Bulldog Football Scouting Report

The Game: #25-ranked Mississippi State (1-1, 0-1 SEC) finally kicks off the home schedule, hosting #3-ranked Louisiana State (2-0, 0-0) in a Thursday evening West Division matchup. Gametime is 7:00 for ESPN telecast, with the MSU broadcast on XM 201 and Sirius 220. Pregame radio begins at 4:00 on 100.9 WKBB.

*MSU is now 7-8 in Thursday night regular season games since 1992, including this year's opening win at Memphis. That win snapped a six-game losing streak on Thursdays going back to 2002.

*This is only the second time LSU has played a regular-season Thursday game not on a holiday date. The other? In 2007 when they opened with a win at Mississippi State.

*This is the ninth-straight game Mississippi State is ranked at kickoff, including the last six games of 2010. That ties for the longest stretch since the 1999 team was ranked nine-straight games.

*Only twice has MSU been ranked for more consecutive games. The 1980-81 teams combined for a 12-game streak; then the 1992 team was ranked all 12 games with the '93 team ranked for its opener.

*This is the first time both MSU and LSU have been ranked at kickoff.

*Mississippi State has not won its first SEC home game since the 2000 season.

*Thursday concludes a three-game stretch of the Bulldogs playing Tiger teams.

*LSU has won 19-straight September games, going back to 2006. Offense: Oh, the raw numbers are impressive enough. 44.5 points, 337 yards per game; third down converted at 54% rate, perfect in the red zone to date. So why the lingering questions about this bunch? Probably it is the weekly guessing game of who is and who ain't available, and antiquated images of QB Jarrett Lee. Huh, every program should be so fortunate to have this sort of ‘backup' available while Jordan Jefferson awaits activation. Lee is past those early-career issues, doing an efficient job (19-of-32 throwing, 231 yards, 2 TD) distributing the ball. He hasn't been picked in 105 passes now, either. His best play of course is handing off to a trio of gifted sophomore runners. Michael Ford got 244 yards and three scores as a frosh, he's already at four TDs after two games and gaining 84.0 per game. It would be more if not for the need to give Spencer Ware (99 yards against Oregon) and Alfred Blue their own turns. The receiver corps is shorthanded for a little longer, but junior Rueben Randle (6 catches, 131, 1 TD) can carry that load himself. Senior DeAngelo Peterson keeps coverage spread out from the Y-slot as well, with a long list of rotation receivers for three- and four-wide sets. TE Mitch Joseph hasn't caught a ball so far, but at 6-5 and 268 pounds all know what he's there for. Not that an offensive line with tackles topping 325 and 340 pounds needs much extra bulk, of course. Junior C P.J. Lonegan is a Rimington Award nominee, and RT Alex Hurst all-conference in his own right. A stat to watch: Tiger teams are 22-2 now when a back hits 100 yards.

Defense: Honestly, the real reason LSU's offense gets dismissed has much more to do with how purely impressive their defensive counterparts are. And boy, are they. No unit had a better 2011 debut than the Tiger D's throttling of Oregon's ground game with just five first downs and 95 net yards. But then only folk outside SEC network reach were surprised, down here it is routine stuff. Or stuffing. In fact LSU is likely irked to have allowed two whole rushing TDs already. But then both tackles are new starters so they could be allowed an early lapse or two. No worries, as LT Michael Brackers and RT Josh Downs are next-up in an interior line conveyor belt leading to the NFL in time. This time the preseason recognition went to the ends as soph Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo were all-league, though the old hand here is senior LE Kendrick Adams. This is not the heaviest front four maybe, but they're all tall and fast and just about unblockable en masse. The linebackers, now, they're almost all veterans with three seniors atop this week's depth chart with WLB Ryan Baker on all position watch lists. And the one youngster, soph Kevin Minter, opened the first two games at middle. Yet the top tacklers through two games are all in the secondary, a first-class group thriving on chaos created by those guys up front. No, not even losing Patrick Peterson to the pros has caused any drop-off here, if anything the entire unit seems more effective together as they mature. CB Morris Claiborne is up for more awards than space allows listing and has a dozen tackles already. But his fellow corner Tyrann Mathieu is ahead of that with 14 stops, two of them for losses as he also plays nickel-back. Senior SS Brandon Taylor is starting his 22nd-straight game. The fact that LSU has just one credited sack is actually more depressing than encouraging as it means passes are getting dumped off in panic first. Or intercepted. LSU is plus-three in turnovers and allows only 31% of third downs to be converted. That many, huh?

