*A Bulldog team last visited Legion Field in 2006, defeating UAB in overtime. It was State's 22nd all-time appearance in the antique venue, all but one against a home-state team. The exception was the 1981 Hall of Fame bowl when State beat Kansas 10-0 on New Year's Eve.
*The Blazers are 0-1 against the SEC this season after an opening-day loss at Florida 39-0. Since their program began UAB has played 18 games against the SEC with a 2-16 record. Their only wins are over LSU (2000) and MSU (2004).
*There are 14 Mississippi natives on the Blazer roster, most of them among the 11 players signed out of Mississippi junior colleges.
*State and UAB are scheduled to meeting again in 2013 at Birmingham, then in 2014 at Scott Field. All such future schedules of course are subject to ongoing conference shuffles.
The Opponent: Neil Callaway had to know what he was getting into, what with all his assistant years working SEC programs—Alabama, Auburn, Georgia--in the neighborhood. Head coaching hasn't been as successful, or enjoyable, as a 15-37 record here in year-five reflects. And things aren't looking any better this year; in fact after losses to Tulane and Troy odds of just matching the four wins of 2010 are fading fast. Still the Blazer offense is showing signs of life lately with a couple of capable athletes getting the ball. And many a past Bulldog team can warn this one of the dangers a desperate home team presents. No wonder Dan Mullen is pushing his squad as hard this week as in any SEC preparations.
Offense: It's a mystery why UAB has struggled so badly, so far. The previous two seasons produced the first 5,000-yard years for a Blazer offense, and the big play makers were returning as well as a '09 standout. Yet here they are ranking 115th in NCAA yardage and 116th in scoring, and have not tossed a touchdown pass in four games. In fact, of the six UAB touchdowns to-date half have come from the defense and kicking game. QB Bryan Ellis waited years for his shot and made much of it in 2010 with 25 TDs; now he's off to a struggling start as a senior, 55% completions and three picks, and hurt to boot in the East Carolina loss. Soph Jonathan Perry got the Troy start and threw for 196 yards; and snuck a yard for his first touchdown carry. Starkville native Pat Shed had a big '10 as well and began this year a Hornung and Walker nominee. But he's managed just 128 yards on 37 carries; Shed has more than half as much of that on his 13 catches. Soph Greg Franklin is getting more turns, and yards with a 8.1 average. Jacki Williams has jumped in front of team receiving with 23 grabs already and a 9.3-yard rate. H-receiver Patrick Hearn has a catch in 15-straight games and gets 12.3 yards-per, and after missing a season with injury Nick Adams is back at X with big-catch talents. The mystery deepens looking at a line with no lack of experience; C Darion Smith is on the Rimington list, LT Matt McCants was first-team All-CUSA, and RG Terence Edge has 36 career starts. In fact just one starter has less than 16 starts. Turnovers and penalties aren't a big issue either. So, why the struggles? The Bulldogs only hope they continue for at least one more weekend.
Defense: Maybe it is lack of field position or something, because as badly as the offense ranks NCAA-wise this week the defense is right there with them. 116th in rushing, 113th passing, 118th total defense, 108th scoring. New coordinator and former Memphis scapegoat Tommy West was hired this year to fix things but it ain't showing yet. At least the unit has contributed to UAB's meager point production with two touchdowns, both on interception returns. The core is a group of well-worked linebackers, led by senior MLB LaManski Ware. Of his 34 tackles this season 4.5 have been for losses, and he's forced a fumble. In that vein OLB Greg Irvin had a day for the books, literally, by recovering four East Carolina fumbles. Irvin also has his team's sole sack. OLB Marvin Burdette had a great '10 with 114 tackles and averaged over a dozen stops over the last five games. He has 33 so far this season. Both DTs are seniors and Elliott Henigan boasts 137 career tackles though he has just nine the first four games. It gets younger on the outside and smaller too with 230-pound freshman Diaheern Watkins and 250-pound soph Connor Boyett at ends. So senior S Jamie Bender has to stay active close to the line, resulting in his team-best 44 tackles and 4.5 for losses. Bender has one of those pick-six plays by the way, the other belonging to CB T.J. Ballou who has battled a hamstring problem. The secondary starters have been shuffled a few times already, as something needs doing to improve on just six passes broken-up. Opponents have completed almost 73% of their throws, and the net gain has been almost a dozen yards-per in the process. Six touchdowns, too.
