Bulldog Football Scouting Report

The Game: #19-ranked Mississippi State (5-0, 2-0 SEC) is back home for another inter-Division matchup, hosting Tennessee (3-2, 0-2 SEC) at Scott Field. Kickoff is 8:00 for ESPN2 telecast with the MSU broadcast on XM197/Sirius128. Pre-game shows begin locally at 5:00 on WKBB-100.9 and the full network at 6:00.

*With a win Mississippi State will have matched the longest streak of Coach Dan Mullen's four seasons, as the 2010 team won six-straight in mid-season. Counting back to 2011, the Bulldogs have won seven-straight now; one short of matching the 1999 team's 8-0 start.

*Eight-straight wins is the longest streak ever at Mississippi State.

*And only three Bulldog teams (1919, 1940, 1999) have opened 6-0.

*With last week's win at Kentucky, the Bulldogs gained another place in the AP rankings. This is the 12th out of 43 games under Mullen to play with a ranking.

*Tennessee was ranked for a week in September and is still receiving poll votes. Mullen has not lost to an opponent either unranked or not receiving votes.

*Mullen owns 26 victories through four seasons and already ranks fifth in program history.

*This is his first meeting with the Volunteers as head coach. And Tennessee arrives with a six-win streak over Bulldog teams, dating back to 1995. That includes a 1998 win in the SEC Championship Game as the Vols went on to win the national title.

*State's last win over Tennessee was in 1994, at Scott Field on a last-drive touchdown catch by Kendall Watkins. The Vols hold a 28-15-1 lead dating back to 1907.

*State has won its last five home games.

The Opponent: It isn't just coach-speak any more for Derek Dooley to remind impatient fans the Vols are this close. Because they are. After a couple of frustrating and more to the point maturing year, Tennessee has a team on the verge of breakthrough. The progress is much more obvious on offense, a wise choice in priorities given how much lead the league's best already had on defense. True, two shots at ranked team this season missed. But not by much, and now UT gets another such opportunity to give Dooley that first win over a polled opponent. A hip operation means he'll sit in the coaching box tomorrow night. Upon arrival he might ought to tip the proverbial cap in thanks, as his 2008 victory over State at Louisiana Tech helped bring him to Knoxville.

Offense: The only, and it is the sole mark against Tyler Bray, is the 11-6 record as a starting quarterback. In every other possible aspect the 6-6 junior has been special and at times spectacular. He's about to surpass 5,500 passing yards and 50 touchdowns for the career, which by the way was shortened by a sophomore injury that showed just how priceless he is to this program. So far this season he's got 14 scores against six picks and tossing for 316 yards per-game. OK, so he's just 7th in the ‘efficiency' rating but that is more a reflection of his pro-style throwing compared to predominant spread-system peers in this league. Put another way, this unit does not seek true drives, they thrive on big strikes. Certainly no SEC slinger has a better selection of targets for tossing to. The only reason Jordan Hunter (33 balls, 456 yards, 4 TDs) doesn't lead the league in catches or yards (he's 2nd and 3rd respectively) is he must share the ball with Cordarrelle Patterson (21, 290, 2) and other capable cohorts. Plus, the starting wideouts are a mismatch in both skills and size for most defensive backs, backed by subs who are small with straight-out speed. Speaking of which, RB Rajion Neal can scoot too. But the junior has shown strength as well as the season progresses. Don't be fooled by the 4.5 yard per-carry rate either, Neal can break it big if defenses obsess over coverage downfield. If that isn't tough enough to scheme, TE Mychal Rivera gets 18 yards each touch. The front line is more than just big, it's seasoned. 310-pound James Stone has re-won the starting center job, and works beside Outland nominee LG Dallas Thomas. Oh, at 6-3 Stone is the shorty of the group. Now here is the really scary part: there are just three seniors in this week's starting set. Should draft-candidate Bray return for 2013, the mind boggles…

