Bulldog Football Scouting Report-Oct 23, 2013

The Game: Mississippi State (3-3, 0-2 SEC) opens the second half of this season, hosting Kentucky (1-5, 0-3) in a Thursday evening game at Scott Field. Kickoff is 6:31 with local pre-game broadcast airing at 3:30 from the Junction and the full MSU Network joining at 4:30.

*Mississippi State completes a four-game homestand this week, the longest such stretch at Scott Field since the 1999 team opened with four-straight home games, all wins. These Bulldogs are 2-1 on the home field but looking for the first SEC win here or away.

*This is Kentucky's first visit to campus since 2010. SEC expansion forced tweaks to rotations and sent the Bulldogs to Lexington the last two seasons. Both trips turned out well with MSU wins, extending a streak over the Wildcats to four years now. The programs are scheduled for 2014 as well but beyond that all SEC scheduling is up for debate and adjusting.

*Neither team has ever won five-straight meetings in the series, begun in 1914 and played annually since 1990. Though, due to a MSU forfeit of the 1976 win, Kentucky officially won all eight games played from 1958 through '90.

*Though State has a four-win streak going none have come easily, with an average margin of eight points.

*Mississippi State expects to extend its record home sellout streak to #28 this week, a stretch going back to 2009 and Dan Mullen's first season.

*With 32 wins in five seasons Mullen is fourth on the State list and needs five more victories to tie Emory Bellard (1979-85) for third at 37.

*Mississippi State is hosting two Thursday night games this season, with the schedule-ending Egg Bowl booked for Thanksgiving Night. The last Thursday night win for State came in 2011 in the opener at Memphis. That same season the Dogs lost at home to LSU on a Thursday as well.

*State has lost the last seven Thursday SEC games played, home or away, going back to the 2002 Egg Bowl. The last win was in the 2001 Egg Bowl, on campus. State and Kentucky played a Thursday game, at Scott Field, in 1999 with the Bulldogs kicking a field goal to win 23-22.

The Opponent: Presumably Mark Stoops understood just what sort of challenge he'd accepted, if only by looking at Kentucky's schedule. Beginning a rebuild is ever-so-harder when taking on two in-state opponents and four top-twenty teams in just the first half of a season. Thus the record isn't too surprising, yet Stoops can point to weekly progress in specific areas and some pretty competitive showings already. Getting a healthy quarterback would present some real November opportunities for more wins, too. Oh, and give the new boss credit for crashing into recruiting full-force. With a SEC East that seems due for serious shakeups next season, this could be the right time for a resurgence in Lexington.

Offense: Just when the quarterback situation seemed settled, Jalen Whitlow rolled an ankle on first series against Alabama and fellow sophomore Maxwell Smith was again the guy. An open date means Whitlow is officially available, forcing defenses to prepare for both his well-timed running (4.9 yards per, 3 TDs) and 66% passing. State got to see him last season by the way, as Whitlow was 10-of-21 as a raw rookie with a touchdown keeper. Smith is the purer passer with five TDs tossed this season but a little simpler to scheme for at 55% accuracy so far. The running game is much-improved in both depth and health, as longsuffering senior Raymond Sanders (255 yards, 2 TDs) is finally at speed and making plays. It's newcomer JoJo Kemp who's added explosiveness though at 5.9 per tote, and watch for reverses and end-arounds too as the wideouts get to carry regularly. The air attack has got instant aid from a quartet of newcomers. Juco Javess Blue has a team-best 24 grabs and 319 yards, and a couple of scores, while frosh Ryan Timmons is next at 20, 209, and 1 TD. That's a whole lot of fresh faces who have to be accounted for the second half of this season and well into the future. The front line has settled in for the most part since week-two when redshirt freshman Jon Toth took over at center, with the same right-siders starting every game led by senior RG Kevin Mitchell. Left guard has been shakier with three starters so far, and it will be first snap Thursday to know whether Max Godby or Zach West gets the honor this week. Issues this season are a SEC-worst third down rate of 25.7% conversions which reflects the lowest possession-time total. This too could change as the opposition gets at least a little softer in weekends to come.

