*Mississippi State is 6-0 against unranked opponents this year; the Rebels are 0-4 in games with ranked teams.
*All four Bulldog losses this week have been to SEC West teams currently ranked from 2-through-12 in the A.P. poll; with combined records of 39-5.
*Coach Dan Mullen has six SEC wins in two seasons, but just one in Western Division play. That was the 2009 schedule-ender against Ole Miss.
*Mullen is only the third Bulldog coach in 70 years to have a successful debut against the Rebels. If his team wins Saturday, he will be the first since Allyn McKeen in 1939-40 to begin a MSU career with two wins in the rivalry.
*The home team has won the last six meetings, and State has lost in the last five trips to Oxford.
*Mississippi State last won in Oxford in 1998, in the process clinching co-championship of the SEC West and the Division berth in the SEC Championship Game. MSU is the only Mississippi program to play in the conference title game since it debuted in 1992.
*With the home schedule completed, the average 2010 attendance of 55,082 re-sets the Mississippi State record. Last year, Bulldog home games were attended by 53,792.
*Every attendance in 2010 would have been a top-twenty gate from 1896-2009.
The Opponent: Some dropoff was expected considering all the remarkable talent that graduated. But a couple of very unexpected September losses dug the Rebels into a deeper hole than anyone in Oxford could have anticipated. To their credit, Houston Nutt's third squad has played more to plans over the second half of the schedule; not actually winning their SEC games but presenting some genuine challenges on both sides of the ball. And if not for a series of injuries, particularly to the lines of scrimmage, this would certainly have been a club capable of bowl eligibility. As it is Ole Miss is playing for a bit of pride this week, and looking to a future controlled entirely by Nutt's own personnel.
Offense: It's the obvious retrospective question: was it worth the hard feelings inside, criticism outside, and risks to future recruiting to have had Jeremiah Masoli's services for a single season? How much difference the former Duck star made to the record will be debated…but his electrifying presence is indisputable. Masoli's stats (8th SEC passing and efficiency, 532 rushing yards, 19 total TDs) don't really reflect just how much pressure he puts on a defense, and he is most dangerous just when tacklers think he's cornered. If not a NFL-pattern passer, Masoli's slinging style meshes nicely with this year's crop of catchers. After two months as starting split end Markeith Summers (24, 527) has switched to flanker and added to his team-leading touchdown catch total of six. He might switch back though since leading receiver Melvin Harris (30, 408, 3 TDs) is suspended. Or, either senior Lionel Breaux or frosh Ja-Mes Logan (25, 328) can just be promoted. Not surprisingly RB Bradon Bolen is heavily involved in the air game (26, 266, 3 TDs) in this spread-it-around attack. But he's an even better ground pounder with a 6.2 average gain and 13 rushing touchdowns. He and Enrique Davis are the hard hitters, while Jeff Scott burns defenses for 6.9 yards each carry as the speed back. Only two linemen have started every game, both tackles; RT Bobby Massie and LT Bradley Sowell. But for the finale four of the opening-day starters are reassembled on a front that averages 318 pounds. Such size is a big, so to speak, reason Ole Miss has had just 11 sacks all season, best in the SEC. Of course Masoli's own escape skills do help. Also, just because the Rebels come up short on a third down—and they do 64% of the time—don't think the series is stopped. This team has gone for it on fourth down 22 times already.