Specialists: P Trey Ragland can count on regular duty and does it well with a 42.4-yard average and six fair catches. Ty Long may be a freshman but he won the placekicking job and is 5-of-6 with a long make of 41 yards. WR Adams fields kickoffs and has a 92-yard touchdown to his '11 credit, while WR Williams had just three punt returns…but 108 yards on them.
The Series: State did not play the young program until 2004 and regretted it immediately with a 27-13 loss. The Bulldogs have won the last three meetings though including a 16-10 overtime chiller at Legion Field. The other wins were at Scott Field in 2007 and last season.
Bulldog Notebook: Three frustrating weeks have taken a toll on the proud Bulldog ground game. Having led the league in rushing in early September, they now are 6th place in the SEC and 38th nationally.
*State scored 30 or more points the last three games of 2010 and first two times out this season. Now in the past three games the Bulldogs have mustered 42 total points. And they have notched no offensive touchdowns in the last two SEC contests.
*Ten of State's 16 total touchdowns have scored on plays of 20 yards or more, including two interception returns and punt return.
*TB Vick Ballard epitomizes the offensive frustrations. He opened the year with 166 and 136 yard outings; since then he has just 129 yards in three games, and only 35 carries.
*Ballard has averaged 8.2 yards per carry in non-SEC games. His rate in conference games is still 5.0 yards each attempt.
*Last year Ballard scored a touchdown once every 9.8 rushes. So far this season the rate is a TD every 13.2 totes.
*His career 24 rushing scores are tied with Jackie Parker, John Bond, and James Johnson for 4th-best in program history.
*He is now alone in 8th for career points with 150.
*After catching ten passes last season, Ballard has ten more grabs this year already. The yardage? Just a single yard apart, 106 to 105.
*TB LaDarius Perkins averaged 5.6 yards per rush as a freshman. Now he's netting 6.7.
*Defenses are gambling on making QB Chris Relf keep the ball, which he's done 80 times already. And in SEC games he has carried over 17 times-per, with all the accompanying punishment that brings.
*Relf is still just ahead of his 2010 passing rate, 58.8% to 58.6%. But he's only been sub-.500 once, by a single throw.
*For the first time since September 2010, after game-three, Relf is under break-even for touchdowns/interceptions.
*Relf still ranks as the second-most accurate passer in program history at 57.5%. But he just lost a spot and is 3rd in interception rate at 3.5%, behind Derrick Taite and Omarr Conner.
*WR Chad Bumphis has caught pass every game this season. In fact he has a catch in every game of his college career but one. That was…against UAB last season.
*Two catches at Georgia gave Bumphis 85 for the career, tying him for 9th in MSU history with Justin Griffith. The next catch ties him for 8th with Fred Hadley.
*Bumphis is getting 12.7 yards each catch for the season. Narrow it to the last three weeks, though, and he is averaging just 6.5 of gain each grab.
*Bumphis has ten career touchdown catches, tying him for 8th on the MSU career list. Only two of those have been in SEC games.
*Bumphis has rushed five times this year for 39 yards. As a sophomore he got 131 yards on 19 rushes.
*Bumphis has State's only special teams touchdown so far, on a 82-yard punt return against Louisiana Tech.
*Also counting kickoffs in 2009-10, the touchdown came on Bumphis' 46th return opportunity in college.
*WR Chris Smith had his games-catch streak snapped at Auburn, but in the three games since has come away with 11 balls for 98 yards. Though, he also had a throw go off his hands at the Georgia goal line for an interception.
