*The 2007 season was also the last time MSU won a SEC road opener; at Auburn in the third game of the season.
*Mississippi State tries to snap a losing streak in Tiger Stadium that is almost two decades long. The last Bulldog team to win in Baton Rouge was in 1991, when even current State players were not yet born.
*Only one Louisiana native is on this year's Bulldog roster. Freshman offensive lineman Dillon Day hails from West Monroe. There are just three Tigers from Mississippi home towns.
*LSU has lost just once in their last 25 evening home games.
The Opponent: So. What to make of the 2010 Tiger team? The usual quota of top-notch athletes is present, and there are standouts on both sides of the ball—kicking game, too—to rank with the best, if not quite with the SEC's best. And yet there's an open sense of uncertainty about this club keeping the natives more antsy than usual. The first two victories have not settled concerns, on the offensive side anyway; and a late-game quarterback change at Vanderbilt may have only served to stir that particular pot more. Naturally, this being LSU the faithful have been second-guessing Les Miles since arrival in, wow, was it as far back as 2005? But let there be another serious stumble of the sort we saw last fall and the clock could really start ticking on this tenure.
Offense: For all his physical attributes the best thing Jordan Jefferson could have going for him would be asbestos ears. Even his positive points get questioned, such as being the second-winningest active SEC quarterback…which locals will remind means just 11 victories in three years. When classmate and backup Jarrett Lee took care of the fourth quarter at Vanderbilt, with points resulting, fires were fueled. After completing 62% with 17 touchdowns last year Jefferson is off to a slightly slower start at 56% and two TDs against two picks. But he's big, athletic, and not nervous about running for hard yards himself. Speaking of which, LSU graduated over half their rushing touchdowns yet this unit seems just as stout on the ground based on early results. The Tigers ran for 321 yards at Vanderbilt, most in three years. Having waited for his turn junior Stevan Ridley is ready to roll. He had his first 100-yard outing last weekend (159 total) and suddenly is #3 in SEC rushing. The running back rotation is still a work in progress but it helps having a receiver who can haul the ball. After dabbling with defense as a freshman Russell Shepherd's shift to offense-only is paying off. He had both a rushing (50 yards) and receiving touchdown against North Carolina. The matchup of most defensive concern though is, again, all that speed LSU can utilize to stretch coverage…to the breaking point. Rueben Randle and Terrence Toliver both have six grabs, with 101 and 47 yards respectively. And yes, of course there is a Tiger tight end to worry about; in this case either Mitch Joseph or Chase Clement, each 260-pounders and 6-5 tall targets coming off the line. After 26 starts at right tackle, All-SEC senior Joseph Barksdale was moved to the left end to take care of Jefferson's back-side. Handily, as LSU has allowed just two sacks so far. In fact the left side is loaded with experience in LT Josh Dworaczyk (15 starts); and if the right side is young it is surely sizable at around 325 pounds each. They are missing RT Will Blackwell though, out for six weeks with ankle issues. With all these tools, this offense has somehow sputtered for whole quarters at a time. But then all it takes is one breakdown on defense for a Tiger playmaker to pounce. Fast.
Defense: Besides, they do have a sizable security blanket on the other side of the ball. It comes in the form of yet another LSU defense that gives ground grudgingly, if at all. Just look at this week's SEC stat sheet: first in rushing defense allowing a whole 1.4 yards per carry. Heck, take away just one broken play when a Commodore got loose for 51 yards and this defense could well be putting up negative-net numbers. Oh, and they have not yielded a first-quarter touchdown since last year's MSU game. So, who is the next Tiger defensive lineman bound for the NFL? Well, both are seniors and RT Drake Nevis celebrated his second start (ya gotta wait yer turn in this unit) winning SEC d-lineman of the week with 2.5 sacks at Nashville. It helps having blockers tied-up with LT Lazarius Levingston, too. That seems to free RE Sam Montgomery (2.0 sacks) to chase passers freely. A year ago MLB Kelvin Sheppard tallied 110 tackles to top the team, and he's back on that pace as a senior with 19 stops through two games. His cohorts are a bit younger but soph WLB Ryan Baker has stepped in job smoothly enough with a sack and six stops in his first SEC start. What makes this squad so much more efficient on the ground is the support provided by SS Brandon Taylor and cornerbacks as quick to come up against the rush as drop into coverage. That's why LSU currently leads the land in sacks with ten, the most baggings in a two-game span since 1998 for a program that feasts on quarterbacks. It would be tempting to read too much into LSU's 11th-place SEC ranking this week in passing defense. But what would one expect a team to try given the difficulty of advancing via the ground game? This defense has yet to pick off a 2010 pass and you just know they will be hawking the ball in week three. Especially RCB Patrick Peterson, a superb cover man and maybe even better run-stuffer. And heck, his backup Tryann Mathieu is second on the squad this week in tackles anyway. LSU currently paces the league in third-down defense so State needs to stay out of such conversion situations. And worse news for the future: this is a young unit with ten freshmen playing regularly.
