*Mississippi State has won eleven-straight games in non-conference play including bowl victories, dating back to October 2009. Mullen is 12-2 in interconference action with wins over SWAC squads JSU and Alcorn State (2010).
*State has four players who handled the ball in the 2009 Jackson State game back for a rematch. Only WR Brandon Heavens rushed the ball that game, gaining 14 yards on two end-arounds. He lost four yards on his only catch that day though. TE Marcus Green caught three passes for 40 yards; WR Chad Bumphis two for 22; and WR Chris Smith one for 13 yards.
*Bumphis is the only Bulldog to have thrown a pass that game, on The Opening play in fact after a double-reverse. It was incomplete.
*Davis Wade Stadium has hosted 16-consecutive sellouts. As of Friday morning about 300 tickets remained for sale, all returned from Jackson State's unsold allotment. State has sold out its entire stock of season and student tickets for another year, one good reason expansion of DWS is getting underway now. Stadium capacity is unaffected though north-end access and parking is impacted.
*Mississippi State won its last three opening games, all under Mullen and two of those at home. This was after losing debuts in 2006-08. Over their 112 years Dog teams are 79-31-2 for first weekends, but the record is 73-21-2 in non-conference matchups.
*In their last three opening games State teams averaged 51 points.
*Mullen is 21-17 for his three seasons, the second-best start for a Bulldog coach ever for that period. Allyn McKeen won 26 games his first three years, and 34 in the first four years.
The Opponent: Give Jackson State credit, they don't mind testing themselves against higher Division opposition. It hasn't resulted in a win yet, with a 0-8 record, but there's always the first time. Nor is this a Tiger team to dismiss out of hand despite losing a record-setting quarterback key to a late-2011 surge. JSU won six of their last seven games, outscoring opponents 85-13 in the process, and returns eight offensive and seven defensive starters. More impressive is that nine Tigers are preseason All-SWAC first or second team picks. The one prediction likely under Coach Rick Comegy's skin is being tabbed second in the Eastern Division, because this ought to be a team capable of returning to the SWAC title game for the first time since 2007.
Offense: If, that is, JSU can successfully—or just somehow—replace enough of what Casey Therriault provided. He compiled just shy of 3,800 passing yards with 27 touchdowns in a remarkable senior season. For contrast, Mississippi State's entire offense had 4,600 yards in 13 games last year. So who calls the cadence now? Comegy has come down in favor of big senior Dedric McDonald, who was 3-of-9 for 29 yards in all of '11. Curiously, one-time SEC recruit and well-traveled transfer Clayton Moore isn't even on the two-deep. As of today, at least; Saturday should be different. Whoever takes the snaps will have some of the SWAC's best and fastest targets to throw at. Senior Rico Richardson was third in team catches last year at 37, but 11 of those went for touchdowns with an eye-opening average gain of 24.2 yards. Michael Perkins (24 balls, 325 yards) is listed first on the other end, but all expect former Ole Miss wideout Tobias Singleton to make immediate impact here. A good passing quarterback is a must because there are others able to make big plays via throwing such as wideout-turned-tight end E.J. Drewery (26, 354, 2 TDs). Don't overlook halfback B.J. Lee either as a passing option after a 27-catch junior year. Both leading rushers return, with Lee and Tommy Gooden accounting for over 900 yards between them and impressive per-carry gains. The skill folk benefit from a good-sized offensive line with a fair degree of returning experience, having allowed just 21 sacks…very good given all the throwing. The muscle and age is more to the left side with tackle Zion Pyatt and guard Jordan Arthur. Again, it all comes down to who can take over running this attack and distribute to all the play-makers.
Defense: There will be games JSU doesn't need a lot of points to win, because they have a defense thought ought not give up many. As noted eight starters return. The few losses matter, most obviously end Donovan Robinson after he notched a record-tying 16 sacks. But this may just give Joseph LeBeau more opportunities from the other end spot. As a junior transfer he scored 75 tackles, 22.5 of them credited for losses and 16 sacks as well, in just eleven games. LeBeau is up for every possible SWAC and HBCU honor and deservedly so. The scheme is listed as a 4-2 but realistically it's a two-man front. Because those two men, tackles Jonathan Billups and Michael Dukes, total 635 pounds between them. That is a lottttt of meat to move, and lest any think these are merely big bodies Billups had 47 tackles and a couple of sacks as a junior. Rover-‘backer Todd Wilcher led the team in tackles with 76, while middle linebacker Milton Patterson notched 55 with eleven for losses. He's up for national honors as well and has 138 career stops in three seasons. The fellows up-front will need to keep the pressure on as the secondary restocks a few spots. They do have a big-play man on one corner with junior Qua Cox, good for three interceptions last year, while free safety Richard Hughes got his hands on another pass.
Specialists: It looks like freshmen will be kicking the ball this season. Though, there is some experience with soph Michael Perkins who punted at a 34.9 rate as the backup in '11. The expected punter, an Australian import, did not gain eligibility. For now rookie Tony Dean is listed first, and another frosh Ryan Deising is the placekicker. Singleton was a dangerous Rebel return man and will line up deep for his new team with Lee getting first chance fielding punts.
