Bulldog Football Scouting Report

The Game: Mississippi State (2-2, 1-2 SEC) gets a break from league play and opens October by hosting Alcorn State (3-0, 2-0 SWAC) at Scott Field. Kickoff is 11:00am for telecast by Fox Sports, while the radio broadcast is on the MSU Network, as well as XM200 and Sirius219.

*This is just the second time ever that a SEC program has played football with a SWAC member, and both times Mississippi State has been the host. Last year the Bulldogs opened the Dan Mullen era with a 45-7 victory over Jackson State.

*Other Bulldog teams have competed with Alcorn State over the years. The Diamond Dogs have won all ten meetings with Braves squads. But MSU basketball is 2-2 against ASU and there hasn't been a game between the two since 1991.

*State began this season with a non-conference win, beating Memphis 49-7. In Mullen's first season the Dogs went 2-2 in such games, though both losses were to ranked visitors.

*As of Wednesday "several hundred" tickets remained available per Mullen. State played the first three home games to sold-out houses, including the third-largest crowd ever at Davis Wade Stadium this past weekend. MSU is looking for a strong walk-up sale to extend the streak of home sellouts to seven games.

The Opponent: Let's be frank: this should be about as close to a scheduled win as State can purchase. Or it was when contracted. Fortunately for the Bulldog state of Saturday mind, Alcorn State has belied the recent sad past and is undergoing an unexpected revival. Sure, the victims include a hapless Mississippi Valley State and Langston, whoever he is. But whupping Alabama State by twenty points should merit at least a little credit to a Braves program that not that long ago was given up for dead even by SWAC standards. Besides, any team that has gotten used to scoring points and making plays will naturally earn a degree of confidence going into any matchup. So, don't look for the Braves to politely play the role of designated W. As long as rules limit both sides to 11 guys on-field at one time, and a football takes funny bounces, almost anything is possible…as past MSU teams have learned the hard way.

Offense: As said already, ignore the competition and look at the rather impressive numbers. Specifically 50, 27, and 41 points put on scoreboards so far. Teams that score get in the habit of doing so and the Braves bring some fine numbers with them. Maybe the most impressive and certainly the most telling are the totals for first downs, snaps, and yards per play. Because Alcorn State trails in the first two categories through three games, yet are well ahead in net gains. That means this is an offense that thrives on big plays. Yet it is also an attack based…no, not just based but built the first few floors on the ground game. Play calling is almost two-to-one tilted to rushing the ball. It begins with Gabriel Nash and his 100.3-yard game average that is second best in the SWAC this week. He has half the team's rushing scores, too. The others are split between the quarterbacks as Brandon Bridge and Terrance Barnes have both legged out a pair of scores. Bridge also nets 7.3 yards each time he hauls the ball and has a 57-yard breakaway on the books this year. But he can hurl it, too, completing 54% of his passes for 131 yards each week and two touchdowns against three picks. Barnes has had fewer chances and is 9-of-17 throwing. Obviously there aren't a lot of balls to be caught in this ground-pounding approach, but Ryan Singleton has gotten his hands on 11 passes for 91 yards. Edward Johnson has big-play potential as his five catches have averaged gains of 24 yards with one TD, while Simon Collier is good for 23 yards per grab. One benefit of not throwing often is Alcorn State has allowed the fewest SWAC sacks, just four. This is not an efficient offense on third or fourth downs (that big play thing, again). But let them reach the red zone and they produce over 90% of the time so far, and that's without a good field goal kicker.

