Bulldog Football Scouting Report

The Game: Mississippi State (3-4, 0-4 SEC) restarts the schedule with another conference road trip, taking on Kentucky (3-4, 0-3 SEC) in Lexington. Game time at Commonwealth Stadium is 7:00et for FSN telecast. The home-team broadcast is on XM201 and Sirius218.

*This is Mississippi State's final inter-Division game of SEC season. The Bulldogs have lost to East foes Georgia and South Carolina this year. But of Coach Dan Mullen's seven SEC wins at State, five have been against Eastern Division opponents; including two over Kentucky.

*Mullen is 8-6 in all road games these three seasons.

*The game matches two coaches sharing a common trend; both are unbeaten at their current school when winning the turnover ratio. Mullen is 15-0 when the Bulldogs have more takeaways than giveaways, and UK's Joker Phillips is 6-0.

*Saturday also matches the SEC's top three individual tacklers. Wildcats Winston Guy and Danny Trevathan are 1-2 in the league this week for total tackles, while State's Cameron Lawrence is #3. And Brandon Wilson is tied for 6th.

*Five of the last six meetings have been decided by a touchdown or less.

The Opponent: There are signs of 2011 life yet here, and just in time for Kentucky to salvage some SEC success after recovering from a brutal stretch. The Wildcats obviously made the most of an open date after being out-scored 137-20 by three-straight ranked opponents, thrashing Jacksonville State (#10 in FCS themselves) 38-14. The change of pace couldn't have come at a better point in Joker Phillips' second season what with uncomfortable fans and a still-suspect offense. But even with a more promising schedule left, getting a sixth-straight bowl trip is going to take more scoring, fewer injuries, and a healthy dose of luck.

Offense: It risky reading too much into SEC-only statistics given that all such matchups so far have been against top-20 talents. Yet even adding in non-conference competition finds Kentucky still last in the league in scoring, yardage, and passing, and 9th in rushing. Though ranking that high is something of a win as Wildcat tailbacks have been hit hard by injuries. The season's starter is out and his backup, Raymond Sanders, questionable this week with knee and ankle issues. So Coshik Williams (210 yards. 5.4 average) is the newest listed starter backed by Jonathan George (129, 5.3, 1TD). Anyway, QB Morgan Newton will haul the ball as often as anyone, anyway. It isn't a bad option, or option play for that matter, as the 235-pound junior packs a punch. He isn't as fast as predecessors though, and while protection has improved lately UK has still allowed a SEC-most 21 sacks. It wasn't supposed to work that way with four starters and another regular from 2010 back on the offensive line. Right, injuries again; all the first five have been hurt to some extent this season. But they've been back, intact, the last four weeks and blocking is improving as a result. Junior RG Larry Warford is up for the Lombardi award, while seniors start at both tackle spots and the left guard. It's been a real struggle making much happen in the air as Kentucky completes just 46% of all throws, and for 4.3 yards per successful toss at that. Admittedly Newton's numbers are skewed by 10-of-41 throwing in losses to LSU and South Carolina, which also keeps the receiving stats way down. The targets are easy to locate as La'Rod King (27 catches, 369 yards, 6 TDs) and Matt Roark (12, 56, 1) are 6-4 and 6-5 tall respectively. TE Nick Melillo doesn't get many balls thrown his way but has netted 17 yards per chance. A positive point: UK is the league's least-penalized squad, docked only 28 yards per game. Negative? They're converting just 28% of third downs.

Defense: As noted above the SEC's two top tacklers work for this unit. No wonder, seeing how many chances they have to make stops due to ineffective offense. In that light it's actually a credit to the Wildcat defenders they make opponents work so hard for the points eventually scored. Via the ground game mostly where UK allows 206 yards a week and 5.0 each rush. That sort of average gain brings the ball right to the linebackers, primarily Trevathan who just surpassed 300 career tackles. He was second in the SEC as a junior with 144 stops. Technically not listed as a LB but playing it for all practical purposes, big safety Winston Guy is the only league player with more tackles so far, 79 of ‘em after a 12-stop game last week. These guys don't just clean up other messes, they attack and have 14 combined tackles for losses. Oh, and two interceptions each. 243-pound junior Ridge Wilson is the strong-side ‘backer with two sacks and a couple of hurries on the resume. UK tried a 264-pound nose tackle at first but replaced him with 332-pound Mister Cobble for real meat in the middle. New co-coordinator Rick Minter will mix the three- and four-man fronts for best matchups. That partly depends on the health of junior end Collins Ukwu who is coming back from a September leg injury. Otherwise it can be 308-pound Donte Rumph as the second tackle, not to mention leading lineman tackler with 25 stops. S Martavius Neloms has been on a tear lately with 10, seven, and eight tackles the last three games, but also plays solid coverage with a pick and fumble recovery. There isn't much anyone can throw at the senior cornerbacks, and often one shouldn't throw their way at all as Randall Burden and Anthony Mosely can come up with the interception. In general this is a decent pass defense, except that when they miss it's in a big way; the 12 air touchdowns allowed are most in the SEC.

