The Robertson Report

Well folks, welcome to week five and the beginning of SEC play for the Mississippi State Bulldogs. Despite the slow start, the season does go on and an old familiar foe, the LSU fighting Tigers, visit Starkville this weekend fresh off a hard-fought top ten battle with Georgia. The game will be nationally broadcast on ESPN2 this Saturday night at 8 p.m.

This week we have some tough match-ups and no real gimmes in the bunch. Non-conference play is just about to wrap up this weekend, and all three visitors have a great chance of defeating their home-standing SEC opponents.

Western Kentucky at Auburn

This is a very interesting match-up. WKU won the Division 1-AA National Championship a year ago in a blowout win over McNeese State. To make matters, even more riveting is the fact that the Hilltoppers have not allowed a touchdown this season. They have given up just one field goal in their three games this season. If WKU can get their potent rushing game going, they could pull an upset.

Auburn needs this win to get back to .500. This looked like a sure win back in July, but now it's anything but. The Tigers got the running game going against Vandy and poured it on late. They'll need a good start. They cannot afford to let a team like WKU hang around and start believing they have a chance. Jason Campbell needs a decent game and this should be a nice primer before SEC play begins in earnest.

I like Auburn in this one based mostly on the fact that they have superior athletes. If the Hilltoppers can hang in there and overcome the initial adrenaline rush of actually playing at Jordan-Hare, then they can make this very interesting. This is actually a closer match-up than NIU at Alabama last week. If it can happen to Bama it can happen to Auburn. Don't be surprised if it takes a late rally by the Auburn D to put this one away.

Auburn 27 WKU 17

Texas Tech at Mississippi

The Red Raiders are on offensive juggernaut. They are among the national leaders in scoring and passing offense. They lost a stern test against N.C. State and Heisman candidate Phillip Rivers. Another shoot-out awaits this weekend in Oxford, Mississippi as Eli Manning and company play host.

Texas Tech fans for the most part expected their offense to be in rebuilding mode after all-time leading passer Kliff Kingsbury moved on to the NFL. The understudy of that great offense was B.J. Symons. Symons toiled in anonymity waiting for his shot and he is now making the most of it. B.J. already has thrown for 10 TDS and threw for over 580 yards in a loss to N.C. State. This kid thrives on competition. Symons will look to outsling the more heralded Manning this weekend in what could be one of the more entertaining games of the weekend.

Eli Manning will look to continue his play from two weeks ago when he demolished the ULM Indians.

Mississippi will be hosting a Big 12 opponent for the 1st time and will have their only scheduled non-conference tussle. While it turns out that Memphis is a tough non-conference opponent, they weren't expected to be a tussle when first scheduled.

Having the week off was good for the Rebels as they were able to get several people healthy and had a chance to work on the rushing game. The running game will be important in spots if the Rebel defense has any hope of catching their breath. This one has the makings of a WAC homecoming game with all the trimmings. Plenty of passing and very little defense. This one is tough to call, but you have to go with experience at times like these.

Mississippi 42 Texas Tech 38

Georgia Tech at Vanderbilt

The Yellow Jackets are happy to see an SEC team. The last time they saw one was in their lone victory of the year over Auburn. Their confidence must be at a fever pitch after the blasting that Auburn gave Vandy. Georgia Tech is 1-3 and will need this win in the worst way if they have any hopes of going bowling.

Coach Bobby Johnson knows that wins come at a premium at Vanderbilt and that it's rare to get an opponent with a losing record at home. That being said, the Yellow Jackets are a little better than their record would indicate. Their defense has the ability to play well, but has lacked unity this far. They'll need a little help from the Vandy offense to keep this one low scoring.

I like G Tech in this one based on an overall talent level. I know Vandy is an SEC team, but they don't recruit like one. Tech should get an early lead and let their running game try their legs a bit. Most games have found the Jackets on the short end of the stick, so they've been passing a lot, which is really not their strong suit.

Georgia Tech 28 Vanderbilt 24

Florida at Kentucky

Florida has dropped both meaningful games this season and in very disappointing fashion. The Vols took over the game in the 3rd quarter and used a few Gator turnovers to run out the clock late. The 1st half showed tons of movement by Florida and several sacks and quarterback pressures. QB Casey Clausen had the last laugh in the 1st half with a long completion on a tipped Hail Mary pass. Despite being outplayed, the Vols had the halftime lead. The rest as they say was history. Jabari Davis simply bullied the Gators most of the 2nd half.

