Bulldog Football 2014: Game Six

#3 Mississippi State (5-0, 2-0 SEC) hosts #2 Auburn (5-0, 2-0) in a mid-season showdown with top spot in the Western Division at stake. Game time is 2:39 at Scott Field for CBS. Pre-game radio begins at 11:30am with J.T. Williamson from the Junction, with the full network show of Bart Gregory and Matt Wyatt airing at 12:30.

*The Bulldogs have gone from a September unranked all the way to a tie for #3 by Associated Press in a three-week stretch. It is the highest ranking ever for Mississippi State at any point of a season. And this will be the highest (or lowest rather) combined ranking of two teams to meet on Scott Field.

*The last time a Bulldog team was ranked in the top-ten was 1999, as the squad reached #8 consecutive weeks. In fact that was only the second State team ever to crack the top-ten, joining the 1981 club.

*State has played five games when ranked top-ten. The 1981 team went 1-2 with losses to Missouri and Alabama, and beat Auburn. The 1999 team beat Kentucky before losing at Alabama.

*These Bulldogs have won consecutive games over then-top-ten opponents, #8 LSU and #6 Texas A&M. This was a program-first, but so is facing three-straight teams ranked in the top-ten.

*Since the overtime at Little Rock last November, Mississippi State has put together an eight-game winning streak. It matches the longest streak under Coach Dan Mullen (November 2011-October 2012). And with Oklahoma’s loss last weekend, the Bulldogs trail only Florida State (21) for longest active win streak.

*The Bulldogs have a four-win SEC streak going too, over two seasons. The 1999 team won five-straight in-season.

*In six seasons now Mullen teams have been ranked for 18 game-weeks counting this one, as well as following the 2010 Gator Bowl. Those teams have gone 10-8 when playing with a number in front of the name.

*Mullen is the third Bulldog coach to win 40 games and is 41-28 in six seasons. He is already first in bowl victories with a 3-1 record, and his overall winning percentage is best here in over half-a-century.

*Through five games State has put up 213 points, the most productive start ever to a season. And as for any five-game stretch in a schedule, only the 1994 team scored more with 221. Last year’s team did have 207 points in a five-game span.

*There have been nine Bulldog teams score 300-plus points in a season. Five have played for Mullen.

*As for yardage, this is the first Bulldog offense ever to post 500-or-more yards in five straight games.

*The Dog defense had just 20 sacks in 13 games last season. Through just five games this year they have 18 sacks, and are still well-ahead of pace for passes broken up too.

*The last visit by CBS to Scott Field wasn’t a fun one for the home team, as in 2005 Alabama won 17-0. Bulldog folk prefer remembering 2000 when the Big Eye Network came to campus for consecutive weekends to show State beat Florida and Auburn. Dog teams are 3-7 on CBS.

*Half of Auburn’s assistant staff is very familiar with Scott Field as DC Ellis Johnson, Charlie Harbison, J.B. Grimes, and Melvin Smith all served stints as Mississippi State aides.

The Opponent: Odd, how back when summer predictions for the SEC and West races were being made Auburn was typically third or fourth on most lists. They are, after all, defending champions of each and were one deflected pass from another national title for the league. Two weekends into this SEC season and here they are again, tied at the top with plenty veterans of their 2013 run playing off that experience. And so far this team hasn’t needed the same amazing breaks to succeed, though with a still-fierce and road-heavy schedule ahead the Tigers might be going back to that bank. Maybe they weren’t respected enough in July; in October and November everyone is preparing their best shots.

Offense: It was against Mississippi State that Nick Marshall showed he could be a college quarterback; then he spent the rest of the season showing he’d be a great one. Now the senior is jostling for Heisman position along with another set of championships, providing 270 yards total-offense a week as a 57% passer with eight TDs tossed against a lone pick. Though for sheer efficiency his alternate Jeremy Johnson is unmatched; 22-of-28 for 391 yards and three scores. Where Marshall beats people is afoot, an awfully quick afoot at that as he reads and reacts and is through the first line of defense in a blink. And that defense is forced to pick ‘tween the quarterback or Cameron Artis-Payne with his 118.8 yards-per and five touchdowns. Auburn may be mid-pack in SEC rushing overall but in conference play only, they lead the list. Yet opponents can’t stack any boxes with deep threats sucking support downfield. Juco ‘Duke’ Williams leads with 25 catches and three scores, netting 15 yards each grab. But Sammie Coates is the home-run hitter at 22-plus yards while Quan Bray and Ricardo Louis must also be accounted for. Know how many sacks the Tiger line has allowed in two SEC games? Two. That’s what happens when a team has two interior guys with 40-plus career starts, in all-star center Reese Dismukes and guard (either side) Chad Slade, listed at left for this week.

