Bulldog Football Scouting Report

The Game: Mississippi State (3-3, 0-3 SEC) resumes conference play by hosting #15 South Carolina (5-1, 3-1 SEC). Kickoff is 11:21 central for SEC Network telecast (consult local listings) with the broadcast on XM199, Sirius220. The local pregame broadcast begins at 8:20am on 100.9FM and 96.3FM, with full network pregame at 9:20.

*Mississippi State played just two home games in the first half of this 2011 schedule. They have four home dates ahead in the next six regular-season games. The Bulldogs have also gotten used to early wake-up calls with four morning or noon-local starts so far.

*In the two home dates of September, average attendance at Scott Field was 56,020 which would make for a top-ten crowd in its own right. The LSU gate of 56,924 was third-most in Davis Wade Stadium history, and the 55,116 for Louisiana Tech is now #10-best.

*But because South Carolina returned the larger part of their ticket allotment, the home sellout streak of 12 games will need some last-day help to continue.

*MSU has won six of the last nine home games, but is on a two-game SEC losing streak at Scott Field going into this week.

*Coach Dan Mullen has seven SEC wins at State. Five have been against East Division opponents.

*These Bulldogs are 0-2 against ranked opponents, and State is 2-8 in these games since 2009. The last home win over a ranked foe was the 2009 Egg Bowl.

*These opponents have played two common SEC foes. South Carolina is 1-1 and State 0-2.

*State has not started 0-4 in SEC play since the 2006 season.

The Opponent: Maybe it's due to the internal tumults and tensions of recent weeks, or that all outside attention is turned to the West megapowers. And certainly that nigh-inexplicable home loss to Auburn leaves one wondering how stable things are. Yet there the Gamecocks are, still a beak in front of the East with what should prove the priceless tiebreaker over Georgia. They've certainly got the big play guys on both sides to take another Division title, and even if they'd go back to Atlanta heavy underdogs again…all they can want is a second chance. Which South Carolina should get.

Offense: Settling the quarterback situation for good ought to be, well, for good. Even allowing Kentucky's hapless position one must respect how Connor Shaw both handled another abrupt promotion, and went about business with a 311-yard, four touchdown afternoon. Or, more numbers than he compiled all last year as a freshman. It might shouldn't matter but knowing their volatile coach, for the record the backups are Dylan Thompson or Andrew Clifford. Stay loose, lads. Just how big a playbook part does splendid soph Marcus Lattimore own? He has 146 rushes this season; Shaw is now second with 24 totes. But with a 5.3-yard average gain and nine touchdowns why not maximize his league-leading talents? Only Alabama rushes for more a week and the ground game will likely have even more priority until Shaw is fully established. Then again any quarterback would feel comfortable dumping the ball off to Lattimore (16 catches, 9.6 yards) or heaving it deeper where Ashlon Jeffrey roams. The 6-4 junior has 25 grabs already, four for scores, and a 17.1-yard net each catch. Jeffrey needs just 75 yards, one good game, to become the all-time leader at S.C. In three years. The nicely named Ace Sanders (14, 177, 1TD) also works long, while TE Justice Cunningham (10, 91, 1TD) keeps coverage honest. The blockers have 100 combined starts amongst them now, though there have been a couple of changes in different games this season. OC T.J. Johnson is up for the Rimington and Outland awards, while 340-pound LT Rokevious Watkins is also on the Outland list. Weaknesses? Only thing that jumps out is a tendency to lose the ball. But that's just one reason Shaw now runs the show, so no defense can count on that any more.