The game of QB musical chairs is finally over in Gainesville. Frosh phenom Chris Leak will get the start this week at Kentucky. I have a sneaking suspicion that had the Gators played a less formidable opponent last week Leak would have seen more action. The Gators have won 16 straight in this rivalry, so why not start the Freshman? Leak is silky smooth and just needs some reps. He will make some mistakes, but against UK the Gators should be able to overcome them.

The Wildcats looked more like the team Rich Brooks envisioned last week. On the road in a semi-hostile environment the Cats had a convincing win over long time foe Indiana. I personally expected to see a meltdown of sorts last week, but the Cats were up the task. It will be extremely interesting to see how they come after Chris Leak. Leak if anything has shown a weakness picking up the blitz, but throws such a nice ball it's hard to keep him out. This one could be high scoring and if Leak feels some heat UK has the tools to make him pay on the scoreboard.

Florida 31 Kentucky 21

Arkansas at Alabama

For Arkansas, the "pre-season" is over. After impressive wins over Tulsa, Texas, and North Texas, there appears to be no one playing more physical football than the Razorbacks. While many other teams in the conference are getting more praise, there are fewer teams doing it they way the Hogs are. The Hogs are playing good defense, running the football, and controlling both sides of the line of scrimmage. This is old-fashioned SEC football. When you add in the improved play from the Quarterback position, it's easy to see why many expect the Hogs to be playing somewhere on New Year's Day.

In Tuscaloosa, it appears that the NCAA monkey is firmly on the backs of the Tide. The Tide hasn't had depth problems like this since before Bear Bryant. The Tide is having problems scoring points against teams that aren't intimidated. OU clearly was the better team despite a rousing effort by the Tide. NIU came into Bryant-Denny like they owned the place and had very little respect for the Tide or their tradition. There is a new mindset at Alabama and it's, "Can we avoid a losing season?" Bama can take solace in the fact that they are 1-0 in SEC play, but their stay atop the Western Division will be short lived. While Alabama cannot officially win the West, they can still have the best record in the West, much like last year.

Arkansas always keeps this one close. While Alabama has won three of four, they haven't been easy. The Hogs will come out and hit Alabama right in the mouth. I don't know if Alabama has enough depth to win a running game of attrition with the Razorbacks. Shaud Williams is a stud back and will try to match Cedric Cobbs carry for carry. This one will come down to the wire and will more than likely be an ugly one.

Arkansas 17 Alabama 13

South Carolina at Tennessee

South Carolina will look for only their 2nd win over the Vols since 1992. Coach Lou Holtz is 1-5 against Tennessee with his lone win coming while he was leading Notre Dame. This has been a very lopsided series even in down years for UT. To further compound the misery of losing 10 straight, Skip Holtz has reopened the QB battle after an abysmal start by Pinkins. The Vols are not the best team to have open tryouts against.

Tennessee and Coach Phil Fulmer are riding high after a much-deserved win in the Swamp. The Vols clearly have the upper hand in the SEC East. While UGA still controls their destiny, they must face Florida and UT. Last season, Florida defeated both UGA and Tennessee. The cards are finally in favor of Fulmer. UT could actually stand to lose one as long as they beat Georgia. Outside of Georgia there isn't really much else to worry about. The Vols should be favored to win every other conference game. First things first before we punch the Vols ticket.

Casey Clausen and company need to be wary of a letdown after defeating archrival Florida. Now is the time to turn it on, but many squads have dropped games they shouldn't have after big wins. This week the speed of the Vol defense will be far too much regardless of who is calling the signals for South Carolina. Look for USC to hang around early and for Fulmer to be a gentleman late.

Tennessee 24 South Carolina 10

LSU at Mississippi State

Today officially kicks off Hell week for me and all my compatriots exiled here in Tigerland. The Tiger fans have started to turn their attention towards this weekend's battle with Mississippi State. To say they aren't concerned would be putting it mildly. All the local talk shows and media outlets are all expecting a cakewalk win over MSU. And, hey, why not? Jackie has had a very difficult time catching these Tigers by the tail.

