*Playing non-SEC teams for Homecoming, State is 44-11-2.
*The game is an official sellout per Mississippi State, the 14th-straight at Davis Wade Stadium. A number of standing-room tickets were being made available for late purchase.
*The Bulldogs are 3-0 in non-conference play this season, and going back to 2009 have won their last nine non-league games. That matches a nine-game streak posted during the 1999-to-2001 seasons. The longest such stretch is ten games from 1989-91.
*Dan Mullen is 10-2 in non-SEC games at State.
*This is UTM's third game with a SEC opponent since 2007, having previously lost at Auburn and Tennessee.
The Opponent: Yes, this follows the SEC template of hosting a lower-division foe for Homecoming. But this is not your typical FCS visiting victim either. The Skyhawks are a real success story this century, showing how an aggressive coach can turn what was once the doormat of a minor league into a championship club with major talent. One-time Bulldog football recruit and baseball walk-on Jason Simpson, also a fellow Free State native, is 37-28 in his six seasons at Martin with a 2006 Ohio Valley Conference title. An opening day loss to ninth-ranked Jacksonville State has put the ‘Hawks behind the OVC curve this year, and they're still fitting in five new members of the assistant staff. But UTM will bring an entertaining offense and rambling, gambling defense to Scott Field. Meaning Mississippi State has to play a real game against a real team for Homecoming. A team, by the way, that is serving as a homecoming guest for the fifth time.
Offense: It doesn't really matter who the opposition was, or wasn't. Scoring almost 40 points per game merits respect, especially when UTM now leads its league in scoring offense, total offense, rushing offense, red zone and passing efficiency. Yeah, these birds can move the football. Play-calling leans towards the ground game a little, 58% of the time, and with good reason. Jason McNair (yep, that family) has 615 yards this year and topped 1,000 career back in September. He's scored five of the 19 rushing touchdowns, but alternate Tevin Barksdale has eight with 530 more yards and a better per-carry rate. And QB Derek Carr will haul the ball as needed too, which has contributed to his being sacked just three (!) times in eight games. Rather amazing actually because he's also passed 241 times in this same span, or thirty throws a week. He completes under 60% but makes up for that with an average 13 yards on caught balls, and 18 touchdowns already against eight interceptions. He now ranks 5th in school passing as a junior. There is no lack of good receivers on this roster, and five of the top six average double-figure gains per grab. But the top two targets stand out…literally as both are 6-3 tall. Stephen Shriver has 33 balls, 477 yards and four TDs; while Quentin Sims is at 32, 440, and twice as many scores. And the third leading receiver is the tight end Kenny Jones (18, 225, 3 TD), so this is an offense that really spreads the load around. No, the offense is not quite SEC-sized, but an average 284 pounds isn't that easily pushed around either. The experience is in the middle-three while both tackles are redshirt freshmen. Turnovers haven't been an issue for this team. Penalties have, over 70 yards a game.
Defense: Over half the staff changes were on defense, with new coordinator in Lytrel Pollard. Results are still mixed, as other than a shutout of even-lower level Union College this unit has given up at least 23 points every game. Yet the Skyhawks actually lead in OVC yardage defense, so they can make plays out of multiple schemes and sets. The base looks to be an odd-front with legit size, especially at nose tackle with 325-pounder Montori Hughes. He isn't merely large, he has six tackles for losses and a sack with three hurries. 290-pound T Darrin Nallis is even more active with three sacks as well as an interception and fumble recovery. The linebackers come from all directions, none faster than SLB Ben Johnson who plays way above his 215 pounds with 3.5 sacks, six hurries, and three forced fumbles. Julius McNair (yes, again) comes off the weak side while 235-pound Jarvis McCann fills the middle. Senior C.J. Estelle is just 166 pounds yet plays big on the corner with eight breakups and a pick, yet also 3.5 tackles for losses. The safeties are veterans too, with 61 stops between them. UTM has five interceptions and has kept completions down to 58%, but also has allowed 15 touchdowns in the air. What stands out is the unit's holding opponents to just 32% conversions of third downs.
