know that the recruiting coordinator, Tony Hughes, has a great reputation as a recruiter.

Question: Would State fans rather win the West in bball this year or win the Egg Bowl?

Answer: On the surface, I would say winning any kind of championship is much more important to State fans than winning a regular season game of any kind. But if Mississippi State defeats Arkansas this week and will become bowl-eligible with a win over Ole Miss, then all of a sudden that becomes a very difficult question. It would probably be a toss-up, with the West championship winning out. If MSU loses to Arkansas, then the West championship is, hands-down, more important to MSU fans.

Question: What do you think of the job Houston Nutt is doing at their in-state rival? What are their long-term expectations under Mullen?

Answer: I think he is doing a solid job with former coach Ed Orgeron's players. The real question is how will he do with his own recruits? If he had a reputation as a great recruiter, then I could see him continuing to win 7 to 8 games with a nine-win thrown in there every few years. But he's known as an average recruiter, and that was in a state that had no in-state competition for its players. So, my guess is the best Ole Miss fans can expect is what they are seeing his first two years there.
As for Dan Mullen, he has made Mississippi State's football team competitive with the big boys in the SEC his first year and he's done it with many young players on defense and a 5-9 walk-on at quarterback. If he can continue the recruiting trend that former MSU head coach Sylvester Croom started with the last two recruiting classes, then Mississippi State should continue to improve year by year. As for long-term, it's always a tough job to win big at Mississippi State but former head coach Jackie Sherrill proved it's possible. And Dan Mullen has that Jackie Sherrill swagger and confidence, so maybe State could be in for some really good years soon.

Question: What is the status of MSU injuries this year ( players lost for the year) and are they healthy now?

Answer: State is very healthy for this time of the year. They have two key injuries. They lost their starting kicker, Sean Brauchle, early in the season to an injury and his status is still up in the air. Walk-on kicker Derek DePasquale has done a very good job while Sean has been out. Redshirt freshman offensive guard Tobias Smith, who began the fall preseason as the starter, was injured prior to the season and has played very little this year. Mullen has said he wants to play him a few snaps in the last two regular season games to help him prepare for next season. Smith was replaced by senior Craig Jenkins, a player who had started 30 games prior to this season. Due to that, the drop-off hasn't been that much for the offensive line.

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