Bulldog Scouting & Notebook – South Carolina

The Game: Mississippi State (4-3, 1-2 SEC) opens another grueling November visiting #14 South Carolina (6-2, 4-2), with an 11:21ct kickoff. The MSU Network pregame begins two hours prior.

*This is Mississippi State's second and final matchup with an Eastern Division opponent for the season. The Bulldogs are coming off a home win over Kentucky, their first SEC victory of the schedule. Dan Mullen is 9-3 in five seasons against East teams, with five of the wins against the Wildcats.

*State is completing a home-and-home with South Carolina which was interrupted by 2012's conference expansion. The teams met in 2011 on Scott Field with the Gamecocks winning, the last East loss by the Bulldogs.

*MSU last visited Columbia in 2007. Gamecock teams have won six-straight in the series dating back to 2000, with the last Bulldog win in 1998. That was also in Columbia, where State teams are 3-4.

*These Bulldogs are playing for their first non-home win of '13. The last SEC road victory for a Mullen team other than Kentucky was at Ole Miss in 2010.

*State's last win over a ranked opponent was at #22 Florida, also in 2010. In five seasons Mullen's teams are 2-19 against ranked teams, 0-2 this year.

*Mullen now has 33 wins at Mississippi State, fourth-most by any Bulldog coach. He needs four more victories to tie Emory Bellard (1979-85) for third at 37.

*These Bulldogs have five chances to win at least two more times and secure bowl eligibility for a record fourth-straight season. The current streak of 2010-11-12 matches the 1998-99-00 stretch for most consecutive bowl teams.

*South Carolina is back home after a three-road-game stretch, playing for a 15th-straight home win. This is their homecoming game, too.

The Opponent: Here's some perspective. Steve Spurrier's name was made as a first player and then 12-year coach at Florida. But didja realize this is his 9th season in Columbia? Or that his 128 SEC-school wins are second-most in league history? Or that he got his first coaching gig, assistant at his alma mater, when Dan Mullen was six years old? Yet at age 68 his coaching and quoting is fresh as ever. His team? Despite dropping a shootout to now-crippled Georgia, and a bizarre letdown at Tennessee two weeks ago, the Gamecocks stay in East contention needing only a Missouri stumble somewhere and wins over State and Florida for a second-ever appearance in the Championship Game.

Offense: The injuries aren't on the same scale as those suffered by East rivals. Both QB Connor Shaw (knee, flu) and RB Mike Davis (foot) can play. When and how much are the pre-game questions, as even gimpy both showed at Missouri what they mean to the overall offense. Senior Shaw is 22-5 as starter and unbeaten at home in 13 chances. He's also the most accurate career passer ever in Columbia at 66%, and so far this season has tossed 14 touchdowns with a single interception. And of course Shaw can carry by choice, with 274 rushing yards calling his own number. Backup Dylan Thompson is more the pocket sort of passer and has had some throws picked, but the big-strike potential is more pronounced maybe. Between them the two QBs combined for Spurrier-era highs of 56 passes and 423 yards to beat Missouri last week. No surprise at all, they took advantage of Bruce Ellington's game-breaking gifts (41 catches, 15.1 yards, 5 TDs) from split or slot; while Damiere Byrd and Nick Jones have blossomed in single-matchups to combine for 44 balls and seven scores so far. This doesn't even account for a pair of tall tight ends who regularly get open as defenses obsess about downfield coverage. All of which opens up the ground game for Davis, the league-leading rusher at 116.2 yards with ten touchdowns and a 6.2 net each tote. He has six 100-yard games already and needs 70 Saturday to top 1,000 for the season. It's a veteran front of four returned starters, led by guards A.J. Cann and Ronald Patrick with 52 combined starts. They ease the insertion of a freshman at center, either Cody Waldrop or Clayton Stadnik. South Carolina leads the nation with 14 successful fourth-down conversions and has only gone three-and-out seven times all season. Take away a few turnovers and there isn't much room to critique on this side.