Defense: Generally FBS teams that thrive on big plays and big points give up a lot of the same. Not Alcorn State. Not when they rank 2nd in league scoring defense and 5th in yardage. Even better, this defense can get downright offensive given the chance. Make that when they force the chance, because the Braves D has scored twice on interceptions, twice more on fumble returns, and for good measure stuck a safety on the board. If their offense thrives on the ground, so does this side as they allow under 90 rushing yards per game and 3.1 per carry. 290-pound nose man Randy Carter can certainly clog the middle, assisted by 258-pound Malcolm Taylor and 265-pound end Brandon Morris. The latter is the top tackler on the line with a pair of sacks to his credit. The big tackle totals of course belong to the three linebackers, paced by weak-side man John Cragin with 25 stops so far to rank 4th in the SWAC. This senior does much more than support, though, with two interceptions and four more deflections. Herve Tonye-Tonye mans the middle wit 20 tackles and 2.5 of those for losses along with a 55-yard fumble rumble. Safety Kenny Roby is second in conference fumbles forced. The flip-side of having a too-stout rushing defense is opponents are sure to air it out early and often. Thus ASU is only 8th in SWAC passing defense and allowing 254 yards each week and 51% completions. But, only four of those throws have produced touchdowns and eight others have been intercepted. CB Jameson Smith has three of those picks to go with a SWAC-leading seven break-ups. On the other corner Jamison Knox has caught a pair of picks himself, so putting the ball up too often against Alcorn can be a risky proposition with these ball hawks back there. It seems the Braves' great problem so far has been running afoul of officials as they are next-to-last in league penalties. But a very positive turnover ratio can make up for such negative yardage, and of course this feisty unit likes to convert takeaways into points on their own.

Specialists: PK Arturo Tamayo has sent mixed messages with 2-of-4 results missing a 35 yarder but making a 42. His punting is not an issue though with a 41.5 average and three of 50-plus yards. It makes Alcorn State second in conference net punting. They are also 4th in kickoff coverage. Who returns, now, is anyone's guess as the chances have been shared by three and four Braves on punts and kickoffs.

The Series: These programs have never played. State is 1-0 against the SWAC, while this is ASU's first game with a SEC program.

Bulldog Notebook: After managing three touchdowns in the first two SEC contests, the Bulldog offense got into the end zone three times against Georgia.

*Only one of those scores came on a true rush, but it kept State's string of touchdowns via the ground at all four games this year; six-straight games overall; and in 14 of Dan Mullen's 16 games.

*When the first touchdown was correctly re-ruled a forward pass, it gave State a pair of scoring tosses in a SEC game for the first time since last year's Egg Bowl. Prior to that, MSU had not thrown two TD passes in SEC play since 2008 against Arkansas.

*State did have its string of scoring on every first second-half possession snapped Saturday. The Dogs took that third quarter series to Georgia's 39-yard line before a second down fumble ruined the drive.

*In the first two SEC games, the MSU offense opened series with rushes 13 times and passes nine times. Against Georgia things were completely un-balanced with eight opening rushes and just two throws.

*It was a good week for OT Derek Sherrod. The senior was named the SEC's Offensive Lineman of the Week for his work in the Georgia game. Then he was named a semifinalist for the National Football Foundation's Campbell Trophy. There are 121 semifinalists for the award, with 15 finalists to win a $18,000 post-graduate scholarship.

*QB Chris Relf's passing stats got a reviewed boost when that opening MSU touchdown was reclassified as a throw. It gave him a pair of touchdown passes for the game and three for the season. Relf had five TD passes last season.

*He has been under 50% passing this season just once, 12 of 25 against Auburn. In his other three games Relf is 21-of-31; and going back to the last two games of 2009, he is 40-of-69 or 58%.

*Relf's 97 rushing yards last week was his best output on the ground since pounding Ole Miss for 131 yards last year. He leads State in rushing this season with 201 net yards.

*QB Tyler Russell did not take a snap in the Georgia game. But he is still close to Relf in season passing, with 356 yards to the starter's 409.

*Relf's typical completion is good for 12.4 yards; where Russell's rate is 16.2 yards.

*Through three games the total totes for the tailback trio was divided almost evenly. Now TB Vick Ballard has stepped to the fore with 36 rushes, and got the starting job this past week. Both Robert Elliott and LaDarius Perkins have 25 rushes each.

*Ballard is far and away the leader on the scoreboard though. He has five of the team's six rushing touchdowns. And having made his first college receive-and-run score, Ballard accounts for six of State's 13 total touchdowns.

*Ballard has scored in every game this first State season.

