Bulldog Football Scouting Report

The Game: #15-ranked Mississippi State (6-0, 3-0 SEC) celebrates Homecoming 2012 by hosting Middle Tennessee (4-2, 2-1 SBC) in the last non-conference game of the season. Kickoff at Scott Field is 6:00. The pre-game Bulldog broadcast begins at 3:00 locally (100.9FM/96.3FM) with the full network broadcast at 4:00.

*Mississippi State boasts its highest AP ranking since the 2010 team ended their season also #15. This is the highest regular-season ranking since 1999 when those Bulldogs reached #8 at 8-0.

*The bowl-eligible Bulldogs are among 12 remaining unbeaten D-I programs.

*This is the 13th game out of 44 that Dan Mullen's teams have played with a ranking.

*Mullen teams have won 14-straight non-conference games, a streak that started against Middle Tennessee in 2009.

*At 6-0 the Bulldogs have matched the 2010 team for longest Mullen in-season winning streak. Counting back to 2011, State has an eight-win streak going which matches the in-season string of 1999 also.

*And only three Bulldog teams (1919, 1940, 1999) have opened 6-0. The current in-season string ties for third-longest in the NCAA as of this week.

*Mullen owns 27 victories through four seasons and already ranks fifth in program history.

*State has won its last six home games.

*MSU teams have won their last two Homecomings, and five of the last six with an all-time mark of 49-21-3 since the event began in 1937.

*Middle Tennessee has twice before served as Homecoming guest, with MSU winning both in 2000 and 2008. State is 4-0 against Raider teams including a 2009 victory at Murfreesboro in Mullen's first season.

*The Raiders have not played a top-25 team since 2007 (LSU).

*Raider teams are 6-36 against BCS conferences but got one of those wins this year, at Georgia Tech. They are 3-19 against SEC teams with all three wins over Vanderbilt, and have played every SEC school except Auburn.

The Opponent: It is shaping up as a bounce-back season for Rick Stockstill (39-42), after the 2011 club unexpectedly slumped to 2-10 and snapped a two-year bowling string. The 4-2 start is best in eleven years; and at 2-1 the Raiders are a game back of three Sun Belt foes in the current standings, getting their shot at one of the leaders next week against Western Kentucky. Stockstill's seventh team just took a blow with the loss of star back Benny Cunningham last week but there's enough remaining firepower to keep MT competitive and get them back to a bowl. Though they won't catch the Bulldogs off-guard after Troy and South Alabama blew the rising conference's cover.

Offense: Yes, they will miss senior Cunningham's 600 yards and 11 touchdowns through six games; he was third in the nation in scoring in fact and netting six-plus yards per tote. But LSU transfer Drayton Calhoun (213 yards) and Jordan Parker (199) aren't shabby themselves and the offense averages just under 200 ground yards each game. There is more than ground-pounding here, too, as QB Logan Kilgore ranks 25th nationally in passing efficiency. He's completing 67% of all throws with nine touchdowns against three interceptions, worth admiring in any conference. Somebody is catching all those balls and split end Anthony Amos leads the list with 39 grabs for 580 yards and five touchdowns. Get this, four times already this year Amos has seven or more receptions, a month's work in many programs. H-man Kyle Griswould (24, 235, 1) is the other preferred target while Christian Collis has two touchdowns as well. 308-pound Micah Gaines moved to center for this senior season to work between a pair of veteran guards. This line does protect the passer, too; MT was 2nd-best in NCAA sacks allowed last year and have just given up four so far this season. Though, a program that prides itself on positive-turnover ratio has taken a turn to the negative this season. They also tend to slow starts as 126 of the 200 points this season have come in second halves.

