GAMEDAY: In-depth head-to-head matchup vs. MSU

Abraham Maslow once wrote, ""To the man who only has a hammer in the toolkit, every problem looks like a nail." The toolkit is indeed bare in Starkville. A program that screams for a Habitat for Humanity makeover is surviving on weekly deliveries of used stainless steel nails from abandoned tree houses, old boat docks, and discarded lemonade stands just to keep it together. They are now delivered by pallet.

There is still no word on what awaits the Bulldogs when the NCAA puts the final touches on the numerous violations committed by the previous staff.Former head coach Jackie Sherrill and athletic director Larry Templeton left the Bulldogs football program looking much like parts of hurricane ravaged Florida, a disaster.

Croom inherited a program that posted a combined 8-27 (.228) record over the past three years. Sherrill ran more people (especially assistant coaches) under the bus than Ralph Kramden. Had he spent more time coaching rather than blaming everyone but himself for the Bulldogs problems, he might have left the players and fans with a brighter immediate future. Not a bright one, but a brighter one. Templeton seemingly bought into Sherrill's act. Now, Croom must wear multiple hats. First, assuming the duties of janitor in cleaning Sherrill's mess up, followed by the mass distribution of the MSU sales kit to sell recruits on the positive elements of his program. Croom must do this while wearing a contractor's hard hat to build his own program.

Florida defensive front vs MSU offensive line

LT #77 Richard Burch 6'5 315 Jr.
LG #55 Brian Anderson 6'5 309 So.
C #50 Chris McNeil 6'3 301 Jr.
RG #69 Will Rogers 6'4 329 Sr.
RT #60 David Stewart 6'6 317 Sr,
TE #86 Blake Pettit 6'4 242 So.
TE #88 Eric Butler 6'2 246 RFr.

So, the Bulldogs are going out and "outphysical" the Gators. Surprise. Surprise. In a word, the Mississippi State offensive line should get plenty of work on their ground game this weekend. At least early. State averages 134.5 yards rushing, which is good for 10th in the conference. Not good at all. But, after looking at the LSU film, they might as well try to push Florida around. Passing? The Bulldog offensive line has given up 12 sacks, twice as many as Florida's offensive front despite throwing some 24 fewer passes. Florida's speed might get another MSU quarterback injured. So, run.

Senior right offensive tackle David Stewart had a season high grade of 87% versus UAB. He is their leader and has accumulated 27 starts in his MSU career. Stewart is a solid drive blocker. Fellow senior Will Rogers lines up next to him at right guard. Rogers has moved back and forth from the defensive to offensive lines. He has started 18 games as an offensive lineman. Playing noseguard against the Florida team in the Florida/Georgia All-Star game.

Center Chris McNeil is the smallest member of the group at 6'3 301. The junior was listed as one of the top five centers in the nation coming out of Petal, Mississippi. The left side is manned by sophomore guard Brian Anderson. Some believe that he may be moved to left tackle after next season because he projects as their best pass blocker. Has good potential. Left tackle Richard Burch has made 20 starts at left tackle for the Bulldogs. He doesn't possess great footwork for a left tackle.

Analysis: It would be foolish for the Bulldogs not to play a little ball control and keep Leak and company off of the field. Time of possession may be the only thing to keep the Dogs close in this one. They should try to wear the Gators down with a large offensive line which averages 6'4 ½ and 314. Why not, they obviously aren't up to snuff pass blocking. Florida is getting more production from their D-Line and linebackers.

EDGE: Florida

Florida secondary vs MSU skills positions

QB #14 Omarr Conner 6'0 209 So.
QB #17 Kyle York 6'0 207 Jr.
FB #33 Darnell Jones 5'11 240 Sr.
HB #12 Jerious Norwood 6'0 202 Jr.
SE #83 Tee Milons 5'9 171 Jr.
FL #81 Will Prosser 6'3 205 So.
WR #82 James Husband 6'2 208 RFr.
TE #88 Eric Butler 6'2 246 RFr.