Specialists: They're gone, after apparently handling Tiger kicking for the last decade or so. Doesn't seem to matter much though as freshman Brad Wing has hit his five (oh, the poor overworked lad) punts for 41.3 yards. Junior Dew Alleman is 2-of-3 on field goals with a 44-yarder as the new placekicker. Nothing big has happened yet from the return game…but with Mathieu and Claiborne back there, it will.

The Series: This is Mississippi State's second-oldest active rivalry, and the second-most played as well. Which has not been all that good for Bulldog teams over the years as LSU owns a 68-33-3 advantage. And they've spent the last eleven years stretching the lead with a win streak dating back to 2000. In fact State has just one win, 1999, in the last twenty meetings. LSU is 12-6-1 in Starkville games, with a five-win streak.

Bulldog Notebook: Mississippi State's offense gets their first serious test of the season this week, as the Bulldogs risk their league-leading averages in both total yards (588.0) and rushing yards (321.0). LSU is the SEC leader in rushing defense.

*Though 34 points (27 via offense) was a fine total by most MSU measures, it still kept State from getting 50 or more points in a third-straight game. That would have been a program first. Still Bulldog teams have scored 30 or more in five-straight games including the 2010 season, which is a record.

*And after setting a game record with 645 yards at Memphis, the Bulldog offense followed with 531 more at Auburn. This is the highest two-game total in MSU history.

*Six of State's eleven offensive touchdowns have been on plays of 35 yards or longer.

*Bulldog teams have scored a rushing touchdown in 24 of Dan Mullen's 27 games. A passing touchdown, in 18 games.

*Auburn gave up the first MSU defensive touchdown of this season, on an interception return by CB Johnthan Banks. The 2010 Dogs had just one defensive touchdown for the season.

*TB Vick Ballard had a slow first quarter at Auburn but made up for it the rest of the day, finishing with 135 yards rushing. He'd notched 166, a career-best, on opening night at Memphis. He had four 100-yard games all last season.

*So for a second week Ballard leads all SEC rushers, though he's just six yards up on South Carolina's Marcus Lattimore.

*After setting a MSU season record for both rushing (19) and total (20) touchdowns as a junior, Ballard has scored four times this season. And he is averaging a touchdown every 7.8 carries this year, compared to a 9.8 per-rush rate in 2010 that led the SEC.

*His 23 rushing touchdowns now rank sole-sixth in MSU history; and the next one ties him for third with such legendary names as Jackie Parker, John Bond, and James Johnson.

*He is now tied for 9th in career points, 144.

*After catching ten passes last season, Ballard has five receptions in just two games this year.

*Ballard came up just short of 1,000 rushing yards as a junior. So this year he tries to become the eighth Bulldog to reach that mark.

*Ballard wasn't the only 100-yard runner at Auburn. QB Chris Relf mustered 106 yards on the ground of his own, his fourth 100-yard day. Relf now has rushed for 1,357 yards as a Bulldog.

*A 59% passer in 2010, Relf has connected on 61% this season. His career completion rate is up to 57.3%, second-best ever by a Bulldog quarterback.

*Relf has accounted, running or throwing, for 28 touchdowns and needs one more for top-ten status.

*Despite a bizarre deflection/interception touchdown at Auburn, his interception ratio is still just 3.1% for the career, also second-best at State. He has had ten picks, total, compared to 21 touchdown passes.

*In his last six games Relf has nine touchdowns against four picks. He has completed 92-of-143 in this stretch, for 1,210 yards.

*His average completion over the last five games has been good for over 13 yards.

*TB LaDarius Perkins saw minimal opening-night action, but was back in the gameplan at Auburn with a vengeance. He rushed 11 times for 78 yards and his first touchdown of the year, and caught a short pass.

*He led the team in catches and yards both his first two seasons, but WR Chad Bumphis is off to a slower start as a junior. He has three receptions for 75 yards so far. Though, his one catch at Memphis was for 44 yards and the first MSU touchdown of '11.

*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.

