Bulldog Football Scouting Report

The Game: Mississippi State (1-2, 0-2 SEC) hosts Louisiana Tech (1-2) in the first non-conference home game of the season. Gametime at Scott Field is 6:00 with telecast on ESPNU, and the MSU broadcast on XM197 and Sirius 218. Local pregame radio begins at 3:00 on 100.9 WKBB and 96.3 Tupelo, with full-network pregame starting at 4:00.

*Mississippi State goes into this game unranked, after kicking off the last nine contests listed in national polls. That matched the longest stay in rankings since the 1999 season, and the third-longest in program history.

*These teams were to meet again in 2012, in Starkville, but Louisiana Tech will buy its way out of the game. Mississippi State has yet to fill the September 15 opening. The programs are scheduled to play again in 2015 at State, then 2016 in Ruston.

*Dan Mullen is 8-2 in non-conference games at State, and has won the last seven such contests.

*All seats for this game have been sold, which will run State's string of sellouts to a dozen games. MSU is making a number of standing-room tickets available at $35.

*After playing three-straight Tiger teams to being the season, the Bulldogs now have consecutive dates against namesakes as State travels to Georgia next weekend.

*Tech coach Sonny Dykes has been to Scott Field before. First, as a nine-year-old son of Spike Dykes who was offensive line coach for Emory Bellard at MSU in the 1979 season. Then in both 1997 and '99 he came to campus as an assistant coach with Kentucky.

The Opponent: When they had to go looking for a new head coach, Louisiana Tech used the opportunity to set an entirely new course as well. An offensive one, with Dykes bringing his experiences working in air-oriented attacks under Hal Mumme and Mike Leach. The Bulldogs benefited from a change of pace, going 5-7 with significant gains in passing and total yards. Home attendance made even bigger leaps, setting expectations for the second season.

Offense: Well, if yer gonna start fresh at quarterback, why not really fresh? Tech officials believe Nick Isham was the second-youngest starting quarterback on record when at 17 years, 10 months he took the first snap at Southern Miss. The California kid has handled just about all the others since, too, with maybe fewer growing pains than would have been expected. He's completed almost 60% of passes for 231 yards a game, matching TDs and intercepts at three each working under former Auburn head coach Tony Franklin. Having another former SEC hand, all-WAC back Lennon Creer, has eased the transition too. The one-time Tennessee runner has 329 yards and five TDs already on a 4.4 yard average, coming off six 100-yard games as a junior. Alternate Ray Holley has the other four rushing scores. Oddly these backs don't have too many catches so far…or maybe not so oddly since there are three and four real receivers flooding coverages. Z-end Quinton Patton, a juco transfer, is fifth nationally at 129 yards per game and has scored three times; wihle veteran Taulib Ikharo has eleven grabs and 135 yards. There is good size across the wideout board, too, and for what it is worth none of these starters hail from Louisiana. Not so on the line where the first five blockers are either home-grown or from neighboring states. LG Kevin Saia and C Stephen Warner both have 18-straight starts; while the real size is on the right side with 350-pound juco guard Oscar Johnson and 315-pound tackle Jordan Mills. The group has done well protecting the kid quarterback with just seven sackings through three games, and turnovers are about equal so far. One weak link looks to be penalties, where Tech is losing an average—average—of almost 95 yards each time out. Oh, and this offense is comfortable going for it; they've tried fourth downs seven times already and converted thrice.