This is simply an awful group. The Bulldogs rank at or near the bottom of every SEC offensive statistical category. Perhaps most telling is the red zone offense or lack thereof. Mississippi State has made it into the red zone (16) roughly half of the opportunities (31) taken by the Gators. Even worse is their 68.8% conversion rate, while most teams seemingly average between 80-82%.

The trigger men for Mississippi State have been quarterbacks Omarr Conner and Kyle York. Conner suffered sprained knee against LSU, but may be available this Saturday. Regardless, I doubt these guys could combine to put up the numbers Eastern Michigan's Matt Bohnet put on the Florida secondary and that appears to be validated by the Bulldogs 107 national ranking in passing offense.

Sophomore Omarr Conner stands 6'0 209 and hails from Macon, Mississippi. He moved over form wide receiver this past spring, and started the first four games for the Bulldogs, including their season opening 28-7 win over Tulane. Conner has completed 50 of 90 for 509 yards, two touchdowns and four interceptions. He has a pass efficiency rating of 101.6.

Spring, Texas native Kyle York has played throughout his career in Starkville. He had shoulder surgery after the 2003 season and did not participate in spring drills, which certainly cost him valuable time in Sylvester Croom's new system. He is choking in a struggling offensive system that lacks the weapons to compete in the Southeastern Conference. The 6'0 207 junior has completed 39 of 79 for 358 yards (.494) and three touchdowns. He has also pitched five interceptions and currently posts a pass efficiency rating of 87.3.

Halfback Jerious Norwood is the Bulldogs leading rusher. The former Brandon, Mississippi Parade All-American has a good blend of speed, power, and is a tough guy to get a good shot at. Senior Fred Reid is a former Tampa King star who is the Bulldogs second leading rusher. The senior has 54 rushes for 168 yards and a touchdown. He also has seven receptions for 43 yards.

Flanker Will Prosser leads the Dogs in receiving with 17 receptions for 259 yards. Split end Tee Milons is the Bulldogs second leading receiver. Milons, the younger brother of former Alabama star Freddie Milons, has hauled in 14 passes for 110 yards. Tight end Eric Butler has caught 10 passes for 126 yards. Butler is used in the red zone where he has hauled in three touchdown passes. Redshirt freshman James Husband has hauled in four passes, two for scores.

Analysis: Two Mississippi State receivers have caught touchdown passes all season. Tight end Eric Butler and redshirt freshman James Husband. Just two. Wow. Alabama had more production from their wideouts during the Bear Bryant era. Also, factor in a quarterback returning after an injury. Florida must look out for the Dogs to throw to Butler or another tight end, if they get in the red zone. Butler's three touchdown receptions tie a school record for touchdowns in a season at the position. The Gators have been coming up with big plays of late. It looks as though Dan Disch is starting to get through to the defensive backfield.

EDGE: Florida

Florida offensive line vs MSU defensive front

E # 98 Deljuan Robinson 6'4 295 So.
NT #93 Ronald Fields 6'2 306 Sr.
DT #94 Andrew Powell 6'2 304 So.
Rush #36 Willie Evans 6'2 267 Jr.
SLB #35 Gabe O'Neal 6'2 200 Fr.
MLB #54 Titus Brown 6'3 223 Fr.
WLB # 2 Quinton Culberson 6'0 216 So.

In an effort to get more speed at their ailing linebacker positions, Croom has replaced all three starters with young guys who can run. While I'm not sure that the timing of this is opportunistic, Croom had to do something to light a fuse under this defense. It is probably a ploy often used by coaches to challenge the three starters in hopes that they'll get on the field and create havoc against the Gators. If not, and it proves to be an early pink slip, it can't hurt as the Bulldogs must begin thinking about next year.

Starting at strongside linebacker will be 6'2 200 true freshman Gabe O'Neal. He has tallied only eight tackles and recovered one fumble this season as a reserve. O'Neal ran a 4.6 forty and was generally regarded among the top players in The Magnolia State. True freshman Titus Brown moves up to the first team to man the middle. Brown, 6'3 223, had accumulated 12 tackles, including one tackle for loss. The Tuscaloosa native also ran a 4.6 forty. The elder statesman among the group will be sophomore Quinton Culberson, who moves up from free safety. The 6'0 216 Jackson native was an All-Freshman SEC selection in 2003. Culberson was the first freshman to start at Mississippi State University since 1986. He lost his starting position last spring as he sat out with an ankle injury, which required surgery. He has 20 tackles playing as a reserve.