Defense: The offense might have gotten a little loose with the ball lately but the defense has responded with a dozen forced turnovers the last five games. And while Memphis and Florida Atlantic aren't powerhouses by any stretch, both were held under 100 rushing yards. The Raiders emphasize aggression and it has showed with consistent sacks and tackles for losses. 305-pound RT Jimmy Staten is a good centerpiece to build the 4-3 base around, a junior and 18-game starter. Either Kendall Dangerfield or Patrick McNeil start at the other tackle, both bringing more SEC-size to the front. It's allowed ends Shubert Bastien and Omar Mclendon to combine for three sacks and get 17 tackles apiece. But it is the linebacking pair of SLB Craig Allen and MLB Roderic Blunt battling for the team lead with 47 and 46 stops respectively. And WLB T.T. Barber's 11 stops against Georgia Tech marked him as one of the league's best freshmen talents. FS Kevin Byard is another first-year standout, with 40 tackles after redshirting in 2011; while former running back David Jones now thrives as a strong safety. CB Kenneth Gilstrap can cover, tackle, and really run, as the SBC's reigning 55-meter dash champion. It's good the Raiders force frequent fumbles, because interceptions are uncommon. They also aren't stopping opponents on third downs often enough lately, possession time is not in MT's favor, and too many penalty flags are thrown their direction.

Specialists: A State team that has given up two touchdowns already has to watch out this week as MT leads their league in kickoff returns, led by Reggie Whatley's 31-yard average. Raider teams have also blocked 20 assorted kicks in the last four seasons. P Josh Davis (41.3) has put seven of 18 punts inside 20-yard lines this season and 30 times in his career. PK Carlos Lopez is 8-of-9 on field goals with a long make of 44 yards in his first season after transferring from Carson-Newman.

Bulldog Notebook: Mississippi State's defense is tied, with Alabama, for the D-I and SEC lead in most turnovers gained with 18; broken down as eight fumbles recovered and ten interceptions. Some national sites fail to list a fumble in State's favor.

*Also, after correcting a fumble charged to State on Kentucky's successful on-sides kickoff, the Bulldogs have just three turnovers through six games; two fumbles, one interception. So the turnover margin of +15 would tie Ohio for first nationally this week.

*Bulldog punt coverage is best in the country this weekend. Only State has stuck opponents with negative-return yardage of all 124 D-I programs.

*State comes in just 101st in sacks this season; but are 14th-best in sacks allowed.

*State has trailed a total of just over 16 minutes through six games, the fifth-fewest in current NCAA statistics.

*The Bulldog offense has notched 49 plays of ten or more yards in the three SEC games. Of that total, 20 came against Tennessee.

*QB Tyler Russell is one of eight 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 25 touchdowns and 11 interceptions, but for this year the rate is 12 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.

*In his last two games, both SEC wins, Russell is a combined 46-of-76 for 560 yards with four interceptions and no turnovers. In fact, for his three SEC games this year Russell is 66-of-105 (63%) with 782 yards. His 23 completions against Kentucky and again Tennessee were career-mosts, and his 291 yards last week was also a career high.

*In SEC play this year, Russell's average gain for completed passes is 10.9 yards. In the three non-conference wins, the rate is 15.4 yards.

*His 25 touchdowns, in just 24 career games and ten starts, already rank Russell 6th on the MSU list tied with Tony Shell. He needs three more TD tosses to catch former teammate Chris Relf for 5th.

*In straight completion percentage, Russell stands 4th all-time at 56.3%. But his passing efficiency number of 140.15 is already #1 for any State passer with 150 or more throws, ahead of Jackie Parker.

*Also climbing the career charts is senior WR Chad Bumphis. Though, he already holds one all-time record with 18 touchdown passes, breaking the tie for first a week ago at Kentucky.

*Bumphis is on a tear these last two weeks with nine and seven catches in State's wins. That matches his previous best two-game streak with 16 combined catches in 2010 against Alcorn State and Houston.

*So this week Bumphis ranks 6th in SEC (all games) catches per-game, and fifth in yardage. But in SEC games-only the standings jump to 4th in catches PG and yardage alike.

*With 129 career catches Bumphis is #4 on the MSU list, ten behind Justin Jenkins. He is 5th in yardage at 1,816 also behind Jenkins.