Defense: If the line doesn’t give up sacks, the Tiger defense doesn’t give up much of anything…especially points. Once past a surprising first-half flurry by Arkansas in the opener, Auburn has been stingy and stout. Especially so on the ground with only 100 yards allowed on average and 2.9 per attempt. The same four-man front hasn’t started consecutive times so far but neither has it been a problem. This week’s forecast is for 609 pounds’ worth of tackles in Montravius Adams (17 tackles, 5.0 for losses) and Ben Bradley, though their two backups are alternates in all but title. It’s 293-pound Davonte Lambert coming off one end that must be accounted for as he’s got 2.5 sacks and two more hurries. Injuries have hit the linebacker trio but this week’s lineup projects leading tackler Cassanova McKinzy (35) is back starting at middle with Kris Frost (16, 2.0 sacks) working the weak side. Frost and SLB Rob Therizie have combined for eight hurries bringing the pressure. They can afford to take a few chances too since Jonathan Ford (32 tackles) and former corner Josh Holsey (21) are working in the safety slots. Suspension for feuding (or worse) with his coach has Jermaine Whitehead sidelined but that hasn’t hurt coverage. Jonathan Mincy has 30 tackles and four break-ups as the boundary cornerback and Jonathan Jones has a pick to his credit on the other corner. His backup Trovon Reed has two, too. Still teams keep throwing balls up because ground gains are tough to come by.

Specialists: You don’t want to punt the ball away in the first place. But teams really want to avoid kicking to Quan Bray, already with two return touchdowns. Corey Grant nets 28 yards running back kickoffs. All kicking duties have been handed to redshirt freshman Daniel Carlson, and the kid has delivered. He’s 7-of-9 on field goals with a 46-yarder and perfect so far on PATs.

Bulldog Team/Player Notes: DT Kaleb Eulls has started all 44 career games and leads this roster in starts. The career record is 52 by Gabe Jackson. OC Dillon Day is second in starts with 37, having missed last week’s game with a one-week SEC suspension. He is back in good graces for this home contest.

*In Day’s absence, OG Ben Beckwith made every snap at center in the A&M game. That earned the senior his second SEC Offensive Lineman of the Week award, after winning it the game before as a guard!

*Eulls, WR Jameon Lewis, LB Christian Holmes, and LB Matthew Wells are all tied with 44 career games played.

*Every member of the 2013 signing class which reported has played except WR Shelby Christy, out for another season with injury.

*P Logan Cooke was activated on very short notice last Saturday, and responded with a 45.2 yard average in his debut. He joined WR/KR Jamoral Graham as the only 2014 scholarship freshmen to play. 2008 signee ST Rashun Dixon, now the oldest true freshman in the league, and walk-on freshman PK Westin Graves have also played.

*With the defense regularly rotating no one Dog is piling up big tackle statistics. MLB Benardrick McKinney leads the list another week with 36. The middle ‘backer is also tops in stops for losses at 6.0.

*McKinney has surpassed the 200-tackle milestone less than half-way into his junior season. He’s just about 50/05 in solos-to-assists with 106 and 103 respectively. His season-high has been a 12-tackle outing against UAB.

*The same rotation that limits the snaps for starters also gave McKinney’s alternate a chance to star against A&M. MLB Richie Brown intercepted three passes, one more than Aggie quarterback Kenny Hill had thrown the previous five games. He was named SEC Defensive Player of the Week despite not starting the game.

*Brown’s three picks in a game tie the MSU record shared by five of his predecessors, but all were defensive backs. So Brown also set a standard for future Bulldog linebackers.

*Brown has a ways, or weeks rather, to go to catch a teammate for SEC awards this season. Senior DE Preston Smith was named Defensive Lineman OTW on Sept 1, 8, and 13; the first Bulldog ever to score a league OTW honor in three-straight weeks. He’s only one behind DT Fletcher Cox (2011) and OT Derek Sherrod (2010) with four SEC OTW awards in one season.

In five games Smith has only 15 total tackles. But he makes his chances count, big, with 3.5 sacks, two interceptions and one touchdown return, a forced fumble, and two blocked field goals; one of those returned by a teammate for touchdown.

*Smith is the third active Bulldog with a blocked kick, along with DE Nelson Adams (2013, punt Alcorn State) and S Kivon Coman (2014 field goal UAB).

*Smith’s block in game-one was scooped and scored by S Jay Hughes. There is no other recorded instance of a blocked field goal for touchdown ever by a Bulldog.

*That was State’s first special-teams touchdown of any sort since a kickoff return by Jameon Lewis in the 2012 Egg Bowl.

*Talk about making most of opportunities; DT Chris Jones has 12 tackles this year but 2.0 sacks and a half-stop for other loss.

*OLB Beniquez Brown had 39 tackles as a freshman backup. As a soph starter he has 25 stops already with 4.5 for losses.

*In their two SEC wins the Dog defense has made a fourth-down stand in the first quarter, and each time a Brown made the stop; Richie at LSU in an and-goal situation, and Beniquez last week against A&M.

*R.Brown and Smith account for five of this year’s nine interceptions. The other Dog with multiple picks doesn’t start, but CB Will Redmond gets almost as many snaps.

*With R.Brown’s three picks last week the Dog defense has come up with 26 turnovers in the last ten games.

*Opponents have just eleven touchdowns this season; only two of them via rushing.

*Take away sacks, and opponents so far have rushed under 40% of snaps against State.