Defense: Much fun as the offense provides the Bulldog defense has had some lapses. In the air, mostly, a reflection of who they've had to cover to some extent. But giving up 316 passing yards and 424 total (99th nationally) is asking a lot of the offense to offset. Their positive point has been sound run stopping so far, at just 108 yards averaged and 3.1 per carry. All-league candidate Matt Broha sets the pace at left end, with 1.5 sacks this year and 16 for his stellar career. Either I.K. Enemkpali or Chris Lacey (2.0 sacks of his own) will start on the right end with 300-pound juco Jon'al White at nose tackle in the offset four-front. A front backed by two true linebackers as Tech is going with a full-time nickel approach. It helps that LBs can do the jobs of three as Jay Dudley and Adrien Cole are 1-2 in team tackles with 54 between them in just three games. That includes 7.0 stops for losses. Not surprisingly the interior safeties pile up linebacker-like stats supporting the run, with nickel-man Chad Boyd at 21 stops. The breakdowns come farther back as despite the five-man secondary opponents have been able to air it out almost at will. Put up enough throws and some will get picked, though, and cornerback Dave Clark has two interceptions. Still, the other teams have scored seven passing touchdowns and average about 13 yards each catch.

Specialists: A good offense is made that much better with big kicking plays, and Tech gets ‘em. Lyle Fitte ran a kickoff back 86 yards for a touchdown at USM and averages almost 30 yards, while Andrew Guiot has 77 yards on his two, just two punt returns. P Allen Ryan is good for 42.2 yards with six hit into red zones, while PK Matt  Nelson has 29 career three-pointers. Oh, and linebacker Cole has rejected two field goals already, another excellent way to set up the offense.

The Series: The teams have played ten times since the original 1904 meeting, and Mississippi State has a 7-3 edge. But the other Bulldogs are on a streak, of sorts, having won in 1996 and again in 2008. The latter victory came in MSU's only trip so far to Ruston.

Bulldog Notebook: Mississippi State's league-leading averages in offense took a hit last week, with just 193 total yards. Still the Bulldogs check in this week third in SEC yardage, third in rushing, and fourth in both first downs and third down conversions.

*The six points, both on field goals, against LSU was the second-lowest total of Dan Mullen's still-young tenure. It was just the third time one of his teams was held without an offensive touchdown, and also ended a program-record streak of five games with 30 or more points. In their first two games this season State had scored 59 and 34 points, and set a consecutive-games record for total yardage.

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

*Bulldog teams have scored a rushing touchdown in 24 of Dan Mullen's 28 games. A passing touchdown, in 19 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 opened the senior season with consecutive 100-yard outings; a career-best 166 at Memphis and 135 at Auburn. He mustered just 38 on ten runs against LSU, lowest output since…last year at LSU with 28 yards.

*In his five non-conference games at State, Ballard has rushed for 555 yards on just 59 carries (a 9.4 average). And on those 59 rushes he has scored 14 touchdowns.

*Despite being shut out last week, Ballard is still averaging a touchdown once every 10.3 rushes this season. As a junior he scored once each 9.8 rushes, best in 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 eight grabs this year…tops on the team so far.

*And alternate TB LaDarius Perkins has six catches, second-best.

*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 doesn't have the most rushes on this roster though. That's QB Chris Relf, with 56 carries compared to 41 for the tailback. Of course Relf ends up keeping or scrambling, still he has become the team's lead ‘option' on the run in SEC season.

*But sacks and stuffs meant he netted ten yards on 16 keepers last week.

*Of the 97 rushes in two SEC games, Relf has accounted for 43 of them.

*A 59% passer in 2010, Relf has connected on 62% this season. His career completion rate is up to 57.3%, second-best ever by a Bulldog quarterback. He hasn't been under 50% passing since last year's Kentucky game (7 of 17).

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

*Despite a couple of SEC picks, Relf's career rate of throws-to-intercepts is still second-best in program history. He only trails his predecessor and fellow Mullen quarterback Tyson Lee.

*WR Chad Bumphis has gotten off to a slower start this junior season, after leading State in catches and yards both the previous years. He only has five grabs and 82 yards this year, and 44 of those yards came on his only touchdown of the season so far, at Memphis.

*That TD was Bumphis' tenth at State, which has the junior in a three-way tie for 8th on the MSU career list. He now is tied for 10th in career catches, 81, but needs 300 yards to crack the top ten in that category.

*Of Bumphis' ten touchdown catches, only two have been in SEC play.

*LSU's defensive speed meant State did not attempt its pet play of an end-around with Bumphis. He carried 19 times as a junior and got 6.9 yards on average.