Defense: Again allowing for the schedule so-far, credit where due: the big-hitters that so cost Kentucky in previous seasons has been cut way down, sacks are up, and red-zone work is improved as well. No surprise really, given Stoops' history as a defensive coordinator and secondary coach. He certainly had to like meeting his defensive tackles, both seniors and both just plain huge. Donte Rumph and Mister Cobble bring a combined 650 or so pounds to the interior to begin with, then can be switched out for somewhat lighter and much quicker tackles as needed. When the bigger boys tie-up blocking, ends Alvin Dupree (due back this week after missing six quarters with injury) and Za'Darius Smith can attack. They've got eight sacks combined already with hurries and knocked-down passes. Every year Kentucky has a linebacker either at or near the top of SEC tackle stats; it's the turn of senior Avery Williamson to set that pace, with 64 stops from the mike position. He had 13 stops against Alabama alone, and 15 against Louisville. Former end TraVaughn Paschal has adapted to weak-side linebacker, while often as not UK has dropped the strong-side ‘backer and replaced it with nickel safety Blake McClain, a true frosh and already a playmaker all over the field. He reinforces a feisty secondary which has intercepted just one pass to-date but breaks up a bunch of throws and isn't getting beat deep a lot. Though it's worth noting, opponents have 100 more rushes against UK than pass attempts. No wonder safety Eric Dixon and cornerback Nate Willis are second and third in team tackles, with all the required support. The Wildcats allow almost 43% of third downs to convert, and are tied for SEC-last in forced turnovers with seven through six games.

Specialists: He's a senior but this is Joe Mansour's first season as full-time placekicker. It was worth the way though as he turned a faked field goal into a 25-yard touchdown carry against Florida, what UK believes is the first such score by a specialist in their history. He's hit all six of his real kicks, longest a 37-yarder. Punter Landon Foster is busy with 31 kicks already, averaging 41.6 yards. Several Kats have taken turns in returns with wideout Demarco Robinson emerging as the best threat, especially on punts.

Bulldog Notebook: Senior OG Gabe Jackson has started all 45 games of his Bulldog career, the most ever for a Mullen player. He just moved past Johnthan Banks' 44 starts in 2009-12.

*Only Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray (47) has more starts by an active NCAA player.

*The Bulldogs still are first in SEC kickoff return average, by over four yards.

*Mississippi State is second in SEC turnover margin this week. The Dogs have only 10 takeaways all season, but also have just six turnovers including a league-low one fumble lost. State is one of three SEC teams that hasn't lost the football in the red zone.

*The Bulldogs are also second-best in time of possession at 33:42 per game.

*But a 13th-rating this week in SEC red zone defense is a bit deceptive. The 12 touchdowns allowed are fourth-fewest in the conference.

*In the first six games, the Bulldog offense produced plays gaining 10-or-more yards 106 times, or on 24.7% of all offensive snaps.

*State has been outscored in fourth quarters 49-17, though neither MSU nor Bowling Green got points in the most recent fourth period. The best quarter for Bulldogs is the second, 86 points to 34.

*QB Tyler Russell had a successful return to starting status, throwing 12-of-14 in his first opening since the concussion suffered August 31. Since being reactivated, the senior is 19-of-25 passing for 248 yards, two scores, and no interceptions.

*In fact Russell is completing almost 71% of his throws all this season, albeit in limited action.

*For his career Russell nets 14.7 yards on completed passes against non-conference teams; and 13.2 yards in league play.

*Now that he's the all-time touchdown passes leader with 39, Russell can track his progress on other career top-tens. He is second in completions percentage at 58.3%, just behind Tyson Lee's 58.8%. He ranks third in career completions (368), third in yards-per-attempted pass, and fifth in yardage (4,947).

*Only Don Smith (52, 1983-86) and Anthony Dixon (46, 2006-09) have been responsible for more touchdowns in a career than Russell's 42.

*But so far this season, QB Dak Prescott is third in SEC scoring averaging 9.0 each game, just behind two peers at 10.0. And Prescott is all alone in first for touchdowns-scoring this week.

*Prescott is netting 14.1 yards on each completion this season, off-setting 54% overall accuracy.