Defense: They were supposed to be the strength of this season, certainly pre-Masoli; and at times the Rebel defense has played that way. Just not enough of them as the unit still comes in last in SEC scoring and 11th in yardage. That is in no way the fault of a front line that has been hit hard by injuries and still has to be considered as fine a foursome as any. It is utterly deceptive to look at one SEC chart in particular, the one showing Ole Miss just 8th in rushing defense. They are as good on the ground as they are big in the middle…and big is putting it lightly. 320-pound nose man Jerrell Powe is going out strong with 7.5 tackles for losses and 2.5 sacks, while 303-pound Ted Laurent (2.0 sacks) takes a gap and fills it well. Jason Jones has taken over right end the last three games, while linebacker D.T. Shackelford has been moved down to left end lately. It's contributed to his 4.0 sacks, second on the squad. The linebacker corps has been juggled down the season stretch as well, but MLB Jonathan Cornell still sets the pace with 68 total stops and 4.5 sacks. Downfield coverage has been a season-long issue, with the Rebels allowing 61% completions and 243 yards-per. Not a surprise, really, with three new full-time starters. Damien Jackson and Fon Ingram alternate at safety and have compiled over 120 tackles that way, but the two listed starting corners have a single interception between them. Still big air gains aren't something an opponent should assume, because the Rebels have sacks a lot of passers and been respectable on third downs. But once the ball gets into the red zone, the end zone isn't too far away as Ole Miss has allowed 25 touchdowns in 33 such situations.
Specialists: Veteran P Tyler Caldwell does his part with a 46.2 yard average, yet coverage is lacking because his team is 11th in SEC net punting. Bryson Rose is 15-of-17 on field goals, none longer than 41 yards, and perfect on PATs. Since Scott was made the return man kickoffs have been more productive with his 26.8 average, and Jesse Grandy is a dangerous punt returner at 16.3 yards.
Bulldog Notebook: Despite a couple of 30-point evenings by November opponents, the Bulldog defense still ranks third-best in the SEC at 20.1 points allowed. That is #25 in this week's NCAA stats.
*State is #26 in NCAA rushing defense this week; and taking on the second-best rushing offense in the SEC.
*For the full season the MSU defense is third-best in SEC red zone work, allowing 14 touchdowns for the 33 times teams have gotten to the 20-yard line. However, in the last two games six of the eight touchdowns scored against State were on longer plays that don't count towards red zone calculations.
*In SEC play State has scored 15 touchdowns. Eleven have been on the ground. In all but three of Dan Mullen's games his offense has rushed for a touchdown.
*State's last 15 touchdowns, run or throw, have come on drives of 60 or more yards.
*In their three SEC wins the Bulldog offense has rushed the ball 75% of snaps, including sacks. In the four league losses play calling has been 65% rushes, again counting sacks as runs.
*It's a complete coincidence that in all three conference victories the Bulldogs snapped the ball 58 times. They've also run fewer plays than foes in those wins; whereas in losses MSU has had more hikes including last week's startling 100 (not counting two more negated on penalties).
*Despite three fumbles and two interceptions in the last two games, the Bulldogs still are third-best in the SEC in turnover margin at +7. That's because the Dog defense has come up with five turnovers in this same stretch to balance the books.
*TB Vick Ballard posted both a person and a team high rushing game last week with 150 yards against Arkansas. That gives the junior 849 yards in ten games (he missed the UAB game with injury).
*Around that missed date, in his last six games Ballard has averaged 114 yards and 6.2 yards per carry.
*His three touchdowns against Arkansas matched the season-high of three against Houston.
*And Ballard is now tied for the MSU season touchdown record with 16 (15 rushing, 1 receiving). He matches the 1952 mark of Jackie Parker (16 rushing) and 2007 of Anthony Dixon (14 rushing, 2 receiving).
*Ballard is also tied for second in season scoring at 96 points. Parker kicked 24 PATs, en route to a NCAA-best 120 back in '52. Ballard has two more games to top that MSU mark.
*Ballard has scored a touchdown once every 9.6 carries.
*State has seven 100-yard rushing games this season, four by Ballard. TB LaDarius Perkins (131, UAB) and QB Chris Relf have the other three.
*Relf had 131 rushing yards off the bench in last year's Egg Bowl, his career best to date. He ran for 109 against Georgia and 103 against Arkansas. That was more yards last week than in the previous three games combined.
*Relf had a five-game stretch of 50% or less completions, but came back strong last week with 20-of-30 throwing for 224 yards; all career bests.
*Though just eleven starts and 23 games into his career, Relf would rank #5 in MSU history in completion rate at 53.7%. He has a dozen touchdown passes against seven interceptions.
*But at 111 yards per game for the season Relf is not in the SEC's top ten yet.