Specialists: Yeah, so they get lots of practice. That needn't diminish impressive punting by Ryan Tydlacka with his 44.0 average, and coverage that ranks Kentucky among the nation's top-ten. Kickoff coverage is equally efficient. PK Craig McIntosh is 6-of-7 on field goals with a long make of 45 yards. By contrast the return games have not much to show for the season to-date, but that's always a single break away. Oh, and opposing kickers must know where the lanky Roark lines up as he has blocked five PATs and a field goal in his career.

The Series: These are original SEC members but the rivalry didn't become annual until 1990, and officially permanent in 1992. Kentucky holds a 21-17 lead overall, aided by one forfeit in 1976, and is 13-6 in home games since the first meeting back in 1914. But Mississippi State has won three of the last four matchups including road trips in 2007 and '09.

Bulldog Notebook: In 2010, the Bulldog offense averaged 401 yards per game; the second-best season ever at State. This year's squad has dropped to 376 yards, yet that would be a top-ten year in its own right.

*MSU's ground game was held to 52 yards by LSU and 56 at Georgia. It showed up better in the last SEC game though with 131 yards against South Carolina. Mississippi State is back up to 5th in overall SEC rushing this week, three yards behind 4th place Auburn. But in league-only play the Dog ground game comes in just 7th.

*The result is since the Auburn game, the Bulldog offense has scored just one offensive touchdown in three SEC contests, and that was on a pass play against S.C.

*State has scored 106 points in three non-conference games; 62 in four SEC contests.

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

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

*He's having to work much harder for his yardage this season, yet TB Vick Ballard continues chugging up the career charts. Midway of his second State season, the senior has 1,566 yards in 19 games. That puts him 19th on the all-time list.

*Ballard had 39 rushes in the last two games; he had just 35 totes in the preceding three games.

*With at least five games left Ballard also is on track for a 1,000-yard season at 598 so far. He fell just short as a junior with 968 yards in 12 games, missing one entire contest.

*Ballard has seven 100-yard games. 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 4.7 yards each attempt.

*His career 24 rushing scores are tied with Jackie Parker, John Bond, and James Johnson for 4th-best in program history. But Ballard has not scored in the last three games.

*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.

*Alternate TB LaDarius Perkins had 46 and 48 rushing yards the last two games, and averaged over five yards per attempt. Perkins has not rushed for a touchdown since the Auburn game.

*But he had the overtime game-winning touchdown catch against Louisiana Tech. He and WR Jameon Lewis are the only Dogs so far with a TD both rushing and receiving.

*A wideout has rushed the ball in all but the LSU and South Carolina games this season.

*QB Tyler Russell got his first college start and threw for 165 yards and a touchdown against South Carolina. But he was 11-of-29 with a pair of interceptions as well.

*Russell was coming off a 166-yard performance at UAB, all in the second half with three touchdowns and no picks.

*His five passing touchdowns this year match his 2010 total, with half-as-many interceptions in the process.

*Russell is getting 11.2 yards per completion this season; last year it was 16.3 yards.

*With Russell going the distance last week, QB Chris Relf did not play for the first time since he was sidelined for the Houston game in October 2009. He had a 24-game playing streak snapped.

*Defenses have focused on Relf as a senior. He averaged 3.7 yards per rush as a junior, compared to 2.9 yards this year. He has 1,430 rushing yards for his career.

*Relf is still just ahead of his 2010 passing rate, 58.9% to 58.6%. He's only been sub-.500 once, by a single throw in the LaTech game. So he remains the second-most-accurate passer in program history at 57.3%.

*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.

*WR Chad Bumphis has caught a pass each game this junior season, actually at least two in all but the season opener at Memphis. He has a reception every game of his college career except last year at home against UAB.