Specialists: PK Cody Sandlin ranks 10th in the nation (FCS) in scoring at nine points a game, and has made 11 of 13 field goals with a long hit of 45 yards. Joe Hook averages 38.4 yards as primary punter, though quarterback Carr will kick it away too with a better 39.3 rate. Cornerback Estelle is a big threat on punt returns with a 19.6 average, albeit inflated by a 76-yard touchdown return; while receiver Kevin Barfield is good for 25 yards on kickoffs.
Bulldog Notebook: In 2010, the Bulldog offense averaged 401 yards per game; the second-best season ever at State. This year's squad may be netting 379 yards, mostly because of struggles with LSU and Georgia defenses, but is still posting a top-ten all-time year in its own right.
*After being held to 108 combined rush yards by LSU and UG, the MSU ground game has gotten back on form with 131 and 134 the last two SEC contests.
*Typically when State gets twice-as-many passing yards as rushing in a SEC game it is because the ground game is struggling. Not so at Kentucky; the Dogs had 134 yards on the ground and 264 in the air in a dominating win.
*In their first four league games State had just four offensive touchdowns total. The Dogs matched that in a single evening at Kentucky.
*Going into last weekend, 12 of State's 17 offensive touchdowns were scored from outside the red zone. But against UK, all four touchdowns came on plays from inside the 20-yard line.
*The Dog defense has allowed just over seven points per second half this season, and only 19 points in all third quarters combined.
*Tough defenses and offensive line injuries put a crimp in his early season, but TB Vick Ballard seems back on track. He's posted 74- and 90-yard outings in SEC action, giving the senior 688 yards this season. More to the point, he has a 5.6 yard average per rush.
*But he has gone four games now without a touchdown. Ballard has been stuck on five scores since September.
*Ballard now has 1,656 yards in two State seasons, and ranks 16th in program history. He's higher on the scoring chart with 150 points, #8 on that list.
*And he is still tied for third in career rushing touchdowns at 24, with Jackie Parker, John Bond, and James Johnson. He needs 27 to tie for second.
*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 4.6.
*TB LaDarius Perkins has run for 121 yards the last three games, on 21 tries; a 5.8 average.
*Perkins and WR Jameon Lewis are the only Dogs so far with a touchdown both rushing and receiving. Though the pitch seemed straight across, that option carry by WR Chad Bumphis at Kentucky was ruled a ‘pass reception' good for 26 yards.
*It was on Bumphis' only touch of the night, but because of the technicality it did mean Bumphis has caught a ‘pass' every game this season. In fact Bumphis has a reception in every college game save 2010 against UAB.
*In the last three games Bumphis has averaged 16.9 yards on his seven receptions. In the three games before that his average was 6.5 yards.
*Bumphis has 11 career touchdowns, tied for 7th on the MSU chart. But only two have been in SEC play, the last at Alabama in 2010.
*Bumphis now ranks alone in 8th with 92 grabs in three years. He still needs another 150 yards to crack that top ten.
*Not to belabor the point, but that play really should have counted as a rush and boosted Bumphis' stats there. He has five official carries this year for 39 yards, where as a sophomore he 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.
*Starter? Substitute? Alternate? Who cares? The rotation of new starter Tyler Russell and Chris Relf was a winning pair at Kentucky as they were a combined 15-of-21 passing for 264 yards (that's 17.6 per completion) and two touchdowns.
*Sophomore Russell is now 20-of-42 in his two starts, with two touchdowns and two interceptions. Add in his two quarters' work at UAB though and he's 31-of-55 over three games, for five scores.
*Russell's yardage in these three games? A steady 166, 165, and 174.
*He has six touchdown tosses as a sophomore, after five as a freshman. Russell is getting 13.0 yards per completion this season; last year it was 16.3 yards.
*After not taking a snap in the South Carolina game, his first time not playing since October 2009, Relf was 6-of-9 passing with a touchdown. His completions averaged 15.3 yards, best since he got 15.5 yards on his 13 completions at Memphis on opening night.