*QB Tyler Russell has seen limited work the second half of the season. In the last five games he has played twice, and is 4-of-9 passing for 80 yards. He did have a 27-yard touchdown toss at Alabama.
*WR Chad Bumphis can't complain about lack of work. The team's leading receiver has rushed the ball at least once in the last eight games.
*But his main job remains catching balls and Bumphis has extended his team lead with 10 grabs in the last three games, for 129 yards.
*That stretch included his first SEC touchdown catch of this season, at Alabama. Bumphis has nine career TDs and is tenth on the MSU list.
*With 43 catches so far Bumphis has more than the 39 by the next two Dogs combined. His 590 yards are the most by a Bulldog since 2006.
*Bumphis already has 965 career receiving yards, and a 12.9 average per catch.
*WR Arceto Clark has a catch in the last five games and 10 total in this stretch.
*TE Brandon Henderson had six catches in his first three State seasons. He has eight this senior year including a career-long 29 yarder against Arkansas.
*Freshman WR Michael Carr has not caught a pass so far this season, but has rushed four times for an average 10.5 yard gain.
*Senior OT Derek Sherrod has been SEC Lineman of the Week twice this year.
*Bulldog blocking allowed 10 sacks in the first nine games; and ten in the last two games. State still is #5 in sacks surrendered for the year.
*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 Bulldog defense has 23 sacks for the year itself, five more than all last season.
*After ten frustrating games, DE Pernell McPhee got his first sack of the season with a ten-yard drop against Arkansas. He had 5.0 as a junior. Though not near that pace, McPhee has three-times as many hurries, 12, as the next-nearest Dog defender.
*McPhee did produce a safety at Houston via offensive holding in the end zone; and he had the Alabama quarterback down in the end zone but was not credited with a stop.
*MLB Chris White tackling pace has fallen off in November, with ten total stops in two games. Though, the crediting of just three tackles at Alabama was a bit dubious, especially as in the previous four games he'd made double-digit stops.
*White remains comfortably atop the Bulldog tackle chart with 96; and is tied for fourth in the SEC this week in tackles per-game.
*He is fourth in SEC tackles-for-losses as well with 14.0. White's 6.0 sacks are most by a Bulldog.
*White is Mississippi State's nominee, by media vote, for the award given to the state's top college football player.
*WLB K.J. Wright still trails in the tackle race, but he is coming off a career-best game with 14 stops against Arkansas. Wright has 245 tackles for his four seasons at State.
*And Wright leads this defense in passes deflected with eight. But he has yet to intercept a college pass.
*Five Dogs account for the 13 total intercepts this season, with S Nickoe Whitley setting the pace at three. Whitley is also the only defender with two forced fumbles so far.
*CB Corey Broomfield has two picks for the year, and eight in two State seasons. He is already half-way to the school career record. Broomfield also has three interception/TD returns in two years which ties the career mark.
*CB Johnthan Banks has two picks this year, both in SEC play (Florida, Arkansas). He has six picks for his two seasons.
*DT Fletcher Cox has caused one fumble, recovered another, and blocked a field goal (Auburn) this year. He also rejected a field goal (Houston) as a freshman.
*DT Josh Boyd also has a blocked field goal this year, against Alcorn State.
*Eleven Dogs have forced a fumble this year.
*Mississippi State punt coverage is best in the league, with just 52 yards of returns on 51 punts.
*P Heath Hutchins has had 22 of his 51 punts downed or caught inside a 20-yard line; and only five touchbacks.
*PK Derek DePasquale has fixed State's field goal struggles, connecting on his last eight attempts. The longest though is 43 yards and five of his makes have been less than 30 yards. DePasquale is 18-of-23 in his two State seasons.
*Five of his field goals were against UAB, tying the program game record.
*DePasquale and PK Sean Brauchle are a combined 71-of-71 on PATs over two years.
*Three true freshmen have played this season: DE/LB Corvell Harrison-Gay, ST/LB Chris Hughes, and 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, 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.
*The longest starting streak (not counting special teams) belongs to OG/C Quentin Saulsberry at 35. OT Derek Sherrod has the most career starts, 41.