*Bumphis is up to 1,084 total yards, needing another 308 to crack the career top-ten as a junior. He'll also make top-ten in total catches with two more grabs.

*After three games without a rush (one entirely missed with injury) Bumphis toted twice at Auburn for 14 yards. He averaged 6.9 yards on his 19 carries last season, so it's a consistent play.

*For now a freshman, WR Jameon Lewis, has the most receiving yards with 116 on five catches. But 80 of that came on a single snag, at Memphis for a touchdown.

*Lewis also scored on an end-around at Memphis, only the second time this favorite MSU play produced a touchdown. Bumphis did it in 2009 against Georgia Tech.

*WR Chris Smith was the hottest target to end '10 with 15 catches in the final four games. He had two receptions at Memphis, but saw his streak of games with a catch stopped at five by Auburn.

*WR Arceto Clark has had at least one catch the last nine games.

*The most unusual catch of last week was illegal. But because Auburn declined the penalty, OT Blaine Clausell's grab of a direct throw from Relf counts as an official reception forevermore.

*That is still more catches this year than TE Marcus Green, who has yet to get a ball in his senior season.

*Despite two starters going down injured, the offensive line allowed just one sack at Auburn; the only one of the season so far, which puts State first in this week's SEC standings. Bulldog blocking allowed just 23 in 13 games last year, and ten of those came in a two-loss November stretch.

*Meanwhile the defense has three sacks to start this season. Last year they bagged 26 passers, eight more than the previous year.

*But State ranks 11th in rushing defense after two games giving up just under 200 yards per.

*Junior LB Cam Lawrence posted a career-best 14 tackles at Auburn. His 3.5 tackles for losses were more than the 2.0 for his previous two years combined. He also forced a fumble.

*S Charles Mitchell doubled his tackle output from week-one with eight stops at Auburn. That puts the senior at 200 even for his college career.

*Mitchell has four interceptions but all were in 2009.

*But Banks' pick-six Saturday was his eighth interception, and his third touchdown as a Bulldog. That tied him for the NCAA active player lead in pick-sixes with teammate and fellow CB Corey Broomfield, and Prentiss Waggner of Tennessee.

*Now Broomfield and Banks share the MSU record for intercept-TDs at three each. But Broomfield is one up in total picks and ranks tied for 9th while Banks tries to make top-ten. The four-year career record is 16 interceptions.

*Including S Nickoe Whitley and S Wade Bonner, the five primary Bulldog defensive backs have 25 interceptions among them.

*DT Fletcher Cox had three tackles in his first action of '11. Of that, 1.5 were for losses. He had a hurry at Auburn as well.

*The Bulldog defense has 19 plays for losses this season, ranking 17th in the NCAA.

*New P Baker Swedenburg has averaged 40.6 yards in his first two varsity games, with six balls dropped inside the 20-yard line. And excellent coverage has allowed just nine yards on 11 kicks.

*Banks ranks third in SEC punt returns this week at 11.8 yards.

*By contrast, kickoffs and coverage have both been dismal. KO Brian Egan has yet to reach the end zone on 17 tries, and opponents have averaged starting position close to the 30-yard line. State had four touchbacks last season, and none in 2009.

*And Bulldog kickoff returns are last in the SEC at just 13.0 yards' worth.

*PK Derek DePasquale knocked through both his attempts Saturday, making him 23-of-28 career. He is the most accurate field goaler in program history at 82%.

*And he is perfect on PATs at 63-of-63.

*Only two true freshmen have played so far: DT P.J. Jones and S Dee Arrington. State played just three true frosh in 2010.

*2010 redshirts who have played this year are: QB Dylan Favre, TE Brandon Hill, LB Mattew Wells, CB Jamerson Love, P Baker Swedenburg, LB Christian Holmes, LB Ferlando Bohanna, OT Archie Muniz, OC Dillon Day, OT Blaine Clausell, OG Damien Robinson, WR Robert Johnson, DE Kaleb Euells, DT Curtis Virges.

*Redshirt frosh yet to play are: RB Nick Griffin (inj), OL Eric Lawson, WR Malcolm Johnson.

*The longest starting streak (not counting special teams) belongs to OG/C Quentin Saulsberry at 39, also how many games he has played. S Mitchell and DE Sean Ferguson have played in 39 games as well.

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