*State has now been ranked for its last eight games, the longest such stretch since 1999.
*In both 1999 and 2000 the Bulldogs were ranked for a game with Auburn, and won each time. 2000 was the last season both opponents were in the polls for a meeting.
*State was 4-2 playing with a ranking last year, including two SEC wins.
*Dan Mullen is 15-11 in three seasons at State, with seven of his regular-season wins coming in road games. Four of his seven SEC wins have come away from home.
*MSU last win in a first SEC road trip was in 1999, at Vanderbilt.
*Auburn brings the longest FBS win streak into this weekend, at 16 games going back to 2009.
The Opponent: ‘Uneasy lies the head that…' etc. & so forth, as Auburn transitions from 2010 hilarity to 2011 reality. Not that this diminishes their amazing achievements en route to a B.C.S. title of course. But like fellow SEC champs before the next-generation Tigers are learning to live with the demands of defending. Not that many expect it. Restocking any eight starters on each side would be tough enough, and there are no replacements for guys named Newton and Fairley. Thus the projections of finishing fourth or fifth in the otherworldly West Division of '11. Yet as a fourth-quarter, really eighth-eighth, rally on opening day reminded, this is a program used to winning any way, any body. So until someone knocks it off, that head still wears the crown.
Offense: Superman has flown away leaving a rather more mortal-looking approach in place. Then again his successor put up some under-appreciated numbers in first stint starting. QB Barrett Trotter was 17-of-23 without a turnover and with three touchdowns, and his 261 yards was second-best of any SEC thrower on opening day. At least defenders won't have to sweat the 207-pound junior running over them, making the ground game a little more predictable from that aspect. By the same token much more could have been expected the first time out given two talented backs who both notched 800-plus yards last season. In fact as a frosh Michael Dyer almost got 1,100, setting a program rookie record…besides that permanent historical highlight dash in the title game. At 210 pounds he is the power guy with speed; junior Onterio McCalebb is the 175-pound speed guy with some power. The obvious question then is how this group mustered just 78 rushing yards against a WAC defense. Well, look up front where four every-game (key to any title) starters and a fifth alternate are gone. The lone returnee, Brandon Mosely, moved over from right to left tackle with redshirt Chris Slade taking his place. The center, Reese Dismukes, is a freshman as well, but at least he's flanked by a pair of guards who have waited their turns in the system. So have most of these receivers, though their timing is good since this year will surely see more passing plays. And while coaches and systems change, Auburn always, ALWAYS has a tight-end type available for the clutch catch. That role falls to junior Philip Lutzenkirchen, an Iron Bowl hero and key target last week as well in the final period. Last year five of his 15 grabs went for touchdowns. WR Emory Blake (33 catches, eight scores) is off to a good start this year with a touchdown of his own.
Defense: As curious as it was watching the Auburn ground game sputter on opening day, more baffling was the way their defensive front had it taken to them by an admittedly strong Utah State unit. On a day the other eleven league teams allowed eight rushing touchdowns together the Tigers were hit for five along with 227 yards. This isn't easy for the 2010 league leaders in rush defense to accept…so they won't. The biggest cat may be gone but there are some winners back, including a couple of ends of the four-man front. Soph Nosa Eguae was good for 3.5 sacks and 22 tackles in his ten starts at right end while one-game starter Corey Lemonier had a pair of sacks. They're not really big guys though, so it is up to new starting tackles Antoine Carter and Jeffrey Whitaker to take charge with their combined 600-plus pounds. Carter did get in on 4.5 sacks and 17 hurries in rotation work. There is more linebacking experience to work with, and OLB Daren Bates had 48 stops and seven hurries as a '10 starter. But in game one it was the newer starters, MLB Jake Holland and outside guy Jonathan Evans, racking up 25 tackles between them meaning not a lot of drop-off in play-making talents here. The top returning tackler overall, Neiko Thorpe, had 64 of them as a cornerback; now he is working at safety to settle things down in support while Demetruce McNeal returns after starting the last seven '10 games at free safety. Coverage wasn't tested too much the first time out as USU stayed on the ground, meaning only one sack and no picks last week. The secondary will have to wait until after the front seven show they can stuff a good ground game to get many chances.
Specialists: Ironic, how kicking plays were the difference between upset and success. Or maybe not as those huge plays, the touchdown return and on-sides recovery, weren't initiated by specialists. Because the kickers are new starters. Steven Clark has made progress after a 34.9 average in limited chances, hitting five punts for 42.6 last week. Cody Parkey hit all his PATs and is awaiting the first field goal chance. He did have four touchbacks against USU. There is no way to overstate how crucial Tre Mason's 97-yard touchdown return in the first half was to eventual victory, and it got him a piece of SEC Frosh of the Week. Trovon Reed has first shot at running punts.