Defense: Besides, the defense is even better at getting the ball back with 22 takeaways to date, 12 of ‘em are interceptions as the Gamecocks pace this league in pass defense. They have allowed only 771 air yards in six games, and that is no indication at all that foes are taking advantage on the ground. Good luck there, just 3.8 yards per rush and nothing longer than 30 yards all year. To coin a phrase it all starts up front and not even Alabama and LSU can boast more active defensive ends. Senior Melvin Ingram is having an all-American season with 5.5 sacks—best in the SEC so far—along with two interceptions and three hurries. Here's the wild part; he is listed ahead of the league's #2 sackman this week, Jadevon Clowney…which makes the freshman the nation's top backup? He has 4.0 sacks and 21 stops in alternate duty. This isn't trickery or such because listed other DE starter Devin Taylor is another pass-rush specialist. The interior tackles aren't as high profile, except on the scales as senior Travian Robertson tops 300 pounds. No wonder those ends are free to attack. Speaking of which, ‘spur' linebacker Antonio Allen tops the team by far with 50 tackles including 5.5 for losses, but also has three picks in coverage. And, three fumble recoveries (remember that turnover margin?). MLB Shaq Wilson led S.C. in tackles two years ago before a hamstring injury in '10. He's back and with WLB Reg Bowens has combined for 51 tackles. CB Stephon Gilmore is on more awards watch lists than need listing; he had three picks last year and two so far this one, with four breakups. FS D.J. Swearingen has an intercept of his own with 30 tackle, while C.C Whitlock has picked three other balls at the other corner. The third down and red zone averages are only average by league standards, yet this defense just manages to make the key stop when needed. That's better than numbers any day.

Specialists: PK Jay Wooten may be just 4-of-6 on field goals, but he's got two game-winners to his credit. After a slow start Joey Scribner-Howard is up to 8th in SEC punting at 41.0 yards, with competent coverage. The return games may not look so special but on his 68-yard TD punt run in the opening game Sanders netted more yards than S.C. did on all punts last season.

The Series: It began only when South Carolina joined the SEC for 1992. At one point State held a 6-2 lead, but the Gamecocks have won the last five meetings (from 2000-07) and taken the lead. The teams have split six games at Scott Field with State winning in 1993, '97, and '99. The Gamecocks have won here in 1995, '01, and '06.

Bulldog Notebook: In the first two games this season Mississippi State totaled 1,176 yards, a program two-game record. But in the next four games the offense has 1,162 total yards.

*Mississippi State is back up to 5th in overall SEC rushing this week, only six yards behind 4th place Florida. But in league-only play the Dog ground game comes in just 7th, some forty yards less per-game.

*SEC defenses have certainly taken a toll on Bulldog offense. State has averaged 35.3 points in non-conference games, 16.7 points in league play. And while MSU has scored 13 offensive touchdowns in three non-league games, they have just three in conference contests, all at Auburn.

*State's defense has scored two SEC touchdowns itself, both on interception returns.

*Twelve of State's 19 total touchdowns have scored on plays of 20 or more yards, including returns.

*The pace is slower than last season, but TB Vick Ballard keeps working up the rushing-record chart despite all the defensive attention. He now has 1,499 yards in 18 games and ranks #20 in MSU history.

*The league's fifth-leading runner this week, Ballard has 531 yards. That's over half-way to his 2010 total of 968 yards, and on track to the 1,000 mark.

*Ballard has seven 100-yard games out of 18 career contests. That ties him for 12th on the career chart with Wayne Jones.

*Ballard has averaged 7.3 yards per carry in non-SEC games. His rate in conference games is 5.0 yards each attempt.

*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.

*Talk about consistent. As a junior Ballard gained 10.6 yards on his receptions. This season it is 10.8 yards.

*in the UAB win, TB LaDarius Perkins averaged 5.4 yards per rush, practically the same as Ballards's 5.3 yards.

*Perkins and WR Jameon Lewis have each scored a touchdown both rushing and receiving.

*Lewis is averaging 10.7 yards when he rushes the ball, and 22.0 on receptions.

*QB Chris Relf is finding the ground-going tough as a senior. He averaged 3.7 yards per rush as a junior, this year it is 2.9 yards.

*Relf has the same number of rushes this season as Ballard, 85 carries each.

*Relf only carried five times at UAB, his lowest rushes since last year's Alcorn State game with three attempts.

*Relf is just ahead of his 2010 passing rate, 58.9% to 58.6%. But he's only been sub-.500 once, by a single throw in the LaTech game (14-of-29).

*Relf just moved into the top-ten for career completions, with 235. And he is #8 in touchdown passes at 22, one back now of Rockey Felker.

*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 57.3%. And he is #9 on the list for touchdown responsibility at 29.

*QB Tyler Russell saw his most playing time of the season with a full second half at UAB, and responded with three touchdown passes. That was one less than the four he threw in 2010 against Jackson State.

