Bulldog Football Scouting Report - MSU at Ark

The Game: Mississippi State (5-5, 1-5 SEC) takes the last regular-season road trip, facing #6-ranked Arkansas (9-1, 5-1 SEC) in Little Rock. The West Division matchup starts at 2:30 for CBS telecast, with the MSU Network broadcast at 12:30 from War Memorial Stadium.

*This is third time Mississippi State plays at an off-campus venue serving as home, or in Arkansas' case home-away-from-home, field. The Bulldogs beat Memphis in the Liberty Bowl, and UAB at Legion Field. So in 2011 State is hitting the ‘trifecta' of old regional venues that have seen far, far better days.

*These Dogs can make history Saturday though, as no State team has won in eight tries at either Little Rock or Fayetteville. MSU teams are 0-4-1 in WMS, the tie coming in 1993. State hasn't played on the Arkansas campus since 2003.

*State is looking for the first win over a top-ten opponent since upsetting #3 Florida in 2000. That was 18 such matchups ago. The last win over any ranked foe was in 2010 when the Bulldogs beat #22 Florida. Dan Mullen is 2-12 against ranked opposition.

*In three seasons Mullen is 2-11 in games with Western Division teams, both wins coming against Ole Miss.

The Opponent: Don't look now, but there is still a soft spot in the SEC's fine plans for another national title. And here is an Arkansas team quite capable of exploiting it. After surviving a pair of October hiccups the Razorbacks are on a November roll, piling up yards and points…and pollster votes. They are a couple more West wins away from throwing the Division into three-way confusion, not to mention blowing a few BCS circuits in the process. Sure, a title game shot would take other pieces falling into places. But given what else has happened this fall, why not? There won't be a better resume against ranked victims.

Offense: Here's the stat to know: for their season Arkansas' season scoring by quarter is 100, 96, 97, and 95 points. Meaning they not only put up plenty points but do so consistently and at a league-leading pace. The Hogs are also tops in SEC yardage with 68% of it coming via the air. More specifically, the arm of Tyler Wilson, who served his time in backup to blossom as a junior. He completes 62% of throws and has produced 18 touchdowns, though more impressive is just five picks out of 342 tosses. Somebody has to be hauling in all those balls and sure enough several somebodies are. Jarius Wright (53 rec, 906 yards, 10 TDs) is the SEC pacesetter for both weekly catches and gains with a 100.7 yard average; nobody else is within a dozen yards and only two league rushers net better. He's caught half his team's 20 touchdowns. Anywhere else and Joe Adams (43, 568, 2) would be first choice. And as we don't have the data at hand, does any league tight end have more than Chris Cragg's 30 grabs? Put another way, no less than seven ‘backs have ten or more receptions and six of those have found the end zone. Among that group are both tailbacks, too. In fact Dennis Johnson (508 yards, 3 TDs) has caught a pair of scores, just like Ronnie Wingo (380, 3). Don't dismiss the ground game out of hand either, especially near the goal line where 244-pound Broderick Green bulls on across. 305-pound center and Rimington nominee Travis Swanson is just a sophomore but already on an all-conference fast track, much like his classmate and right guard Alvin Bailey. Wilson's quick release does make their job easier, but don't downplay a group assessed just eight sacks in six SEC games so far. Here's the stats to not take seriously; modest first down totals, possession time, and red zone offense. These guys score fast and from far out making those categories rather irrelevant. Oh, and they've been assessed the league's least penalty yardage, too.

Defense: True, their best defense is scoring a heckuva lot of points. Arkansas still makes its share of stops and isn't exactly poor in any category which counts. They certainly don't get pushed around up front, not with 300-plus pound tackles clogging—if that's the word—everything up inside. Byran Jones has started all ten games, while this week Robert Thomas is booked at first team again after five weeks. Heck, their backups are as big or bigger so it doesn't matter. The defensive ends are as aggressive as any State has faced, led usually by senior Jake Bequette with his 6.0 sacks and four hurries. There's a fine race ongoing for the team TFL lead between MLB Jerry Franklin and OLB Alonzo Highsmith, with 10.0 apiece. Putting those double-digit totals in perspective, Razorbacks have accumulated 58 TFLs already for major losses due to that full-time blitzing approach whether against pass or run. It's not that much of a gamble though because there's speed and support in the secondary to make up for most misses. Safeties Eric Bennett and Tramain Thomas have combined for 120 tackles already and seven interceptions, out of the team's total ten. Old hands senior Isaac Madison and junior Darius Winston take care of solo coverage on the corners. Again, this unit will allow yards and even points. As long as Arkansas makes you work longer and harder for it though, it all comes out a net-win.