Bulldog Notebook: Mississippi State goes into the season with seven Bulldogs nominated for post-season honors. CB Johnthan Banks is on watch lists for the Nagursky Trophy, Bednarik Award, Thorpe Award, Lott Trophy, and Hornung Award. OG Gabe Jackson is nominated for the Outland Trophy and Lombardi Award. DT Josh Boyd is up for the Outland Trophy as well. WR Chad Bumphis is on the Hornung Award list too, and OC Dillon Day is up for the Rimington Trophy. LB Cameron Lawrence is on the Butkus Award list, and injured TE Malcolm Johnson for the Mackey Award.
*State returns just 29% of its net rushing from 2011, and only five rushing touchdowns. HB LaDarius Perkins tops the returns-list with 422 yards and two scores.
*On the other hand nine of last year's top-ten receivers are back. And 2011 seniors accounted for 121 of the 198 total receptions last season.
*In Mullen's three years his teams have scored 13 non-offensive touchdowns, on returns of kicks or turnovers.
*Perkins is a good tote away from cracking the 1,000 Yard rushing list. He has 988 yards after two varsity seasons, and an average gain of 5.3 each attempt.
*Counting receptions and returns, Perkins goes into the junior year with 1,938 total yards.
*QB Tyler Russell has started games before, four of them in 2011. But this will be his first season-opening start. State hopes he continues on the trend shown in his previous '09 and '10 first games off the bench though. In those two relief turns, both against Memphis, Russell was a combined 18-of-25 for 394 yards and five touchdowns.
*Four of those five TDs came in the 2010 game when Russell tied the program record.
*Russell was a 60% passer off the bench last season; 48.6% as a starter.
*But Russell is still the 4th-most-accurate passer in program history already, at 55.7% for two seasons. This oughtn't surprise though, as #s 1 and 2 on the career list also played for Dan Mullen.
*And in the Passing Efficiency calculations, which takes completions, touchdowns, turnovers into account, Russell already ranks #1 among all Bulldog quarterbacks who threw at least 150 attempts.
*Bumphis is the eighth Bulldog to reach triple-digit receptions, going into the senior season with 101 catches. *Bumphis has caught at least one pass in every game of his career save 2010 against UAB. But he had just one catch in each of the last three games of '11.
*He begins this year with 1,348 career yards, 43 shy of tying for 10th place all-time.
*His 12 touchdown catches are tied for 6th-most. Ten of these have been in non-conference games.
*Bumphis has rushed 32 times for 218 yards, too.
*WR Jameon Lewis (Memphis 2011) and Bumphis (2009 Georgia Tech) have the two touchdowns scored on receiver rushes under Mullen.
*WR Arceto Clark had a 18-game receiving streak snapped in the Egg Bowl. He began a new one with a couple of grabs in the Music City Bowl. *TE Marcus Green was granted an extra senior season after missing so many games early in his career. Green has 42 catches in the 29 games he has been able to play.
*State allowed just three sacks in non-conference games last season.
*The Bulldog defense had just one interception in the last six games of 2011.
*Boyd collected a tackle every game last season save at Auburn. He begins the senior season with 92 total stops in 38 games, and 8.0 sacks.
*Boyd may miss his three-year comrade Fletcher Cox, but not on the stat sheet. The two tackles were neck-and-neck statistically for the past two seasons with Cox winning last year 56 to 51.
*OLB Lawrence goes into the senior year with 171 total tackles, most on the roster. In the last four games of '11 Lawrence averaged over 11 stops.
*CB Banks has made known his goal of graduating with the career interceptions record. He is tied for second with Derek Pegues and Izell McGill, all with a dozen picks. The record was set by Walt Harris 1992-95 with 16.
*Banks had four interceptions as a freshman, three as a sophomore, and five last fall.
*He has three pick-sixes at State, which ties him for the active FBS lead…with teammate CB/S Corey Broomfield. Broomfield owns nine career interceptions to tie for 11th on the MSU chart, but didn't intercept a ball all of 2011.
*S Nickoe Whitley had four interceptions in an injury-shortened 2011, giving him seven for his career.
*Bulldog defensive backs have between them now have 29 interceptions, seven for touchdowns including the '11 return by CB Darius Slay.
*P Baker Swedenburg averaged 41.9 yards in his first season of kicking and was not blocked.
*Nor did State have any placekicks blocked in '11.
*KO Brian Egan is the only specialist to have attempted a placekick. He was 3-of-3 on points-after but missed his lone field goal attempt last season.
*There are five current Bulldogs who have played in all 38 of Mullen's games at MSU: Banks, Boyd, Broomfield, FB Sylvester Hemphill, and Heavens. None have started every game. Banks has the most Mullen-era starts with 32, while Boyd and Broomfield have opened 28 times.
*OG Jackson has the active consecutive start streak, 26 games and counting.
*State has played three true freshmen in each of the past two seasons.