Defense: If ever there's a reminder that statistics distract, DE Jadeveon Clowney's junior—and likely last—season provides it. 24 tackles and two sacks seem modest compared to his All-American status and first-round draftee future. The 274-pounder's impact is infinitely larger because entire blocking schemes are arranged for him coming off an edge. Obsessing to his side obviously opens gaps for others; Chaz Sutton (6.5tfls) is thriving on the other end, while up the middle DT Kelcy Quarles has ten tackles behind the line, seven of them for quarterback sacks. And he's the ‘lightweight' in the middle beside 307-pounder J.T. Surratt or 315-pound backup Phillip Dukes. No wonder S.C. is allowing just 4.0 yards per rush. The preponderance of size and skill up front has eased a rebuild at most linebacker positions, though soph weak-side man Marquis Roberts (35 tackles) is developing nicely. Freshman T.J. Holloman is splitting middle snaps with Kaiwan Lewis with about equal results and 60 combined tackles. The secondary is much more experience with a trio of starters back, including both cornerbacks. Junior Victor Hampton is rated the shut-down cover man of the pair, while Jimmy Legree has one more career interception. Only Georgia and Kentucky topped their season scoring-averages when playing S.C., and while opponents have reached the red zone 32 times they've come away with touchdowns on just 18 chances.

Specialists: He's a walk-on, a true frosh, and the starting placekicker. Many teams would welcome a volunteer who is 8-of-10 on field goals including an overtime game-winner. Tyler Hull is in his second season punting, with a 38.2-yard average and steady coverage. And while he awaits more turns as a rotation receiver and the wildcat back, Pharoh Cooper works as a wildcat and on return teams.

Bulldog Notebook: Senior OG Gabe Jackson has started all 46 games of his Bulldog career, the most ever for a Mullen player. He surpassed Johnthan Banks' 44 starts in 2009-12. And this year only Georgia's Aaron Murray has more active-player starts in the NCAA, at 47.

*Mississippi State is third in SEC total turnover margin because the Dogs have gained just ten giveaways. But the Bulldog offense has lost the ball only six times, fewest in the league, with a lone fumble in seven games.

*State has scored touchdowns on 19 of 29 red-zone trips. They would rank higher in efficiency if not for three missed chip-shot field goals. In fact MSU has the fewest field goals in the SEC so far, six all season.

*However, on 18 chances in the red zone opponents have scored 13 touchdowns.

*The Bulldogs are SEC second-best in time of possession at 33:44 per game.

*State is second-best also in kickoff return average…but last in punt return rate.

*The Bulldogs keep cranking out those double-digit plays. Through seven games, 123 snaps have produced ten or more yards, which is over 24% of all offensive plays. In three SEC games the average is still over 22%, 48 of 214.

*However, State has been out-scored in all fourth quarters 52 to 17 points. A third-quarter touchdown against Kentucky was the first six-pointer by the Bulldogs after halftime since the Troy game.

*He's got enough developing nicknames already, yet QB Prescott's truest title is becoming Mr. Touchdown. Running, throwing, and now twice receiving, the sophomore has produced ten touchdowns this season. He is second in SEC touchdown scoring this week, and fourth in all points.

*In his still-short career, Prescott has rushed, thrown, or caught for 23 touchdowns on 292 total plays. That averages out to scoring once every 12.6 chances. For perspective, he only needs 35 rushing-and-throwing touchdowns to make the MSU career top-ten, which doesn't include those two scoring catches.

*Had Prescott also run for a score last week, it would have been the second game this season both he and WR Jameon Lewis did the touchdown-trifecta of rush/throw/catch. They did it together in the Troy game which was a first-ever occurrence in SEC history.

*Prescott is netting 13.5 yards on every pass caught. In his last two games the soph has competed 30 of 45 throws, or 67%.

*Prescott gets 6.1 yards each rush, better than any full-time running back on the team.

*A week after returning to his starting job, QB Tyler Russell came off the bench against Kentucky and rolled the left ankle after four snaps. He did not return to that game, but is available this week.

*Russell only got to throw two passes, one complete, against Kentucky. Since returning from opening-day injury and a three-game absence, he is 20-of-27 passing for 258 yards without an interception. He is just under 70% completions for the interrupted senior season.