*Relf had not scored a rushing touchdown all season, until the last play of the first Kentucky quarter when he ran it in from three yards out. Relf added a 12-yard touchdown the next quarter.
*He has 1,443 rushing yards for his career, and nine touchdowns.
*Relf remains the second-most accurate passer in program history at 57.5%. And he is #4 best in interception percentage.
*Relf just moved into the top-ten for career completions, with 241. And he is now tied with Rockey Felker for 7th in career touchdown passes, at 23.
*Tight ends Marcus Green and Malcolm Johnson combined for five catches and 108 yards at Kentucky. And they now have three touchdowns between them, after State tight ends failed to score all of 2010.
*Green tied his career-longest catch with a 50-yard grab at Kentucky. In fact he's had a 50-yarder three times now at State.
*Johnson has caught six balls for 113 yards the last three games, with two touchdowns.
*WR Arceto Clark had his receiving streak snapped at 13 games by South Carolina, but came back for two grabs at Kentucky. That moved the junior back to first place in the team receiving race, as does his 282 yards.
*But WR Chris Smith is right behind with 19 catches, and has a six-game streak going.
*And now WR Ricco Sanders is heating up as well, with three catches at Kentucky. That included his first touchdown of the season on a 15-yard Relf throw.
*State's 11 touchdown passes this season are spread among nine receivers.
*The same offensive line has now started consecutive SEC games for the first time this season.
*Senior Quentin Saulsberry has started 44-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, but none at Kentucky.
*And the defense has 18 sacks for all games.
*Opponents have scored touchdowns on just 11 of their 26 trips inside State's red zone.
*First he repeated as SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week. Then DT Fletcher Cox made MSU history by three-peating, though spread over four weeks with an open date. He was the first State league POTW to get consecutive recognitions since Don Smith in 1986. The record for such honors is four by Derek Sherrod (Offensive Lineman OTW) in 2010.
*In this stretch Cox has 20 total tackles.
*Cox got his first sacks of the season in the S.C. game with two. Then he snagged different Kentucky quarterbacks on consecutive snaps to double his total. His 4.0 this season top the 3.5 sacks Cox had over his first two college years.
*His 9.0 tackles for losses lead the team.
*But on the season Cox can't get away from his cohort, as DT Josh Boyd got a sack of his own last weekend to give him 3.5 this year. Cox now has 36 tackles in his six games played, Boyd 32 in eight games.
*The Bulldog rushing defense is rounding into familiar form, holding the last two SEC foes to 110 and 118 yards respectively. And the average gain by S.C. and Kentucky combined was just 2.8 yards.
*But last week and for the first time State failed to intercept a pass. The Dogs have 11 total picks with a pair returned for touchdowns.
*One of those pick-sixes belongs to Thorpe Award finalist CB Johnthan Banks (at Auburn), giving him three for his career which ties for the MSU record.
*Banks had 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 ranks with the league leaders at 13 total passes defended. *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 just missed a fourth double-digit tackle game with nine last week. He still has stepped out front in the team tackle race with 70 stops. But fellow LB Brandon Wilson isn't too far behind at 66 tackles. They are third and fifth respectively in the SEC this week.
*Four different Dogs have had a double-digit tackles game so far this season. S Charles Mitchell got his second with 11 at Kentucky.
*Mitchell now has 249 career tackles.
*State had one defensive touchdown all last year; they have two so far this season.
*P Baker Swedenburg only had to kick twice last week, both in the second half, and hit them for a 43.5 average. This followed a 45.0 afternoon against S.C.
*Of his 44 kicks, 14 have gone inside the 20-yard line; and coverage has meant 14 fair-catches.
*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 only had to book four PATs in the last game, making him 71-of-71 for his college career. He is 5th on the career PAT list, but the only one in the top-ten who hasn't missed.
*DePasquale's seven-made field goal streak ended at UAB, then he missed two of three tries against S.C. He still is 29-of-37 and #2 accurate at 78.3%, behind Brent Smith's 80%.
*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.