Specialists: For all his defensive prowess, Peterson's true forte is returning kicks. He burned the Tarheels with a 87-yard punt run for touchdown, and nets 30 yards on kickoffs. It's not really helpful kicking away from him either as Ron Brooks gets 32 yards! Josh Jasper has done the placekicking since Huey Long was governor, 17-of-20 on field goals last year and 2-of-3 so far as a senior. Classmate Derek Helton is netting 37.5 yards punting so far, so Jasper has taken turns too and averaged almost 42 yards on three tries.
The Series: This is Mississippi State's second-oldest active series, and one of the more frustrating. LSU holds a 67-33-3 lead since 1896, and owns a ten-year winning streak. That matches their ten-game run from 1964-73 for longest streak in the rivalry. LSU is 45-18-1 at home. Les Miles is 5-0 against State, while Dan Mullen is 1-0 against LSU as a head coach.
The Last Time: September 26, 2009 But he was literally inches away from winning that first match. Trailing 30-24 on the final series, Mississippi State got down to the LSU two-yard line with first down, only to have four shots at the end zone fail. Two rushes by Anthony Dixon spotted the ball a foot from the goal, before the Tigers made a marvelous deflection of a third-down pass by Tyson Lee; then caved-in the MSU offensive line to ruin an option-sweep before it really began. For all the final-series frustration, the Bulldogs had themselves to blame for earlier miscues that really lost the game. LSU's opening score came on a 37-yard interception return by Pat Peterson, matched five minutes later when Dixon rolled in on a two-yard touchdown that set the MSU scoring record. The Tigers regained a lead when Jordan Jefferson found Brandon LaFell for a short touchdown toss, but they fumbled away the next possession at their one-yard line. Dixon got that yard before the quarter ended. LSU had a 16-14 intermission lead on a short field goal, then began the new half with a 58-yard connection of Jefferson-to-LaFell again. The counter-punching continued; Lee found tight end Marcus Green for a 50-yard touchdown, only to have the next turn go bad as Chad Jones ran back a punt 95 yards for a 30-21 difference. State chipped three points off the deficit with a Sean Brauchle field goal at 10:13. And after that goal-line stand LSU took a safety at 0:51 rather than risk the punt. State's defense had their best showing of the season, holding the Tigers to 30 ground yards, but LaFell was uncoverable with 101 receiving yards. Dixon had 126 yards on 27 rushes and Lee threw for 172 yards but with three interceptions.
Bulldog Notebook: For the first time ever, Mississippi State has sold all available season tickets. About 43,600 (pending specific final count) ducats for the 2010 home slate were purchased for Davis Wade Stadium. This was after the season ticket record was set in Coach Dan Mullen's debut season.
*Both Bulldog home games so far this year have been official sellouts with single-game ducats snapped up as well. The 56,032 that watched the home debut with Memphis was the fourth-largest crowd ever at DWS, and the largest for a non-conference game. State now has a streak of six-straight home sellouts.
*SEC play did dull some of the offensive luster from an opening 49-7 rout of Memphis though, as State managed just 14 points against Auburn. Only one of those touchdowns came on a true ‘drive', as the Dogs went 63 yards on 12 snaps to open the second half. The other score was set up at the Tiger 20 yard line by a dropped punt.
*The 246 yards notched last week were less than half what State netted against Memphis, though that opener did produce the sixth-most yards in program annals.
*But the 143 passing yards against Auburn were still better than five of the 2009 game outputs, including the last three weeks.
*Against Memphis, the Bulldog offense began 13 of the 15 series with a rush. In game-two things were a bit more balanced with seven series starting on the ground and five with a pass. Though, one of those first plays was just a called pass as it produced a sack.
*Junior QB Chris Relf was just under 50% passing last week, 12-of-25, both figures being career-highs. Of course he threw only 41 passes all his sophomore season.
*He threw for 283 yards in ten games off the bench last season; he has 226 in two games as a starter.
*Relf came in having completed 14-of-21 passes in the previous three games.
*Last year Relf netted 6.6 yards per rush. So far as a junior starter he is getting 2.2 per attempt, though sacks do cut into his average.
*He has been intercepted just four times in 75 pass attempts.
*Freshman QB Tyler Russell has not taken a sack in his first two college games. But he did toss his first SEC interception last week and was 4-of-9 against Auburn for 19 yards. This after he threw four touchdowns and for 256 yards as SEC Freshman of the Week.