Specialists: And when the opponent is stopped, punting is dangerous. For that matter so is kicking off as UA has returned five kicks for touchdowns. Three are by Adams in punt work, which is why he is the SEC's top dog in that category. Johnson and Marquell Wade each have a kickoff return score. PK Zach Hocker is 17-of-19 on field goals with a long of 50 yards, while P Dylan Breeding leads the SEC at 44.6 yards.

Bulldog Notebook: A year ago the Bulldog offense posted the second-best season ever at State averaging 401.3 yards. Until a week ago this unit was right behind at 400.2 yards, before a frustrating evening with Alabama. That dropped the average to 373.3, which is still a top-ten year.

*What took the real hit last week was a rushing game, limited to only 12 net yards on 29 rushes, scrambles, and sacks. This was after romping for 288 ground yards against UTM. Instead State had almost exactly ten times more gain, 119 yards, on passing.

*In State's wins, 13 of the 24 offensive touchdowns have come on drives of six or fewer plays. But 11 of those thirteen still covered 50-plus yards.

*In the five losses, all league games, State has scored just four offensive touchdowns.

*The Bulldog is at their best in odd-quarters. They have given up 37 points in first periods and only 29 in thirds. But, the even-quarters have seen twice as many points scored.

*Alabama ran for 223 yards on a Dog defense that had allowed just 228 in the previous two games, both wins.

*State intercepted at least one pass in the first seven games, 11 total. Ironically in their two latest wins there wasn't a single pick. The Dogs did snare an Alabama pass to start a new streak.

*The 66% passing allowed by State is the highest in the SEC this week. And despite playing many run-oriented opponents there have been more passes thrown against MSU's defense, 319, than any other league team.

*After netting 360 yards in the previous four games, TB Vick Ballard was shut down by Alabama with just 21 yards on nine rushes. That was not a career-low though, as a year ago working in rotation he had just five runs and 13 yards against Auburn.

*He still inches up the career yardage ladder, now with 1,779 to rank 15th in MSU history.

*Ballard has two rushing touchdowns in November so far, both against UTM. Last year he had seven of his 19 scores in November and post-season play.

*His next rushing touchdown will tie Michael Davis for 2nd on the career list with 27, though Ballard has done it in just two seasons to Davis' four. Anthony Dixon's four-year mark of 42 is out of reach, though.

*Ballard is 8th in career points at 162 and will jump two places with a single touchdown more.

*Ballard has eight 100-yard games in two years, tying for 9th on the career chart with three others.

*Ballard has averaged 7.7 yards per carry in non-SEC games. His rate in conference games is 4.3.

*TB LaDarius Perkins is looking for his first rushing touchdown since opening night at Memphis.

*All three Bulldog quarterbacks have rushed for a touchdown.

*Perkins and WR Jameon Lewis are the only Dogs so far with a touchdown both rushing and receiving.

*WR Chad Bumphis is about to become just the 8th Bulldog ever with 100 career catches. He has 98 in three seasons and has caught a pass in every career game but one, in 2010 against UAB.

*And one more big gainer, or a few smaller ones combined, will push the junior into the career top-ten for yardage. He has 1,346 yards in three seasons, just 45 yards out of 10th place.

*Bumphis' 12 touchdown catches tie him for 6th all-time. But he is looking for his first SEC touchdown since the 2010 Alabama game.

*In the last five games Bumphis has averaged 17.2 yards per-catch. In the three preceding games it was just 6.5 yards.

*QB Tyler Russell stood in admirably under pressure last week to complete 13-of-25 throws, without an interception. He is a 54% passer this season, exactly 50% in SEC play.

*Since tossing a pair of picks against South Carolina, Russell has just one interception in his last 55 throws; with three touchdowns.

*He has thrown a touchdown in five-straight games now. Russell's scores have averaged 31 yards, too, where QB Chris Relf's in this season-second half have averaged 20.3 yards.

