MSU A Different Dog In 2005

In its second season under Sylvester Croom, Mississippi State looks to be an improved team and may be a tough matchup for Auburn this Saturday.

Auburn, Ala.--Riding a 10-game winning streak against SEC teams dating back to a loss to the Georgia Bulldogs near the end of the 2003 season, the Auburn Tigers return to conference action this weekend when they play Sylvester Croom's Mississippi State Bulldogs on Jefferson Pilot beginning at 11:30 a.m. Saturday.

When the game kicks off the Tigers expect a different team than the one they physically whipped last season in Starkville on the way to an easy 43-14 victory. One year older and wiser in Croom's system on both sides of the ball, the Bulldogs enter the game with a lot of confidence after a convincing win over Murray State to open the year.

Leading the charge for MSU is an offense that could be significantly better since struggling to open the 2004 season. Quarterback Omarr Conner, now in his second year as the starter, is a productive player who can present the same problems to the Auburn defense that Georgia Tech's Reggie Ball did last week. In the opener Conner threw for 233 yards and four touchdowns and also rushed for 21 yards on just three attempts. Keeping him in check will present a challenge to the Auburn defense.

When Conner is not loading up in the pocket, he's busy handing off to one of the best, if not the best, running backs in the Southeastern Conference. Senior Jerious Norwood entered his senior season with more than 2,000 career yards and started with a bang in the opener with 123 yards on just 16 carries. It was his ninth career 100-yard game and fifth time in the last seven games he's topped the century mark.

An explosive runner, Norwood is seventh all-time in rushing yardage for the Bulldogs and needs just 612 more yards this year to top the list.

Omarr Conner is a dual-threat quarterback who could give the Tigers fits.

At wide receiver the Bulldogs count on small but quick playmakers in Montgomery's Keon Humphries and Tee Milons. A speedster, Humphries (5-10, 176, RFr.) led the Bulldogs with five catches for 98 yards and two touchdowns in the opener while Milons added two receptions for 41 yards and a score.

Off the bench big Will Prosser (6-2, 203, Jr.) gives MSU a physical presence. He caught five passes for 52 yards against Murray State. Tight end Eric Butler (6-3, 254, So.) set a school record for touchdown catches in a season by a tight end with four last year. Saturday he caught three passes for 29 yards and another score, which ties the career record for touchdowns by a tight end in MSU history.

Up front the Bulldogs rely on the play of senior center Chris McNeil (6-4, 295) to lead a veteran, but relatively inexperienced, offensive line. On his right side seniors Johnny Wadley (6-3, 329) and Springville, Ala., native Avery House (6-5, 315) are the power for the Bulldogs on the offensive line. The left side of the line has senior Brian Anderson (6-6, 305) protecting the blind side while redshirt freshman Anthony Strauder (6-3, 300) starts at left guard. Last week the group paved the way for 249 rushing yards by the MSU offense.

Defensively, the strength of the Bulldogs is in the front four as end Willie Evans and tackle Deljuan Robinson anchor a physical front four for the MSU defense. A 6-2, 270 senior, Evans had five tackles in the opener including a sack. Last season he finished with 14 and a half tackles for a loss and five and a half sacks, both of which led the team. Robinson (6-4, 289, Jr.), Andrew Powell (6-0, 298, Jr.) and Michael Heard (6-2, 262, Jr.) round out the starting lineup for the Bulldogs. End Titus Brown (6-3, 244, So.) is the best of the reserves and should play a considerable amount against the Tigers.

At linebacker former cornerback Quinton Culberson (6-0, 222, Jr.) leads a speedy group. Saturday he had five tackles and one interception in the win over the Racers. Also starting at linebacker are senior Clarence McDougal (6-0, 221) and redshirt freshman Anthony Littlejohn (6-2, 225). Backups Gabe O'Neal (6-0, 213, So.), Carlton Rice (6-0, 226, So.) and Jamar Chaney (6-2, 230, Fr.) all bring speed and athleticism to the table.

In the secondary the Bulldogs return veteran starting cornerbacks Kevin Dockery (5-9, 187, Sr.) and David Heard (6-0, 195, Jr.). The duo started all but three games for the Bulldogs last season and have shown they're capable of making it tough for opposing offenses to get into a rhythm throwing the ball. Starting safeties Jeramie Johnson (5-11, 209, Jr.) and Demario Bobo (6-0, 180, So.) led the Bulldogs in tackles in the opener with nine and seven stops, respectively, because of their aggressive style of play at the line of scrimmage.

Starting kicker Keith Andrews (6-1, 205, Jr.) is back after a solid sophomore campaign in which he made 6-10 field goals and all 21 extra points. He opened the season a perfect one-for-one on field goals and made all five of his extra point attempts. Punter Blake McAdams had four punts for a 42-yard average against Murray State. Speedsters Jonathan Lowe (5-6, 180, So.) and Derek Pegues (5-10, 189, Fr.) will handle the return duties for MSU.

Kickoff is scheduled for 11:30 Saturday morning and the game can be seen on Jefferson Pilot Sports. Auburn is looking for its fifth straight victory against the Bulldogs.

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