The Bulldogs best player on the along the front four is rush end Willie Evans. Standing 6'2 267, the sophomore has racked up 34 tackles, including team highs with six tackles for loss and two sacks. Nose guard Ronald Fields (6'2 306) is a load in the middle. The lone senior along the front seven has 34 tackles and four tackles for loss. Fields had his career best game last weekend against UAB with eight tackles. Sophomore defensive tackle Andrew Powell was a three year starter at Clewiston High School. Powell (6'2 304) has tremendous strength posting a 380 bench press at Clewiston two years ago. He has recorded 20 tackles, including a tackle for loss. Deljuan Robinson (6'4 295) starts at strongside end for the Bulldogs. The sophomore has made incredible strides since enrolling at MSU in 2002. A leaky heart valve required open heart surgery and an immediate redshirt. However, Robinson played in 11 games, starting five in 2003. He recorded six tackles, including two tackles for loss in last years Egg Bowl versus Eli Manning and the Rebs. Robinson has 16 tackles, a pair of tackles for loss, and a sack thus far in 2004.

Analysis: Three young linebackers making their first career start simply adds up to a big day for the Gators, provided they don't spend more time salivating, than producing.

BIG EDGE: Florida

Florida skills positions vs MSU secondary

LC #13 Jamaal Johnson 5'9 175 Jr.
RC #6 Mario Bobo 6'1 170 Fr.
FS #25 Slovakia Griffith 5'11 197 Sr.
SS #22 Darren Williams 6'2 209 Jr.

Cornerbacks Jamaal Johnson and Mario Bobo will have their hands full on Saturday. It will look like previous weekends. Consider, the first three passes thrown and completed by the LSU quarterbacks went for 18, 19, and 16 yards respectively. Last weekend, UAB quarterback Darrell Hackney torched the Bulldogs with a 52 yard touchdown strike on his first pass of the game. Hackney completed 13 of 19 for 150 yards and two touchdowns. The Blazers ripped Mississippi State on short passes throughout the game, and hit big gainers of 18 (touchdown) and 30 yards as well.

Former Wauchula High School star Jamaal Johnson left The Plywood State (Florida) and settled in at Mendocino Community College. He begins his junior year after transferring to MSU. Johnson has 11 tackles and broken up a pair of passes. A year ago, Mario Bobo was starting at South Panola High School in Courtland, Mississippi. He is learning a hard lesson this season as State tries to run the corner while he lines up for his fourth game as the second inexperienced starting corner in the lineup. Bobo has recorded 22 tackles. Neither corner has an interception to their credit.

Free safety Slovakia Griffith leads all current starters for this game in tackle with 37. The senior has six career starts at State. Griffith only has one pass interception in his career. Strong safety Darren Williams is without question their best defensive back. Williams has 24 starts in his career since earning several All-American honors at Clarksdale High School. Williams has 32 tackles and an interception.

Analysis: This is a young defense that will probably be in way over their head against a very talented Florida skills group. The starting Mississippi State defensive backfield has a total of one interception among them. Bear in mind though that Leak has been on again, off-again...last week he was indeed on. Let's hope that he breaks that string and demonstrates game to game consistency.

BIG EDGE: Florida

Florida staff vs MSU staff

The Gators have problems, but none greater than the hell that greets Croom each and every morning.

EDGE: Florida

Intangibles and Environment

Florida has found winning in The Magnolia State extremely difficult….no matter who captains the ship. Florida has a pretty sound record on the road during the Zook era. Mississippi State is a mess. Sadly, Croom and these players are not to blame. Sylvester Croom has been around this game. He can right the ship, but until the NCAA business is under wraps, recruiting will be difficult. This season is lost. Many fans are already looking to the spring, where they hope something positive begins to emerge. And there's always baseball, where the smell of the grills permeate the air. Unfortunately, it would appear the only roasting going these fall days are doggies on Scott Field. Are the fans there?

EDGE: Florida

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