*In the last two games Bumphis has six grabs and an average 15.3-yard gain. In the preceding three games his catches netted only 6.5 yards.

*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 though. His last SEC touchdown was at Alabama in 2010.

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

*Bumphis now ranks alone in 8th with 91 grabs in three years. He still needs another 176 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.

*He may not talk to reporters this season, but WR Chris Smith's play has spoken loudly and clearly. The junior has 14 catches in the last five games, giving him a team-leading 18 receptions.

*And Smith just got on the scoreboard with State's only TD of the last game, on a 19-yard throw from Russell. Smith had one touchdown catch in 2010 as well, in the Egg Bowl.

*WR Arceto Clark had his 13-game receiving streak snapped by South Carolina. In the previous two games he'd made 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.

*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.

*Johnson added two more grabs against S.C. for 51 yards, giving him 71 yards the last two games.

*OT James Carmon returned after missing a dozen straight quarters to play the second half at UAB, then worked the whole S.C. game. He played four quarters at Georgia at right guard.

*Senior Quentin Saulsberry has started 43-straight games at four different positions. The only place he has not worked—yet--is left tackle.

*State has given up 14 sacks in SEC games, tied with Auburn for most in the league.

*But the defense has 14 sacks for all games, tied for fourth-best in the league this week.

*Opponents have scored touchdowns on just ten of their 21 trips inside State's red zone.

*State's rushing defense is rounding into more familiar form, after holding S.C. to 110 ground yards on 43 rushes. The Bulldogs are up to #7 in SEC rushing defense now, and only three league teams have allowed fewer rushing touchdowns.

*The Dog defense has also intercepted a pass every game this season. The 11 total picks tie for third-best in the SEC right now. State has two touchdown returns off those interceptions.

*One of those pick-sixes belongs to CB Johnthan Banks (at Auburn), giving him three for his career which ties for the MSU record.

*Banks has picked a pass in five of the last six games, and ought to have had at least half-credit for another in the S.C. game. Including break-ups he now leads the whole league in passes defended at 13.

*Banks now has 12 career interceptions, tying him for second all-time with Derek Pegues and Izell McGill. The record is 16 by Walt Harris.

*Classmate and fellow CB Corey Broomfield has watched Banks race by on the interceptions list. Broomfield began the season ahead with nine through his first two years, just outside the top-ten. Broomfield hasn't picked a pass since last Egg Bowl.

*Broomfield is still even with Banks at three interception/touchdowns though.

*S Nickoe Whitley got the relayed-pick from Banks in the S.C. game, giving him four for the season.

*The six regular Dog defensive backs now have 33 interceptions among them. That includes a pick-six by CB Darius Slay at Georgia.

*LB Cameron Lawrence notched his third double-digit tackles game of the season with 11 against S.C. With 61 total stops now he leads the team again and ranks third in the SEC overall.

*But fellow LB Brandon Wilson isn't far behind at 58 tackles, tying him for sixth SEC right now.

*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.

*DT Fletcher Cox repeated as SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week for the South Carolina game, following his same recognition after UAB. He became the first repeat honoree at State in a season since Pernell McPhee in 2009, but the first to do so in consecutive weeks since Don Smith in 1986.

*Cox got his first sacks of the season with two last week. In fact he had not scored an official sack since last year's Kentucky game.

*But on the season Cox can't get away from his cohort, as DT Josh Boyd got a half-sack last weekend to give him 2.5 this year. Cox now has 29 tackles in his six games played, Boyd 26 in seven games.

*P Baker Swedenburg had his best game-average of the season with a 45.0 rate last week, including his third 50-yard punt so far. Swedenburg is holding a steady 8th place in the SEC at 40.5 yards.

*Of his 42 kicks, 14 have gone inside the 20-yard line; and coverage has meant 14 fair-catches.

*State allows just 1.8 yards on typical punt returns.

*KO Brian Egan got his first touchback in the UAB game, after 30 attempts. He added another in the S.C. game. State had just four touchbacks all of 2010.

*PK Derek DePasquale had a seven-make streak end at UAB. Then he missed two of three tries in last week's game, costing him status as the most accurate field goaler in program history. But at 29-of-37 he's still #2 at 78.3%, behind Brent Smith's 80%.

*DePasquale has the sixth-most three-pointers at State.

*And he is perfect on PATs at 67-of-67, which is best ever by a Bulldog per available records. Only three other SEC kickers haven't missed a point-after this season.

*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.

*All of State's 2010 redshirts have now played.

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