The Series: Auburn holds a 59-23-2 advantage in a series going back to 1905. This includes a 26-6 lead playing in Auburn, though for many years the games were played either in Birmingham or Jackson. State's last win was on the road, in 2007; and three times in the 1990s the Bulldogs were victorious in Jordan-Hare Stadium. There are seven current Bulldogs who were on the 2007 roster, but none played in the win at Auburn.
Bulldog Notebook: Mississippi State's offense began 2011 at the same torrid pace they ended '10, putting 59 points on the board at Memphis. With the 52-point Gator Bowl production against Michigan, the program has scored 50 or more points in consecutive games for the first time since 1914 (same season) and only the third time ever. MSU has never reached 50 points in three-straight games.
*But State has now scored 30 or more points for four-straight games, something never done before in program history.
*And the 645-yard romp at Memphis smashed the program record, which was set back in 1978 against Florida State (596 yards). But it was well-balanced with 336 passing yards, 309 rushing, neither number anywhere near a record.
*Five of the eight touchdowns last week were on plays of 35 yards or longer.
*Bulldog teams have scored a rushing touchdown in 23 of Dan Mullen's 26 games. A passing touchdown, in 17 games.
*TB Vick Ballard made a blazing start to his senior season, putting up a MSU-career-best 166 yards on Memphis. His prior high was 150 yards against Arkansas. And he did last week's damage on just ten carries, so in the first edition of SEC 2011 stats he leads the league in both total rushing and gain-per-carry. In fact, that would put Ballard in this week's top ten receivers for average gain per catch!
*With three touchdowns among those ten totes, Ballard exceeded his remarkable 2010 pace of averaging a rushing score every 9.8 carries which was by far best among SEC runners.
*Ballard now has 22 rushing touchdowns at State, which ties for 6th-best in program history. He is just a couple more such games though from vaulting into 2nd place (27 for now, Michael Davis). The record of 42 set by Anthony Dixon will be pursued all season.
*Ballard's next touchdown will tie him for tenth in career points. He has 138 to date, in just 13 games. Ballard missed one contest as a junior.
*He now has five 100-yard games in 13 chances at State.
*Ballard came up just short of 1,000 rushing yards as a junior. So this year he will try to become the eighth Bulldog to reach that mark.
*As far as total TDs though, the tailback trails a teammate. QB Chris Relf has run or thrown for 27 scores in his career, and needs two more to crack the MSU top-ten.
*But senior Relf ranks far higher in three other career categories, including the top spot for passing efficiency at 139.56. That is four points ahead of legendary Jackie Parker's two-year tally, although of course such a stat did not exist back in 1952-53.
*For a guy not regarded as a passer for so long, Relf has silenced critics with a career completion rate of 57.0%. Only Tyson Lee's 58.8% is better.
*Maybe mattering more to Mullen, is how Relf has thrown just nine interceptions in 291 attempts. He has more than twice as many passing touchdowns, 20.
*His 2,502 yards of total offense last season is the second-best Bulldog year ever, behind only the 2,886 by Don Smith in 1985 (and 11 games to Relf's 13).
*Relf was the first quarterback to lead State in rushing since Sleepy Robinson in 1991.
*In his last five games Relf has eight touchdowns against three picks. He has completed 72-of-110 in this stretch, for 1,015 yards.
*His average completion over the last five games has been good for almost 15 yards.
*The third season-opener for WR Chad Bumphis was less busy than usual. The junior had just one catch at Memphis, but it was good for a 44-yard touchdown. Bumphis has now scored five times in opening games.
*That one catch gave Bumphis his tenth touchdown as a Bulldog, putting him in a three-way tie for 8th on the career chart with Harper Davis and Danny Knight.
*But he has just two SEC touchdowns to date. And while he's caught six balls in Auburn games they were good for just 42 total yards.
*Bumphis led State in receiving both the previous years with 32 catches as a freshman and 44 as a sophomore.
*Now he is up to 1,053 total yards, needing another 339 to crack the career top-ten as a junior. He'll also make top-ten in total catches with four more grabs.
*Bumphis has not rushed the ball since the Arkansas game, though his Egg Bowl was cut short by injury and he missed the Gator Bowl. He averaged 6.9 yards on his 19 carries last season.
*Instead at Memphis it was redshirt frosh WR Jameon Lewis getting the usual end-around rush for his unit. Two of them in fact, and the rookie not only gained 29 yards but converted one carry into a 19-yard touchdown.
