PREVIEWING THE SEC: Mississippi State

The Mississippi State Bulldogs will have plenty to improve upon in 2006, finishing last season with a 3-8 record, and coming in 11th place in the SEC with a 1-7 conference mark. Bulldogs fans may have a reason to be more optimistic this year, as third-year head coach Sylvester Croom's squad will return 19 starters to the field after losing only five at the conclusion of last season.

On the offensive side of the ball, Mississippi State returns eight regular starters, as well as a total 16 players who have started at least once during their career.


Returning as the lead man in the Bulldog offensive scheme is quarter Michael Henig (6-1, 179, So.), who earned the lead quarterback spot midway through the season and earned a signature victory over Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl. Henig finished the season with 621 yards and two touchdowns in eight starts.


The other half of the receiving game may be the most experienced position for the Bulldogs in 2006, as the team will see the return of starters Will Prosser (6-3, 207, Sr.) and Joey Sanders (6-0, 208, Jr.) at wide receiver and Eric Butler (6-3, 250, Jr.) at tight end. Prosser led the team with 286 receiving yards last year, while Sanders complied 137 yards on just seven catches. Butler had a team-leading three touchdown catches on the year.


New to the receiving corps this season will be Omarr Conner (6-1, 218, Sr.), who started at quarterback last year before Henig took over. Conner caught nine passes for 116 yards last season, as is projected to start at one of the wide receiver positions.


At fullback, the Bulldogs will return Bryson Davis (6-2, 263, Sr.), who has started in 14 games during his career and amassed 102 all purpose yards and one touchdown last year, being known primarily as a blocking back who opened the door for now running back Jerious Norwood to become the team's all-time rushing leader.


Brandon Thornton (5-10, 188, So.) will be charged with filling in the hole Norwood leaves behind at half back. As the understudy last year, Thornton amassed 245 yards and one touchdown in 11 appearances.


On the offensive line, Mississippi State returns three of last year's starters, though two of them will be going through positional changes. Brian Anderson (6-6, 307, Sr.), who has started in the last 18 games, will be moving from left tackle to right guard this year, while  Royce Blackledge (6-3, 293, Jr.) will go from right guard to center. The third returning starter, Anthony Strauder (6-3, 306, So.), will remain at left guard where he played all 11 games last season.


Filling in the two remaining spots look to be Calvin Wilson (6-5, 356, So.) at left tackle and Michael Gates (6-4, 302, So.) at right tackle, both of whom saw moderate playing time in 2005. Also playing a potential role for the offensive front will be right tackle Anthony Dunning (6-3, 300, So.), who missed much of last season due to injury.


On the opposite end of the field, the Bulldogs return nine defensive starters from last season, including three on the line, three at linebacker, and three in the secondary.

Defensive tackles Andrew Powell (6-0, 298, Sr.) and Deljuan Robinson (6-4, 296, Sr.), as well as end Michael Heard (6-2, 268, Sr.) all return from last year's front four. The trio of veterans have started in 57 games collectively.


The largest hole left for Mississippi State to fill is that left by departed defensive end Willie Evans, who was third on the team in tackles with 60, and led the SEC with an impressive 15 sacks.


 Evans' likely replacement is Titus Brown (6-3, 240, Jr.), who made the switch from linebacker to end last season and has played in 19 games as a Bulldog.


At linebacker, MSU returns experience in Gabe O'Neal (6-0, 223, Jr.), Quinton Culberson (6-0, 239, Sr.), Jamar Chaney (6-2, 229, So.) and Anthony Littlejohn (6-2, 217, So.). Culberson led the squad with 78 tackles a year ago, while O'Neal recorded 34 tackles of his own in his five starts. Chaney and Littlejohn split time at the third linebacker spot last season, but Chaney looks to hold the job this year, as Littlejohn has moved to the other side to play behind O'Neal.


In the secondary, Mississippi State will bring back Jeramie Johnson (5-11, 216, Sr.) at free safety, Demario Bobo (6-0, 176, Jr.) at strong safety and David Heard (6-0, 190, Sr.) at cornerback in 2006, with Johnson being last season's interception leader with four picks.


Bobo underwent knee surgery during the offense, and opened the spring second on the depth chart behind Keith Fitzhugh (5-10, 213, So.), who managed 13 tackles and one interception during his freshman campaign.


Derek Pegues (5-10, 188, So.) will assume the other cornerback role, contributing 1 interception and two pass break ups to the defensive effort as a backup in 2005.


Place kicker Keith Andrews (6-1, 199, Sr.) will be back in the special teams this season.


During his career, Andrews is 11-18 on field goal attempts, and a perfect 32-32 on extra points. Blake McAdams (5-11, 187, So.) will also be back in the special teams at punter, while Pegues will be called upon as the return man on kickoffs and punts.





All-Time Series: 63-33-3


Stadium: Scott Field at Davis-Wade Stadium (55,082)


First Meeting: 1896, LSU 52, Mississippi State 0


Last Meeting: 2005, LSU 37, Mississippi State 7


Head Coach: Sylvester Croom, 6-16, 2 years and overall


2005 in Review: 3-8, 1-7 SEC


Final '05 Ranking: Not ranked


Off. / Def. Systems: Multiple Pro-Style / 4-3


Returning Starters: 19; 8 offense, 9 defense, kicker, punter


Last Bowl Appearance: 2000 Independence Bowl


Last Conference Championship: 1941





Rushing: Brandon Thornton – 47 rushes, 225 yards, 1 TD


Passing: Omarr Conner – 167-86-5, 903 yards, 8 TD


Receiving: Will Prosser – 28 catches, 286 yards, 0 TD


Tackles: Quinton Culberson – 78 TT (49S, 29A)





Date                 Opponent                     '05 Result


A-31                South Carolina               ---


S-9                  Auburn                         L, 28-0


S-16                Tulane                          W, 21-14


S-23                at Ala.-Birmingham          ---


S-30                at LSU                          L, 37-7


O-7                  West Virginia                 ---


O-14                Jacksonville State           ---


O-21                at Georgia                     L, 23-10


O-28                Kentucky                       L, 13-7


N-4                  at Alabama                    L, 17-0


N-18                Arkansas                       L, 44-10


N-25                at Ole Miss                    W, 35-14





Fans scanning Mississippi State's signing class were surprised by one name, or rather by his listed position. Coach Sylvester Croom inked Aaron Feld of Homewood, Ala… as a deep snapper. That's how much the coach thinks of this task, and of fourth-year starter Russell Cook.


"He's one of the best deep-snappers around and he's a senior," Croom says of Cook, who had to walk his way on the team in 2003. "We saw a young man out there who is as good if not better than Russell, and I'm not waiting to next year to see if there is another one. Aaron can play other positions, we're going to start him out as a linebacker and maybe look at fullback. I've got to see where there is the least likely chance of getting his right hand hurt!"


While snapping is in good hands, other aspects of State's special teams play need serious upgrades. To that end, Croom has threatened to put more offensive and defensive starters on these squads and run the risks of kicking-play injuries.


"We have to get the best people on the field," Croom says. "Because our special teams were not what we expected them to be last year. A lot of that is because we had some mismatches in talent."


That does not include punting, where Blake McAdams averaged 41.9 yards as a true freshman. Croom is so satisfied with the 2006 sophomore he is letting McAdams play baseball next spring, where he should contend for the open shortstop job.


- David Murray,

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