*Soph WR Chad Bumphis has led State in receptions both games. He has 134 yards this second season on seven grabs, a 14.9 average.
*Bumphis is coming off the best freshman season for a MSU wideout since Mardye McDole in 1977. Bumphis caught 32 balls for four touchdowns as a rookie, both team-leading totals.
*Bumphis has opened both his varsity seasons with two-touchdown games, against Jackson State last year and Memphis in '10.
*A week after getting 112 yards' worth of catches, soph WR Brandon Heavens was held to six yards on two grabs by Auburn.
*Senior WR Leon Berry still has the best per-catch rate of any Dog with more than a single grab, averaging 18.2 yards on his five grabs. Of course he had 51 yards on a single reception against Memphis.
*Bumphis is getting 10.6 yards per punt return, ahead of his 9.0 freshman pace. He is #4 in the SEC this week.
*Meanwhile Berry is 4th himself in SEC kickoff returns at 25.2 per chance. Berry obliterated the program record for all return yards as a junior transfer, with 1,015 on kickoffs and punts.
*Over-eagerness cost TE Marcus Green a sure touchdown catch last week; and he missed most of the second half with a hurt knee. The junior still got his hands on a regular reception and has three for the year for 36 yards. Green had a breakout '09 with 27 catches.
*Yet senior TE Brandon Henderson has emerged as an option in the air game, too, with three catches. He did not have a reception all last year, limited to less than half a season by an ankle injury.
*Bulldog running backs have three catches through two games. That includes a four-yard grab for senior FB Patrick Hanrahan.
*The tailback trio is well-matched so far with 15, 12, and 11 carries respectively.
*Junior Vick Ballard leads in yardage with 73 but 51 of that came on his touchdown bolt against Memphis. Ballard has rushed for two other, shorter, scores.
*Both Ballard and redshirt LaDarius Perkins are averaging 6.1 yards per touch. Perkins has not caught a pass…yet.
*Junior Rob Elliott has drawn both starting assignments at tailback.
*He and the whole unit did not have a good night blocking last week. But at least freshman OG Gabe Jackson got on the stat sheet. He fell on a goal-line fumble by Relf to get credit for a SEC touchdown. Hasty research has yet to find the last Bulldog offensive lineman to account for a touchdown.
*The line has allowed four official sacks, all of Relf.
*Two games have produced three interceptions for the Dog defense. Joining the list last week was redshirt S Nickoe Whitley with an end-zone pick against Auburn.
*CB Maurice Langston did not intercept a pass as a junior transfer, but he opened the senior year snagging both of State's picks.
*These Dogs have continued a trend begun in Mullen's first season, when all 14 State interceptions came from players without a pick prior to 2009.
*Redshirt S Dennis Thames may play off the bench but he finds the ball, with two breakups already.
*Junior S Charles Mitchell has 14 tackles, second-best on the roster. He now has 109 for his three college seasons.
*Soph CB Johnthan Banks got a sack against Auburn in his second start at the position.
*Having played last fall at strong-side linebacker, senior Chris White has fit in fast as the middle ‘backer. He leads the team with 17 total tackles, and has 3.5 for losses.
*WLB K.J. Wright had just one tackle against Memphis before an ankle spring. He came back to record ten stops in week-two and now has 172 career tackles.
*Senior DE Pernell McPhee continues to be the top-tackling lineman, with nine stops in two games and two for losses. He has yet to score a sack though, after leading State last year at 5.0. He is credited with a pair of hurries this year.
*Soph DT Fletcher Cox did get a SEC sack last week.
*And Cox also scored the second blocked field goal of his young college career with a fourth-quarter stuffing against Auburn. As a freshman he blocked a Houston field goal.
*Hanrahan recovered the fumbled Auburn punt. A year ago, he blocked a Tiger punt that was turned into a MSU touchdown.
*State does not have a field goal yet this year, as senior PK Sean Brauchle missed a 38-yard try against Memphis. He was 6-of-9 as a junior before an injury in game-five.
*Brauchle is 3-of-3 on point-afters, while junior PK Derek DePasquale is 6-of-6. There were a combined 35-of-35 together in 2009 on PATs.
*Kickoffs are more troublesome though. Brauchle is averaging 64.5 yards off the tee; DePasquale 57.0. State was the only SEC team without a touchback in 2009 and still has none in ten chances this season.
*Two Dogs made first-time career starts last week: WR Arceto Clark and DT Devin Jones.
*The only 2009 freshman yet to play is FB William Shumpert, who had back surgery on September 1.
*Two true freshmen have played this year, LB Chris Hughes and WR Michael Carr.
*OC J.C. Brignone and OG Quentin Saulsberry both have 26-game starting streaks. The defensive leader in total starts is Wright with 24.