*That score was the first by a Bulldog wideout on a rushing play since…Bumphis, against Georgia Tech in 2009. And these are the only TDs in three years on the gadget play. So far.
*Lewis' debut was worth waiting for as he led the team with four catches and 113 yards. That included the longest play of the night, a 80-yard catch and go touchdown thrown by Tyler Russell.
*WR Sam Williams, a former walk-on, got his first college start and made it count for three catches and 27 yards.
*WR Chris Smith finished '10 as the hottest hand with 15 of his season 24 catches in the final four games, for 177 of his 264 yards. He opened '11 with two grabs and eleven yards.
*Seven Dogs had multiple catches in the opener, including RB Robert Elliott. The senior had three grabs all last year.
*WR Arceto Clark has had at least one catch the last eight games.
*In his first action since a knee injury against Auburn last year, TE Marcus Green started but did not get a pass in modest use.
*QB Russell scored his first rushing touchdown in college, on a 26-yard bootleg to cap the evening in Memphis. Russell's 138 passing yards in the '11 opener were the most since the '10 debut against the same team. In two games with Memphis, Russell is 18-of-25 for 394 yards and five scores.
*The offensive line did not surrender a sack in game-one. They allowed just 23 in 13 games last year, and ten of those came in a two-loss November stretch.
*OG Gabe Jackson has a unique stat; by falling on a Relf fumble in the end zone last season he is the only active Bulldog blocker, and the first since 1988, to score a touchdown.
*Meanwhile the defensive line, missing all-SEC candidate DT Fletcher Cox, had two sacks to start this season. Last year they bagged 26 passers, eight more than the previous year.
*The sacks went to DT %%MATCH_60%% and D Trevor Stigers. It was Boyd's first sack since the %%MATCH_61%% game, and the first-ever for Stigers.
*Subbing early and often meant most starters were not able to get a lot of stats at Memphis. Sub-LB Deonte Skinner actually led in tackles with seven.
*So senior S Charles Mitchell was only able to add four tackles to his career total, now at 192. He had 93 of those stops as a junior.
*Mitchell has four interceptions but all were in 2009. And he last broke up a pass in the Georgia game.
*After just two seasons CB Corey Broomfield is over half-way to the career interceptions record. He has picked nine passes, already tying for #9 on the list; the record is 16 by Walt Harris.
*Junior CB Johnthan Banks has seven interceptions of his own, three of them last season including a pick in the Gator Bowl.
*Closer to the line, DT Cox has his own nose for the ball. In two years he has forced one fumble, recovered another, and blocked two field goals. One of those rejections was last year against Auburn.
*Classmate Boyd also has a blocked field goal.
*S Nickoe Whitley had the only interception of opening-night, though he also needed help from MLB Brandon Wilson to keep the turnover after the intended Tiger target stripped him. It was Whitley's fourth interception at State already, to go with two fumbles forced so far.
*None of his punts were returned and four of the five were downed inside the 20-yard line. That continued superb State coverage after allowing just 94 total return yards all of 2010.
*CB Marvin Bure made four of his five credited tackles in kick play coverage.
*New KO Brian Egan averaged 66.6 yards on his ten chances, but none got to the end zone. Two did reach near the goal line. State had just four touchbacks all of 2010 and none the year before.
*PK Derek DePasquale was 10-of-12 on field goals both his first two seasons for a so-far record accuracy of 83%. But he was 1-of-2 at Memphis, making from 28 and missing from 47. He still tops the MSU records at 80.8%.
*DePasquale is still perfect on his 56 PATs in three seasons. But Egan was given two tries at Memphis and also made both. State hasn't missed a point-after since 2008.
*Two true freshmen played in the opener; DT P.J. Jones and S %%MATCH_68%%. State played just three true frosh in 2010.
*2010 redshirts who saw action at Memphis were: TE %%MATCH_72%%, LB Mattew Wells, CB %%MATCH_70%%, P Baker Swedenburg, LB %%MATCH_64%%, LB %%MATCH_63%%, OT %%MATCH_73%%, OC Dillon Day, OG Damien Robinson, WR %%MATCH_67%%, DE Kaleb Euells, DT Curtis Virges.
*Redshirt frosh yet to play are:QB %%MATCH_74%%, RB %%MATCH_71%% (inj), OL %%MATCH_75%%, OL %%MATCH_65%%, WR %%MATCH_66%%.
*The longest starting streak (not counting special teams) belongs to OG/C %%MATCH_62%% at 38, also how many games he has played. S Mitchell and DE %%MATCH_69%% have played in 38 games as well.