Defense: No, even the most devout Vol will not call this a strong defense statistically. (Physically, now, any unit that builds around a 370-plus-pound nose guard doesn't lack for strength.) Still with an offense that can ring up six at any point it only takes a few series-stops to get the defensive job done. For that matter this group isn't entirely a pushover with solid third-down and pass-efficiency numbers. And no single body is going to push NG Daniel McCullers around when he lines up over-center and ties up enough blockers that ends Darrington Sentimore (2.0 sacks) and Maurice Couch (19 tackles) can attack. The key to the usual 3-4 set is freeing up any or all the linebackers to go make a play. MLB A.J. Johnson leads that list with 42 tackles already and four hurries. And if not for a shoulder injury in the opener WLB Herman Lathers would have much more than 16 tackles and a sack by now. It is the backfield which has been piling up statistics though, led by FS Byron Moore with 36 stops. He moved over from strong safety after starter Brian Randolph was lost in game-three to injury. Moore also has four interceptions to tie for second in the SEC and NCAA, so don't look for him to only play support. SS Brent Brewer is coming off a nine-tackle day against Georgia, and Eric Gordon provides the nickel-set option as either a safety or cornerback with two interceptions and 22 tackles. This has not been a sack-heavy group with just six in five games, but the turnover margin is on the positive side and UT has allowed red zone touchdowns on only half the chances. Besides, as noted already, they don't have to stop the other guys all the time; just enough times.

Specialists: Matt Darr is the primary punter with his 40.7 yard average on just 15 tries, while placekicking duty is split. Michael Palardy hit a pair of field goals in the opener and is 9-of-11 PAT, then Derrick Broadus took over with six-straight field goals and 12-of-14 points-after. Devrin Young is a consistent punt returner at 10.9 yards and shares kickoffs with Patterson (27.6 yards).

Bulldog Notebook: Mississippi State's defense is tied for the SEC lead in gaining turnovers with 15 (9 interceptions, six fumbles), and second in turnover margin at +11. The Bulldogs were leading the nation in margin but didn't collect a Kentucky turnover of either sort last week.

*Unofficial statistics show State tied for 10th nationally in three-and-out defense, averaging four per game.

*The Bulldog offense has lost three fumbles and thrown one interception.

*State has trailed a total of 10:19 through five games, the fourth-fewest in current NCAA statistics.

*And MSU has the SEC's second-best kickoff coverage team on average.

*QB Tyler Russell is one of seven in D-1 level who have thrown one or no interceptions. There are just three who have not been picked off so far. For his career Russell has thrown 23 touchdowns and 11 interceptions, but for this year the rate is 10 to 1.

*That one pick, against South Alabama, did snap a 137-pass streak for Russell without a turnover, which had tied the MSU record set by 2007 freshman Wes Carroll.

*Russell re-set three of his career-highs last week at Kentucky with 23 completions, 39 attempts, and 269 yards.

*Russell has 20-plus completions in two games now, both against SEC opponents (Auburn, Kentucky).

*Russell is now tied for 8th in career touchdowns tossed with Rockey Felker. His 24th touchdown will tie for 7th with Tommy Pharr.

*In straight completion percentage, Russell stands 4th all-time at 55.7%. But his passing efficiency number of 139.51 is already #1 for any State passer with 150 or more throws.

*Two years ago State split-up rushes for a month before picking a lead Dog. RB LaDarius Perkins seems to have taken on that role this October after a 25-carry day at Kentucky for 110 yards. It was his fourth 100-yard outing but second of the season.

*The 25 totes were a career-high for Perkins.

*Perkins has six rushing touchdowns so far this season, more than the total five of his first two years as the backup. He has scored at least once every game in 2012.

*Perkins also had five receptions last week, also a career-most, for 53 yards. Though he has yet to catch a touchdown as a junior, after scoring on five throws the first two seasons.

*A nine-catch day at Kentucky pushed WR Chad Bumphis into 10th place in this week's SEC standings. He is 7th in average yardage though.

*But the big Bumphis news was snagging that 27-yard touchdown in the third quarter. It was his 18th touchdown and sets the Mississippi State record. Bumphis broke the tie of 17 touchdowns with Eric Moulds and Justin Jenkins.