*This has kept Russell from adding to his MSU career-record 39 touchdown passes. He is still third in completions, second in completions-percentage, and fifth in yardage. Russell needs 43 yards to become the fifth Bulldog quarterback to throw for 5,000 yards.

*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.

*Lewis has emerged as the team's all-around performer with nine touchdowns; four receiving, three rushing, and two passing. He is netting 122 all-purpose yards each week.

*But he's netted a single yard all season on punt returns.

*Lewis' catches produce an average gain of 14.9 yards.

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

*It's been a tough senior season for RB LaDarius Perkins, missing one game and limited in others by a hurting ankle. But the last three games he has rushed 38 times for 225 yards, almost six yards per touch.

*Despite his health struggles Perkins is one great big play from climbing the career all-purpose list. He has 3,931 yards for the career, fourth-best by a Bulldog and 42 behind Tony James (1989-92).

*Lewis' 9.2-yard average on rushes is best by a Bulldog this season so far.

*Against Kentucky, the Bulldog tight ends caught six balls for 130 yards or almost 22 per-grab. For the season, and after a slow two games, the tight end position is producing 16 yards each reception.

*Of course TE Malcolm Johnson accounts for the largest share of these stats. The junior has 14 balls for 191 yard this season, already surpassing his shortened '12 season totals.

*Johnson scored his first touchdown of the season on a career-best, 60-yard connection against Kentucky.

*WR Robert Johnson has surpassed his '12 totals also, with 16 catches and 209 yards. The Johnsons and Lewis are the only Dogs with a reception each game this season.

*Making his college debut last week allowed TE Artimas Samuel to get his first catch, a 28-yarder. Also in the game, soph TE Rufus Warren made his own first career catch, for 23 yards.

*Seven Dogs have rushed for a touchdown this season; five have caught a scoring pass.

*Last week MLB Benardrick McKinney (11) and OLB Deontae Skinner (10) combined for the first '13 game with two Dog defenders making double-digit stops.

*McKinney maintains a one-tackle lead on Skinner atop the season list, 46 to 45. Senior Skinner has the edge in both TFLs and sacks, along with an interception. Soph McKinney had no sacks but has recovered a fumble.

*SS Kendrick Market is the defensive surprise of the season, third in team tackles at 30 since taking over the starting spot after an opening-quarter injury to SS Jay Hughes.

*FS Nickoe Whitley earned the dubious recognition of ejection from the last game, with two unsportsmanlike penalties in a four-snap stretch. His status for this game is unannounced. Whitley was on-field long enough for three tackles, giving him 202 for is college career in 41 games.

*Whitley is third in career interceptions at State with 13, three this season and two of them in the Auburn game. He needs three more to catch Johnthan Banks (2009-12) and Walt Harris (1992-95) in a first-place tie.

*DE Denico Autry got the first sack of his senior season against Kentucky.

*DE Preston Smith leads the team with 2.0 sacks and 5.0 tackles for losses.

*The Bulldog defense is last in SEC sacks with nine in seven games.

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

*The irony was unavoidable. As he was being announced on the 85-man list for the Ray Guy Award last week, P Baker Swedenburg was being bumped to ‘second' punter for the UK game. He punted twice, while PK Devon Bell did so three times.

*Swedenburg has been bored a bit lately too, with no punts against Troy and just one in both the following games. So the senior is still ninth in career yards and kicks, but fifth-best in career yardage.

*Bell punted well as, apparently, the ‘long' kicker of the two. But pinned in the end zone he also dropped the snap for a safety.

*Bell bigger issues are placekicking, where he is now 5-of-11 with three-straight misses. All were from 40-plus yards.

*But leg strength is no problem with 19 touchbacks out of 39 kickoffs (many of which made the end zone and were returned anyway), and just one out-of-bounds roller.

*In Mullen's five seasons, his defenses have 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.

*Nine true freshmen have played this season, the latest being TE Samuel and OG Jamaal Clayborn who were both activated for Kentucky. They joined already-activated 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 Kent Flowers, WR B.J. Hammond, LB Dezmond Harris, DB Gabe Myles, 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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