*In his short career Prescott has rushed or thrown on 241 plays, and produced 19 touchdowns. That averages out to a scoring play every 12.7 snaps, and does not even include his touchdown catch against Troy.

*That was the game Prescott and WR Jameon Lewis combined to make SEC history as both scored rushing, receiving, and passing touchdowns. It was the first time a conference team had two players do this in the same game.

*Prescott's 7.1 yards each rush is the best average on the team.

*Lewis has emerged as another all-purpose performer, ranking 6th-best in the SEC standings at 122 yards produced each week. And this is despite managing just two yards all season on punt returns.

*Lewis leads State with 23 receptions (not enough to make the SEC's top-ten this week) and 393 yards. But his average pickup of 17.1 yards is definitely among the league's ten-best.

*He has half of State's six touchdown catches.

*In his career junior Lewis has scored four ways, the only Dog on this squad to do so.

*RB LaDarius Perkins celebrated a return to full-strength by scoring his first rushing touchdown in 51 weeks, when he vaulted the goal line against BGSU.

*A gimpy ankle has limited the senior to 55 rushes and 273 yards this season. This means repeating as a 1,000-yard rusher will be extremely difficult.

*Through the first four games TEs Malcolm Johnson and Brandon Hill were netting almost 16 yards per catch. In the last two contests the position has produced three catches and 24 yards, all by Johnson.

*M.Johnson, Robert Johnson, and Lewis are the only Dogs with a catch every game this season.

*R.Johnson's 174 yards this year surpasses his 164 yards all of last season.

*Starting status has helped WR Joe Morrow as well, with 13 balls and 151 yards this year after just five catches in rotation duty last season.

*And seven of these catches have been in the last two games, for 87 yards. The sophomore is still seeking his first college touchdown play.

*Seven Dogs have rushed for a touchdown this season.

*DE Preston Smith missed the last game with a knee problem. This was after he'd notched four tackles-for-losses in the previous two games, with a pair of sacks against LSU.

*Freshman DT Chris Jones has had a hand in four TFLs the past three games.

*The annual team tackles race remains tight between MLB Benardrick McKinney (36) and OLB Deontae Skinner (34). But senior Skinner has an edge in both TFLs and sacks, as well as an interception. McKinney has no sacks but does own a fumble recovery.

*Senior S Nickoe Whitley goes into this game with 199 career tackles, in his 40 games.

*Whitley's three interceptions this season give him 13 for the career, leaving him alone in third place for MSU history behind a pair of Dogs. Both Walt Harris (1992-95) and Johnthan Banks (2009-12) had 16 career picks.

*There are 22 Bulldog defenders who have credit for a tackle-for-loss this season.

*P Baker Swedenburg is getting bored. He didn't punt at all in the Troy game, and then worked just once in both the LSU and Bowling Green games. It hasn't hurt his career-best 44.6 yard average through the first half of the season though.

*Swedenburg's 41.84 yard average is 5th-best in program annals.

*PK Devon Bell has 16 touchback kickoffs this season, compared to 13 last year; with several more kicks returned out of end zones.

*But Bell's struggles with field goal accuracy continues as he's missed the last two tries, from 42 and 44 yards, and is 5-of-10 for the sophomore season. This has cut into the team's red-zone offensive rate too.

*In Mullen's five seasons, his defenses have now scored 11 defensive touchdowns on either interceptions or fumble returns; and three safeties.

*State special teams have blocked one field goal (S Nickoe Whitley) and one punt (DT Nelson Adams) this season.

*Seven true freshmen have played this season: CB Kivon Coman, CB Tolando Cleveland, DT Chris Jones, WR Fred Ross, RB Ashton Shumpert, QB Damian Williams, and WR De'Runnya Wilson.

*True freshmen yet to play are: WR Shelby Christy, OL Jamaal Clayborn, OL Kent Flowers, WR B.J. Hammond, LB Dezmond Harris, DB Gabe Myles, TE Artimas Samuel, OL Jake Thomas, DB Brandon Wells.

*With the activation of CB Will Redmond last game, only two scholarship recruits of 2012 have yet to play in a game; TE Gus Walley (inj), and DT Jordan Washington.

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