*The highest per-rush rate on the team though belongs to WR Chad Bumphis at 6.2 yards. He's only had four attempts running.

*Bumphis' bigger job is catching passes and his 16 receptions is almost double the #2 Dogs on this chart. Bumphis has had at least three catches each game this sophomore season.

*Bumphis has yet to get into the end zone this SEC season, after two TDs in the Memphis game.

*A year on suspension and practicing defense hasn't hurt WR Arceto Clark's offensive skills. He has caught two or more passes each game this soph season and has nine grabs along with the first college touchdown; a 33-yard reception against Georgia.

*WR Leon Berry has not caught a ball in SEC action so far after a five-grab game against Memphis.

*Knee injuries sidelined TE Marcus Green the last two games; and TE Brandon Henderson the last week. But TE Kendrick Cook did get a grab at LSU. So tight ends and running backs now have 12 combined catches. *Redshirt freshman OG Gabe Jackson has Mississippi State's other offensive touchdown for the season. He fell on a Relf goal-line fumble that rolled into the end zone. It was the first touchdown for a Bulldog blocker since guard Derrick Dean also recovered an offensive fumble in the end zone against Louisiana Tech in 1988.

*The offensive line allowed only one official sack (of Relf) at LSU, and none against Georgia.

*But then the Dog defense only has five sacks so far this year. None of these are by senior DE Pernell McPhee who led State with five sacks in 2009.

*McPhee does have 2.5 stops for losses and three credited hurries, both best of Dog defensive linemen.

*Senior WLB K.J. Wright has made up for the time lost to an ankle injury in the Memphis game when he only had one tackle. In three SEC games he has added 29 total tackles. He has 191 career tackles.

*Wright suddenly is tops on the team also in pass breakups with six. He had a pair of potential picks on his hands Saturday night, only to clank both to his chagrin because in four years Wright has yet to intercept a pass.

*For that matter after picking three passes the first two games, State's whole defense has not gotten an interception the last two outings.

*Wright's lead on the tackle chart is narrow though as both MLB Chris White and S Charles Mitchell have 29 stops. White is the leading tackler for losses, too, at 5.0.

*Mitchell is up to 124 career tackles after a ten-stop game against Georgia, the best day of his three State seasons so far.

*State has recovered four fumbles this year; two of them on the same play. At LSU, CB Damein Anderson got a loose ball only to be stripped on the stop, with CB Maurice Langston getting to the second carom.

*Langston had two interceptions against Memphis.

*Injured DT Fletcher Cox has blocked one field goal (Auburn) this year, to go with his rejection against Houston as a true 2009 freshman.

*PK Derek DePasquale provided the first touchback for a State kickoff man since the 2008 season with his first-quarter boot against Georgia. State was the only SEC team without a touchback in 2009.

*State connected on the first made field goal of the season when PK Sean Brauchle hit a 44-yarder last week. He missed from 38 yards in the opening night, the only other attempt so far this year.

*State has not missed a PAT in Mullen's tenure with Brauchle and DePasquale combining for 48-of-48 perfection.

*P Heath Hutchins is a bit under the 40.0 yard average benchmark, but the senior has had seven of his 16 kicks fair-caught. Seven of them have landed or been fielded inside the 20-yard line.

*But State is struggling mightily in the return game, averaging 19.4 yards on kickoffs. After smashing the total return-yards record last fall, Berry is getting 19.8 yards on kickoffs this year.

*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.

*Scholarship freshmen yet to play this year are: QB Dylan Favre, TE Brandon Hill, DB Matthew Wells, WR Jamerson Love, RB Nick Griffin, LB Jay Hughes, K Baker Swedenburg, LB Christian Holmes, LB Ferlando Bohanna, DE Corvell Harrison-Gay, OL Archie Muniz, OL Dillon Day, OL Eric Lawson, OL Blaine Clausell, OL Damien Robinson, WR Malcolm Johnson, WR Robert Johnson, DL Kaleb Eulls, and DL Curtis Virges.

*OC J.C. Brignone and OG Quentin Saulsberry both have 28-game starting streaks. The defensive leader in total starts is Wright with 26.

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