*He had his fourth touchdown in a SEC game Saturday.

*The nine catches tied Bumphis' personal best set in 2010 against Alcorn State, and was as many grabs than he'd had in any two consecutive games since that season.

*Bumphis has five 100-yard receiving games out of his 42 career contests.

*Now with 122 career catches, Bumphis ranks 4th-best on the Bulldog list having jumped four spots in one week. He needs 139 to catch Jenkins. Bumphis has caught at least one pass in all but one college game (UAB 2010).

*Bumphis' 1,723 career yards are good for 8th, and he is only one yard behind Terrell Grindle.

*Bumphis now has 2,819 all-purpose yards and needs 2,911 to crack the top-ten.

*WR Chris Smith has caught three balls in the last three games. He also has a reception in 21 of his last 22 games.

*WR Arceto Clark's five catches last week also matched his career-best (5 vs. Tenn-Martin 2011). The 62 yards was his second-best output as a Bulldog, too.

*Clark had three touchdowns in 2010 and four last season but is yet to get in the end zone as a senior.

*At Kentucky, only the three seniors Bumphis, Smith, and Clark caught a pass among the wide receivers.

*FB Adrian Marcus has his first college catch last week. Not only that, but the 10-yard play also produced his first touchdown as a Bulldog.

*TE Marcus Green began the season with six catches and 85 yards in the first two games. He has one ball for two yards (at Kentucky) since.

*OG Gabe Jackson will make his 32nd consecutive start.

*The Bulldogs have allowed just three sacks this season, tied with Tennessee for first place in the SEC.

*CB Darius Slay has gone two games without an interception. He still is tied for second in the NCAA with four picks. He has five career interceptions, two returned for touchdowns (Georgia 2011, Jackson State 2012).

*Slay has averaged 31.6 yards returns on his picks.

*CB Johnthan Banks needs one more interception to tie the program record of 16, set by Walt Harris (1992-95). He has three picks this season, two against Auburn and one against South Alabama.

*Banks has three two-pick games in his career. And his three touchdown returns ties for the MSU record.

*The Thorpe Award nominee also has 177 career tackles and four sacks, and 21 total PBUs.

*Banks shares the TD-return record with SS Corey Broomfield. The senior has nine career interceptions but hasn't gotten one since the 2010 Egg Bowl, a stretch of 19 games.

*FS Nickoe Whitley has eight career interceptions of his own. So the current starting State secondary quartet has 37 picks between them.

*LB Cameron Lawrence topped the 200-tackle mark in his 41st game. The senior now has 204 stops, though his per-game rate has dropped this season. He had two against USA and five at Kentucky, none for losses. Lawrence is spending more time directing teammates where to go make the tackles this senior season.

*State is 13th in SEC sacks with just eight, but three of those came in the last game.

*In four seasons, Mullen teams have scored 15 non-offense sourced touchdowns on turnovers or blocks.

*P Baker Swedenburg is averaging 40.4 yard this season, mostly due to good offensive field position. But eight of his 21 punts have gone inside the 20-yard line and four inside the ten. That's ahead of his 2011 rate.

*In four of his five games this season, strong coverage has allowed either zero or negative-yards on return attempts.

*PK Devon Bell missed his first three college field goal tries; now he has a six-make string going with a long connection of 42 yards. And he is 17-of-18 on PATs with the miss a clanking at Troy.

*State kicking produced seven touchbacks in all 2011. With a more generous starting point Bell and KO Brian Egan have combined for seven this year.

*Five Bulldogs have played in all 43 games under Mullen: Banks, DT Josh Boyd, Broomfield, FB Sylvester Hemphill, and WR Brandon Heavens. None have started every game. Banks has the most Mullen-era starts with 36.

*Five true freshmen have played: PK Bell, DT Nick James, DT Quay Evans, DE Ryan Brown, and CB Cedric Jiles. Only three true freshmen played in both 2010 and '11.

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