*A concussion ended Relf's night early after he threw just two balls, both incomplete. He started the Alabama game, having come off the bench the previous two games. In those wins he was 11-of-15 with three touchdowns.

*Since the rotation system started, Relf's completions have netted 13.9 yards. Prior to that his rate was 10.4 yards.

*Relf remains the 2nd-most accurate passer in program history at 57.7%, or 1.1% behind Tyson Lee's record. And Relf is third-best of any Bulldog quarterback ever in interception-per-throw percentage.

*Relf is now responsible for 34 career touchdowns, 9th-best at MSU. But his 25 touchdown passes are 5th-best ever here.

*Tight ends Marcus Green and Malcolm Johnson have three touchdowns between them this year, after their unit accounted for zero in 2010. Since the UAB game they have combined for 13 catches and 232 yards.

*Green has caught three passes in his career that went for fifty yards; no more, no less.

*WR Arceto Clark is one of two Dogs with a catch every game this season. And the junior has been on a true tear the last six weeks with 22 grabs and 284 yards. Clark has already exceeded his 2010 season total of 25 catches with a team-best 27 now.

*WR Chris Smith has a eight-game receiving streak going, and with 27 balls for the season has as many balls as he did the 2009-10 seasons combined.

*State's 15 touchdown passes this season are spread among nine receivers.

*State looks to start the same offensive line for a fifth-straight game, longest stretch of the season.

*Senior Quentin Saulsberry has started 46-straight games at four different positions.

*Of the 21 sacks allowed this season 19 have been in SEC games.

*In a three-game, four-week stretch where DT Fletcher Cox was named the SEC's Defensive lineman of the week, he had 20 total tackles and four sacks. His three-peat was the first for a Bulldog.

*But he did not get any tackles in a short night against UTM, and settled for four against Alabama. Still his 40 stops are a career-best season as he had 29 in both 2009 and '10.

*His 4.0 sacks are also more than the first two years combined and lead the team, as does his 9.0 tackles for losses.

*But his classmate and DT partner Josh Boyd has made up ground with a career-best 11 tackles last week. Boyd now has 7.0 stops for losses. He now leads Cox 46 to 40 in all tackles.

*State has two pick-sixes on the season, none since October 1 though.

*One of those 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 six games during the team's streak. With one more he ties the MSU season record shared by six others. He is tied for 2nd this week in SEC passes-defended.

*He has been stuck on 12 career interceptions for three weeks, 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.

*Broomfield posted a career-best 12 tackles in the Alabama game. His previous best was ten against LSU.

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

*Meanwhile LB Cameron Lawrence now has two interceptions, including one last game. The other was at Georgia, also in a second quarter.

*But the junior is making his name for tackles, a team-best 90 of them. He had a dozen stops against Alabama, his fourth double-digit effort of the season.

*Lawrence has averaged 10.0 tackles over the last four games. He ranks #3 in SEC tackles average for the whole season, but is #2 in league-only stops.

*Meanwhile LB Brandon Wilson is right behind with a 8.1 tackles average overall (t#5 SEC).

*Senior S Charles Mitchell was in on 13 tackles last week, giving him 265 for his Bulldog career. It was his third double-digit outing of the season and sixth career.

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

*And now the Dogs have doubled last year's kick-return touchdown total. Bumphis and Banks have each returned a punt for a score.

*That gives State four non-offensive touchdowns this season, compared to two in 2010. But they had seven in 2009.

*P Baker Swedenburg had a bad breakdown with a dropped punt snap last game, but came back to average 42.7 on the seven kicks completed. That raised his season average to 40.7 with 18 fair catches.

*KO Brian Egan has five touchbacks this season, one more than MSU got all of 2010.

*At mid-season PK Derek DePasquale was the most accurate field goal kicker in MSU history. Now he has missed five of the last six tries and is 29-of-39 career. But he's still holding to #2 in all-time accuracy.

*One more good kick makes DePasquale the sixth Bulldog with 30 or more field goals.

*And DePasquale remains perfect on 79 career PATs, the only Dog kicker on the top-ten to have never missed. The record of 89 makes is shared by Adam Carlson and Brian Hazelwood.

*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