*Of the 18 touchdowns, 14 have come in non-conference play.

*Bumphis has five 100-yard receiving games out of his 43 career contests.

*Bumphis just moved into the career all-purpose yardage top ten with 2,912, making the list by one yard.

*RB LaDarius Perkins strung his first consecutive 100-yard rushing games of the career in State's last two wins, with 110 yards at Kentucky and 101 against Tennessee. He now has four 100-yard games in three seasons.

*He ranks third in SEC rushing yardage this week, 99.8 per game.

*Perkins has 25 and 23 carries the last two weeks, both career-mosts.

*Six games into the junior season, Perkins has already rushed for seven touchdowns giving him a dozen for the career. He has scored at least once every game this season.

*And he averages 19 yards on his touchdown carries, though two of them have been one-yard dives.

*He has yet to score on a pass this season, after getting five receiving touchdowns the first two years.

*This year Perkins has returned kickoffs in just two games. He ran back four each time, for 85 yards at Troy and 80 against Tennessee.

*RB Josh Robinson got his first career touchdown carry on a ten-yard burst against Tennessee.

*But QB Dak Prescott has rushed for two touchdowns himself. Not only that but the redshirt threw his first college score with a 13-yard strike against Tennessee, and on only his eighth pass of the season.

*For a run-first quarterback, Prescott's net of 13.5 yards per caught pass is pretty impressive.

*WR Chris Smith is certainly consistent. He's caught three passes in each of the last four games.

*But WR Arceto Clark has eight catches for 106 yards in just the last two games. He nets 15.9 per-reception this season.

*Both Smith and Clark are working for their first touchdowns of the senior season.

*A fullback has caught a ball each of the last two games; Adrian Marcus had a 10-yard touchdown at Kentucky and Sylvester Hemphill a five-yard grab for first down against Tennessee.

*And look who is back in business. TE Marcus Green had a career Saturday with six catches against Tennessee. The grabs went for 71 yards but more importantly twice he caught touchdowns in the end zone, each from a different quarterback.

*Green now has five touchdowns out of 13 catches this season, way ahead of his 2009 season with three TDs out of 27 grabs. Four of his five scores have been in SEC wins.

*And TE Malcolm Johnson returned to action in a big way after missing five games with a summer injury. He caught one 25-yard throw for a first down; then finished the game with a spectacular one-hander for a nine-yard touchdown to seal the victory.

*OG Gabe Jackson will make his 33rd consecutive start.

*CB Corey Broomfield ended a 19-game interception drought by picking off Tennessee in the second quarter. His first pick since the 2010 Egg Bowl gives the senior ten for his career, tying him for 10th all-time with four former MSU greats.

*Meanwhile CB Johnthan Banks is awaiting the interception opportunity which ties him for the State record (16, Walt Harris). The senior has 15 picks, most recently against South Alabama. Nine of his interceptions have been SEC passes.

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

*The Thorpe Award nominee didn't pick a Tennessee pass, but he did force and recover the crucial fourth-quarter fumble that put State in charge.

*Banks now has 183 career tackles and four sacks.

*CB Darius Slay has gone three games without an interception. He still is tied for third 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.

*FS Nickoe Whitley has eight career interceptions of his own. So the current starting State secondary quartet has 38 picks between them.

*LB Cameron Lawrence now has 214 career tackles in 42 games. And while his per-game rate has dropped from the 2011 pace, in games that count most Lawrence is there. He had double-digit tackles in wins over Auburn, at Troy, and Tennessee.

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

*P Baker Swedenburg is averaging 40.7 yard this season, mostly due to good offensive field position. But 11 of his 26 punts have gone inside the 20-yard line and a dozen have been fair-caught.

*PK Devon Bell had a seven-make field goal streak end when he missed a 38-yarder last weekend. For the year the true freshman is 8-of-12 on field goals and 22-of-23 on PATs.

*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 44 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 37.

*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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