*Another week, another great big stack o’ stats for QB Dak Prescott. He is off to the fastest statistical start ever by a Bulldog quarterback or any other position for that matter. In fact Prescott has produced more yards in five games than the best of his predecessors did in their first six or even seven contests to a season.

*Thanks to research by MSU Media Relations, Prescott is known to be producing at a pace equal to or a bit better than the last three SEC quarterbacks to win the Heisman Trophy. But Prescott is the only one in the first five games with both 200-plus pass yards and 100-plus rushing yards three times.

*Already the record-holder for most rushing yards by a MSU quarterback in a season (set last year) Prescott is way ahead of that 829-yard pace. He has 455 already this year.

*But it is his arm that has shown spectacular improvement. Prescott has already surpassed his 10 touchdown passes of 2013, with 13 so far this year. He is averaging a six-pointer once every 6.0 completions, and maybe more impressively one every 9.4 passes thrown.

*Every Prescott completion goes for 15.8 yards worth of gain.

*And what counts most of all? Prescott is 9-3 as a starting quarterback.

*In his 12 starts so far, the first State offensive series has produced 8 touchdowns and 1 field goal; with a fumble, a missed field goal, and just one punt.

*Though not much more than half-way into his college career, Prescott is about to become the top touchdown producer in Bulldog history. He has accounted for 50 scores officially; we stress that because if his three touchdown catches on throwback plays were included he would have just surpassed the MSU record of 52 set by the great Don Smith (1983-86).

*Add in those catches for scores and a two-point conversion last year, and Prescott has 158 career points in just 28 games. That already ranks him 9th in career scoring.

*Not to jinx him, but so far Prescott is the only Bulldog quarterback ever (of any serious number of games) to be better than 60% passing career. He’s at 60.3 right now.

*Going into game-six of the junior year Prescott is: 8th in passing yardage, tied for 9th in touchdown passes, and tied for third in rushing touchdowns. He is just about to crack the top-ten in completions, too.

*All three of Prescott’s touchdown catches were thrown by WR Jameon Lewis; against Troy and Kentucky last season, and now South Alabama this year.

*But senior Lewis has four TD throws, with the one caught by WR Joe Morrow at Texas A&M last year. So the wideout is 4-of-4 on these gadget plays, all for touchdowns…which would make for a ridiculous ‘quarterback rating’.

*Lewis missed the A&M game with a leg injury. In the previous two games he had 15 combined catches for 223 yards. The absence snapped his streak of making a catch in 16-straight games.

*His last time out, Lewis also got his first TD of the senior season at LSU with a 74-yard play.

*When he returns, Lewis will be bidding to become the 10th Bulldog with 100 career receptions. He already ranks 10th all-time with 96 grabs in four seasons. With 1,397 yards, he is just outside top-ten status needing 1,520 to catch Fred Hadley (1984-88).

*Lewis is 10th already in career all-purpose yards with 3,047 on catches, rushes, and returns.

*After a couple of years mostly spent as backup back, RB Josh Robinson is letting it rip this junior season. He followed up a 197-yard night at LSU, in his home state, with 107 more against A&M. Combine that with his output against UAB (124) and Robinson has three 100-yard games this season; after just one the previous two years.

*Robinson ranks 4th in all-season conference rushing. But in SEC-only action he is 2nd at 152-yards-per.

*Robinson is averaging 7.5 yards each rush this year; in the previous two seasons combined he averaged 6.0 yards.

*The big number: 9.2. That’s what Robinson rates on rushes the two SEC tests so far.

*And against LSU and A&M, only once was Robinson tackled for a loss: a single yard last weekend.

*Suddenly the third-leading rusher on the roster is…RB Brandon Holloway. Two solid gainers last week give him 151 total yards on the season and a 6.0 average.

*SEC season has brought out the best in WR De’Runnya Wilson. The soph has four catches in each of the two league games for 163 yards. He also had a touchdown in each contest.

*Wilson is now one catch behind Lewis for the team lead, with 14 balls; and his 247 yards are ahead of his elder’s 223.

Wilson has accounted for one-third of the team’s touchdown catches too, with five.

*And after averaging 13.5 yards per catch as a rookie, Wilson is netting 17.5 this year.

*TE Malcolm Johnson had his first catch-less game of the season against A&M. So he holds at 56 career catches and nine touchdowns.

*That’s behind the ‘other’ Johnson in the offense, as WR Robert J. has 59 career catches but did not get a ball in either of the last two games.

*WR Fred Brown became the ninth Bulldog with a touchdown catch this season, on his 51-yard scoring play last week.

*After making a pair of field goals at LSU, the first three-pointers of the year for State, PK Evan Sobiesk’s 42-yard try against A&M missed. State is 2-of-4 on field goals, none longer than 28 yards.

*And a September bugaboo returned as a PAT mis-fired as well, the third such miss of the season.

*Before hurting a groin in warmups, P Devon Bell was punting at a career-best rate of 43.5 yards. His Saturday status is TBA.

*Bell had 11 touchbacks in 28 kickoffs with several more returned out of the end zone. Cooke was 3-of-8 and A&M also opted to come out of the end zone twice.

*Mississippi State is the SEC leader (all games) in kickoff coverage with a net of 42.6 yards.

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