TIGER RAG PREVIEW: Miss. State Bulldogs

Today is the seventh installment of a 15-part series in which Tiger Rag previews LSU's opponents and other members of the SEC. Today, we spotlight Mississippi State. Tomorrow, we focus on the Ole Mis Rebels.

Mississippi State head coach Sylvester Croom will have his work cut out for him entering the 2007 season, as he tries to improve on his team's 3-9 season a year ago when the Bulldogs finished in last place in the Southeastern Conference.


Last year, MSU won just one SEC contest, finishing 12th in the conference in rushing offense and 11th in total offense, while the defense had the conference's worst turnover ratio at -0.42.


This season's schedule will be of little help to the Bulldogs, as all six of their road games are against teams who beat them last year, while their home contests include a season opening match-up against LSU, as well as games against powerhouse Tennessee and an Alabama team that will see new life under head coach Nick Saban.


The good news for Croom, who is 9-25 in his three seasons at MSU, is the return of offensive experience, as the Bulldogs will welcome back nine players to the attacking side of the ball in 2007.

The defensive unit will have a tougher time putting experience on the field after losing six starters from last season.


On the offensive end, Mississippi State will bring back starters at four of the five offensive line positions, including guards Anthony Strauder and J.D. Hamilton, center Royce Blackledge, and right tackle Craig Jenkins.


Filling the gap at left tackle will likely be junior Mike Brown, who started in five games to close out last season after missing the first half of the year due to ineligibility.


In the backfield, last year's leading rusher returns in sophomore half back Anthony Dixon, who carried the ball 169 times for 668 yards and nine touchdowns as a freshman.


Dixon will be backed up by fellow sophomore Arnil Stallworth. Last season, Stallworth started in three games and ran for 137 yards and one score.


The fullback position will see a new starter this season, with the apparent front-runner being junior Brandon Hart, who had played in 21 games during his career; serving primarily as a blocking back.


The Bulldogs' offensive leader at quarterback is still questionable following last season, when the first and second string signal callers went down with injuries. Junior Michael Henig, who was the lead quarterback to start the year before breaking his collar bone, will be back in the maroon and white this fall, but his security as the starter is still up in the air.


In the seven games he played in last season, Henig threw 1,201 yard and seven touchdowns, including a 384-yard performance against Kentucky. He also allowed nine interceptions on the year.


Also in the running for the job is junior college transfer Josh Riddell. In his career at Foothill Community College, Riddell threw for 54 touchdowns and over 5,000 yards to earn JUCO all-American honors.


The Bulldog receiving corps will be headed by senior Tony Burks in 2007 after his team-leading five touchdown, 850-yard season last year.


Also looking to contribute in the receiving game are sophomore Brandon McCrae, junior Jamayel Smith and junior Aubrey Bell. Smith was third on the team with 335 receiving yards a year ago.


Tight ends Dezmond Sherrod and Eric Butler will both be back to help in the air attack as well, both of whom played a role in the MSU offense in 2006.


On the defensive side of the ball, the Bulldogs will have to replace three of four starting linemen from last you, with end Titus Brown being the only returnee to the trenches. Brown led team with 14.5 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks last season.


Joining Brown on the defensive front this season will be senior Avery Hannibal at the other end, while juniors Cortez McCraney and Jessie Bowman, a JUCO transfer, and sophomores Kyle Love and Quinton Wesley will compete for time at the tackles.


Hannibal saw action in 11 games last season and tallied eight tackles, but the remainder of the line will be inexperienced, with Bowman's work in junior college to only real time any has seen apart from special teams.


The Bulldogs will welcome back more experience at linebacker, returning senior Gabe O'Neal and junior Jamar Chaney from last year's crew. Chaney was MSU's third-leading tackler with 66 last year, while O'Neal pitched in with 40 tackles of his own.


Sophomore Jamon Hughes will help complete the linebacker trio, after managing 17 tackles and one pass deflection as a back up his freshman year.


Half of last year's Bulldog secondary will be back in action in 2007, as MSU welcomes the return of strong safety Keith Fitzhugh and free safety Derek Pegues, though the spring may have indicated that Fitzhugh's job is not a lock.


Pegues recorded four interceptions to lead the team last year, while Fitzhugh managed one interception and 59 tackles.


New starters in the defensive backfield will likely be sophomores Marcus Washington and Anthony Johnson, both of whom saw time in all 12 games as freshmen.


Junior De'Mon Glanton may end up starting over Fitzhugh at strong safety after coming out of spring practice at the top of the depth chart.