*WR Arceto Clark now has a 12-game receiving stretch underway. He had five catches for 57 yards at Georgia.
*WR Jameon Lewis did not have a catch or return against Georgia. But he did rush the ball once, for three yards. On his six rushes this season he has a 5.8 yard average.
*Lewis (Memphis 2011) and Bumphis (2009 Georgia Tech) have the two touchdowns scored on end-around rushes under Mullen.
*Bulldog tight ends have seven catches this season, five of them by Marcus Green.
*WR Michael Carr had five grabs the first two games, and none since.
*After missing two games and ten total quarters with a knee sprain, LT James Carmon returned to the lineup last week…at right guard.
*OT Blaine Clausell started the last three games at left tackle. Clausell's name is on the receptions list after catching an illegal throw in the Auburn game. Clausell has also recovered an offensive fumble.
*Senior Quentin Saulsberry has started 41-straight games at four different positions. The only place he has not worked is left tackle.
*Despite shuffles for injuries the Bulldog line had allowed just seven sacks in four games, tied for 5th-best in the SEC. Then they gave up five sacks at Georgia.
*But the defense has ten sacks, tied for 3rd-best in the league this week.
*Opponents have scored touchdowns on just eight of their 16 trips inside State's red zone.
*Opponents have completed 68% of their passes against State so far, but the average gain is under nine yards.
*The Dog defense has intercepted a pass every game this season and five in the last two contests. The eight total picks are tied for 2nd-best in the SEC right now.
*And now State has two touchdown returns off those interceptions. CB Darius Slay joined the pick-six club with a 72-yard runback of his interception at Georgia.
*CB Johnthan Banks leads the secondary in career interceptions with ten, putting him in a five-way tie for 6th on the MSU list. He has three return touchdowns too, tying him for the program record and active NCAA lead.
*He is deadocked with fellow CB Corey Broomfield at three pick-sixes, though it has been 12 games since he ran one back for a touchdown. Broomfield is also still looking for his first interception, period, of 2011.
*OLB Cameron Lawrence has worked his way atop the team tackles list and is 5th-best in the SEC this week, with 45 total stops now. The junior has 21 of those in just the last two games.
*Lawrence has already surpassed his 34 total tackles of 2010. He also scored his first career interception as well with a second-quarter pick.
*LB Brandon Wilson had a creer-best 18 tackles against La.Tech when he returned to the starting lineup. He had nine more stops at Georgia. Now he is tied with S Charles Mitchell at 41 tackles this season.
*OLB Deonte Skinner had his first double-digit tackles game with 10 stops at Georgia.
*State had one defensive touchdown all last year; they have two so far this season.
*The six regular Dog defensive backs now have 30 interceptions among them.
*DTs Fletcher Cox and Josh Boyd don't merely line up beside each other. They're always together on the tackles list. So far this season Boyd has 17 stops, Cox 16.
*Cox and Boyd have three blocked kicks between them, though none so far this season.
*The eight State sacks are parceled out among nine Dogs. Only Boyd has a pair of them.
*P Baker Swedenburg has punted 31 times with ten going inside the 20-yard line, and ten fair-caught. His 41.2 yard average is 8th in the SEC this week, despite having to boot against a stiff breeze in the first quarter at Georgia.
*Through four games opponents had only tried five punt returns, for a negative five yards that had State ranked #3 in the nation. Georgia spoiled things with 56 yards on four returns.
*State has not kicked off for touchback in 28 tries. The opponents have 11 touchbacks in 27 chances.
*PK Derek DePasquale knocked through his lone attempts last week, making him 28-of-33 career. He is the most accurate field goaler in program history at 84%.
*And he is perfect on PATs at 63-of-63.
*DE Preston Smith was activated last weekend, making him the third true freshman to play this season. He joined 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.
*State has three non-offensive touchdowns this season. They had two all last season, but seven in 2009.