*For now rookie WR Jameon Lewis leads his position group with 116 yards, though 80 came on a single catch at Memphis. Lewis also scored on one of those end-around plays, at Memphis, the second time it has worked for a touchdown. Bumphis did it in 2009 against Georgia Tech.

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

*WR Chris Smith had a five-game catch streak snapped at Auburn, but got two balls last week to begin a new string. He was the hottest hand to end the 2010 season with 15 catches in the last four games.

*And after going two games this senior season without a catch, along with missing a dozen '10 contests with injury, TE Marcus Green got on the stat sheet at last. He had a team-best three catches for 46 yards last week. In his aborted junior season Green had three catches and 36 yards.

*WR Malcolm Johnson got his first college catch last week, good for 22 yards.

*OT Blaine Clausell is the most unusual name on the receiving list. He was the accidental target of an illegal throw from Relf at Auburn, but when Auburn declined the penalty Clausell had to be credited with a catch. Then last week Clausell recovered a fumble by QB Tyler Russell and tried to advance it, though no rush or yards were credited.

*Clausell made his first college start in the LSU game, at left tackle in place of senior James Carmon.

*Injuries have put fellow redshirt freshman Dillon Day over the ball for most of the last five quarters.

*While the injury-bit offensive line has allowed five sacks in three games, the defense has scored four of their own. Last year they bagged 26 passers, eight more than the previous year.

*Even in defeat the Dog defense put up a good ground-fight, holding LSU to 3.9 yards a rush and 148 yards. That was less than either Memphis or Auburn mustered rushing.

*Unfortunately the third Tiger team was able to make consistent gains in the air with 213 yards on 21 catches, the longest just a 31-yard hitter for their only touchdown.

*Opponents have completed 70% of their passes against State so far, but the average gain is 8.5 yards.

*The interception race between Bulldog cornerbacks just gets tighter and better. Junior CB Johnthan Banks collected his ninth career pick last week, tying him with classmate CB Corey Broomfield. Both now are in 10th place on the career list and pursuing (or racing) for the all-time tally of 16 set in 1995.

*A week earlier Banks caught Broomfield on the pick-six record, with his third. The juniors not only share the MSU record now, but are tied with Tennessee's Prentiss Waggner for the active NCAA lead.

*It's been a rough senior start for S Charles Mitchell but he got back on the game last week with a career-best 16 tackles. That gives him 216 for his four seasons.

*Mitchell has not picked a pass since 2009, when he had two against Ole Miss.

*Junior LB Cameron Lawrence had a career-best 14 tackles at Auburn, then six in the LSU game for 24 this season. His 3.5 tackles for losses this year are more than his first two seasons combined.

*Including S Nickoe Whitley and S Wade Bonner, the five primary Bulldog defensive backs have 26 interceptions among them.

*DTs Josh Boyd and Fletcher Cox combined for 13 stops against LSU. Last year the junior classmates ended the season with 29 and 24 tackles respectively; so far this season they have nine and eight in another tight race.

*Cox and Boyd have three blocked kicks between them, though none so far this season.

*DE Kaleb Eulls had State's only sack in the LSU game, his first in college.

*P Baker Swedenburg has dropped seven of his 17 punts inside 20-yard lines and had eight kicks fair-caught.

*Only three of his punts have been returned, for a grand net of just one yard.

*KO Brian Egan got more distance on his kicks last week, but still has not reached the end zone on 20 tries. By contrast opponents have six touchbacks in 17 chances.

*Not only are MSU kickoffs shorter, but coverage has been worse with a six-yard difference in returns…and thus better field position for the opposition.

*PK Derek DePasquale knocked through both his attempts last week, making him 25-of-30 career. He is the most accurate field goaler in program history at 83%.

*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.

*All but one of the redshirted 2010 freshmen have now played. Only TB Nick Griffin has yet to see the field, after a spring knee injury, but he is expected to debut any weekend now.

*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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