Glanton had 24 tackles and two interceptions in 2006.


On special teams, kicker Adam Carlson and punter Blake McAdams, both juniors, will retain their starting roles for the third season.


A year ago, Carlson connected on six of his 12 field goal attempts, and was a perfect 27-27 on extra points, while McAdams handled all 68 punts for the Bulldogs and averaged 38.2 yards per kick.


Derek Pegues is slated to handle both kickoff and punt return responsibilities once again this year, after accumulating a 14 yard return average and one touchdown on punts and 23.7 yard average on kick returns last season.


- Matt Dearman






All-Time Series: LSU leads 64-33-3

First Meeting: 1896, LSU 52, Mississippi State 0

Last Meeting: 2006, LSU 48, Mississippi State 17


Location: Starkville, Miss.

Stadium: Scott Field (55,082)

Head Coach: Sylvester Croom, 9-25, 3 years and overall



2006 Record: 3-8, 1-7 SEC (6th West)

Final '06 Ranking: Not ranked

Returning Starters: 16; 9 offense, 5 defense, kicker, punter

Last Bowl Appearance: 2000 Independence Bowl

Last Conference Championship: 1941



Total Offense: 286.8 ypg (11/103)

Rushing Offense: 95.2 ypg (12/104)

Passing Offense: 191.7 ypg (8/69)

Scoring Offense: 18.4 ppg (11/97)

Total Defense: 321.3 ypg (7/41)

Rushing Defense: 115.4 ypg (5/36)

Pass Defense: 205.9 ypg (11/67)

Scoring Defense: 25.8 (11/83)



Rushing: Anthony Dixon – 169-668, 9 TD, 55.7 ypg

Passing: Michael Henig – 169-74, 1201, 7 TD, 9 Int., 171.6 ypg

Receiving: Tony Burks – 35-850, 5 TD, 70.8 ypg

Tackles: Jamar Chaney – 66

Interceptions: Derek Pegues – 4

Sacks: Titus Brown – 7.5

Tackles for Loss: Titus Brown – 14.5



Date                 Opponent                                 '06 Result

A-30                LSU                                  L, 48-17

S-8                  at Tulane                          L, 29-32

S-15                at Auburn                          L, 0-34

S-22                JACKSONVILLE STATE          W, 35-3

S-29                at South Carolina                L, 0-15

O-6                  UAB                                 W, 16-10 (ot)

O-13                TENNESSEE                       ---

O-20                at West Virginia                  L, 14-42

O-27                at Kentucky                       L, 31-34

N-10                ALABAMA                           W, 24-16

N-17                at Arkansas                        L, 14-28

N-23                OLE MISS                           L, 17-20



Offense at a glance:


The 2006 Bulldogs were better than a 3-9 record. The season turned, twice, on identical injuries to quarterback Mike Henig in the first and 11th games. Healthy, Henig moved the pro-style offense even without proven backs and mature blockers. Now the fourth-year junior has both to work with and some big-play receivers.


Henig also had backup competition with January transfer Josh Riddell fitting into State's system quickly.


Anthony Dixon earned the halfback job as a rookie and expands his resume this season with some fullback duty so newcomers Marcus Green or Robert Elliot get a chance to run.


The catching corps looked even better as transfer Brandon McRae jumped to first-team at weak-side wideout, and Jamayel Smith moved to strong-side.


Which means something, since second-team guys Tony Burks and Aubrey Bell are proven playmakers.

Tackle Mike Brown and center Royce Blackledge are keys to Croom's best offensive line. Or they will be if a right tackle/guard rotation works itself out in August.



Defense at a glance:


Last fall State had three quality senior defensive tackles. Now JC transfer Jessie Bowman and sophomore Kyle Love are the future, but Croom wasn't satisfied in the spring and shifted ends Cortez McCraney and Charles Burns inside.


Now so is depth at end. Fortunately the starters are first-class and Titus Brown is an all-star candidate.


Junior Jamar Chaney directs the defense at middle linebacker with gifted sophomore Jamon Hughes set at weak-side. The secondary should be the most-improved defensive aspect. At cornerback Derek Pegues picked four balls and scored twice; now as a free safety he can make even more plays. Pegues and SS Keith Fitzhugh also upgrade the run-support, with a healthy Demario Bobo as nickel safety. If Anthony Johnson and Marcus Washington hold down the corners, replacing six of the team's top-10 tacklers from a year ago will be less frightening.


- David Murray, Dawgs Bite Magazine

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