*Those TDs at Birmingham pushed Russell over break-even in touchdowns/intercepts in his career, now at 9-to-7.

*Allowing for different defensive matchups, Russell's average completion this year has gone for 17.5 yards. Relf is at 10.4 yards each caught ball.

*WR Chad Bumphis has caught a pass each game this junior season. In fact he has a reception every game of his college career except last year at home against UAB.

*His 57-yard play at UAB was Bumphis' 11th touchdown of his career, tying him for #7 on the MSU chart. Nine have come in non-conference games.

*It also matched his longest catch of 2010 (57 yards vs. Memphis). Bumphis had a 69-yarder against Georgia as a freshman.

*Bumphis just moved up another rung on the career-catches ladder. He now ranks alone in 8th with 89 grabs in three years. He still needs another 202 yards to crack that top ten.

*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.

*WR Chris Smith may not talk to media these days, but his play speaks for itself. The junior has 11 catches in the last four games, giving him a team-leading 15 receptions.

*WR Arceto Clark now has a 13-game receiving stretch underway. More impressive, in the last two games alone he has nine catches for 90 yards. He nets 14.1 yards per grab this season, just about the same as his 14.5 rate as a sophomore.

*Lewis (Memphis 2011) and Bumphis (2009 Georgia Tech) have the two touchdowns scored on end-around rushes under Mullen.

*Bulldog tight ends had seven catches and no points in the first five games. At UAB, Marcus Green and Malcolm Johnson each scored a touchdown on their combined three grabs.

*The touchdown was Green's first since the 2009 Egg Bowl; for redshirt Johnson it was his first as a collegian period.

*WR Michael Carr had five grabs the first two games, and none since.

*OL James Carmon has missed a dozen combined quarters this season, but last week worked the second half at UAB as left tackle again. He started and played all the Georgia game at right guard.

*OT Blaine Clausell started the last four 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 42-straight games at four different positions. The only place he has not worked—yet--is left tackle.

*State has given up a dozen sacks in SEC games, most in the league.

*But the defense has 11 sacks for all games, fourth-best in the league this week.

*Opponents have scored touchdowns on just eight of their 19 trips inside State's red zone.

*The Dog defense has intercepted a pass every game this season. The nine total picks are third-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 has intercepted a pass in four of the last five games, topping the team's season total. Adding his seven break-ups, Banks leads the SEC this week in passes defended.

*And he now has 11 career picks which ties him with Henry Davison and Kenny Johnson fir 4th on the Bulldog 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 13 games since he ran one back for a touchdown. Broomfield is also still looking for his first interception, period, of 2011, so he can crack the top-ten career.

*The team tackles race is now tied between a pair of linebackers. MLB Brandon Wilson has caught up with SLB Cameron Lawrence at 50 stops apiece. Wilson has 36 of those tackles in the last three games.

*This means the two Dogs are tied for 5th-best in SEC overall tackle average this week.

*Four different Dogs have had a double-digit tackles game so far this season.

*State had one defensive touchdown all last year; they have two so far this season.

*The six regular Dog defensive backs now have 31 interceptions among them.

*DT Fletcher Cox had a seven-stop day at UAB to earn SEC D-lineman of the Week. But Cox is still looking for his first sack this season, while cohort DT Josh Boyd has two. In fact Boyd is the only Bulldog with more than one sack so far.

*P Baker Swedenburg has punted 37 times with 13 going inside the 20-yard line, and eleven fair-caught.

*Through four games opponents had only tried five punt returns, for a negative five yards that had State ranked #3 in the nation. Now in the last two games foes have 64 yards of returns.

*KO Brian Egan got his first touchback of the season last week, out of 30 attempts.

*PK Derek DePasquale lost his seven-made field goal streak when he missed from 32 yards at UAB. The senior is still 28-of-34 career, the most accurate three-point kicker in school history.

*And he is perfect on PATs at 66-of-66.

*TB Nick Griffin got four carries at UAB, in his first college activity. He became the last redshirted 2010 freshman to be activated, due to a spring knee injury.

*DE Preston Smith, DT P.J. Jones, and S Dee Arrington are the only true freshmen to play so far this season. That matches the total for true frosh activated in 2010.

Gene's Page Top Stories