LSU is coming off a huge win over SEC champ Georgia. The Tigers offense sputtered and stammered all day, but made just enough plays to win the game. The Tiger defense bent and only broke once all day. Their effort was aided by 4 missed field goals from Georgia. The secondary for the Tigers was mediocre most of the day, but All-SEC corner Cory Webster made the play to save the day in the final minute.

The Bengal Tigers will admit they aren't preparing with the same intensity for the maroon and white set of Dogs. LSU has absolutely owned the MSU Bulldogs and they dispute our latest win in the series back in 1999. The LSU folks still think Rod Gibson bounced into the end zone. They still relish their 21 point 4th quarter comeback in 2000 that we lost in overtime and they still love to talk about the spanking they gave us last time they visited Scott Field in 2001. To say the Tigers have little respect for the Bulldogs would be a vast understatement.

The MSU offense must establish themselves early. In fact, in the past seven years the Bulldogs have won 75% of the time if they score on their opening possession. LSU has not started well except in the Arizona game. The Bulldogs could certainly use the Tigers help if they'd like to escape the 1st quarter without being down a couple of touchdowns.

This game will feature the top two wide receivers in the conference with Michael Clayton and Justin Jenkins sharing the gridiron. Clayton has been the main go to guy for Matt Mauck. Georgia limited Clayton to two short catches and as a result, the offense sputtered. The sparkplug in the two TD drives last week was #5 Skylar Green. Green has great speed, but has struggled with key drops. He had three drops on 3rd down in the 1st half of the Georgia game. Justin Jenkins has been a one-man wrecking crew. Despite double teams and zone coverages Jenkins just flat gets open. It will be interesting to see Jenkins against a secondary that was tested for the 1st time this season a week ago. David Greene had tons of yards between the 20s and had it not been for 93-yard screen pass for a TD would have had a sub par day throwing the ball. One thing is certain; the LSU secondary has trouble with slants and crossing routes. It will be interesting to see how Morris Watts attacks the situation. He'll have his hands full. The Tigers have only given up two TD passes all season.

The Bulldogs are scoring boatloads of points, but most of them are in mop-up duty. MSU needs to score when they're still in the game. In between the early possessions of the Oregon and Houston games the MSU offense had some untimely turnovers. When MSU needed a score to put the Tulane game away, they were unable to do so. I am not one of these blame one side of the ball type people. If the other team scores 31 and we have 30, then we didn't score enough. The defense has a whole lot easier time defending the other team if we're scoring. It's fuel for a defense. The Bulldogs need a lead in the worst way. If we get down early again it will be easy for everyone including the players to say here we go again.

LSU has tons of weapons and a very efficient QB. If we allow people to run around loose in the secondary you can expect another 40+ point effort from the defense. If we can bottle up Clayton and slow down the running game we have a shot. That's much easier said than done. Nick Saban knows we can score some points. Don't expect him to call off the dogs if they get a lead. They'll also look to run the ball to keep our suddenly high-octane offense of the field and keep our still learning defense on the field. This one has the potential to be ugly, but Jackie Sherrill has always found a way to get his team to show up when a top-10 team takes residence in the visitor's locker room. I think you can turn this game off of the 1st quarter and know who won either way. If we're way behind at the end of one, it'll probably be over before halftime. If the Bullies can get an early lead and force the Tigers to press a bit, an upset is certainly possible. Despite the fact that it would make my life a lot easier to live, I just don't see the Dogs pulling this one out. We'll have to wait until next week for a win.

LSU 31 MSU 14

Well folks, that's how I see them. I'd just like to go on record as saying that the tickets that I have for MSU games are not for sale. My MSU license plate is still bolted to the front of my car. My MSU hat still sits proudly atop my graying hair. My kids still wear their MSU clothing on gamedays. I still support Gene's Page to the death and do my best to add something of value to it. I'll have my MSU flag flying on my car all weekend win or lose. You see I am an MSU fan. I have sat through more miserable losses than I care to count. I have endured ridicule and scorn by opposing fans in person and through e-mail for the simple fact that I am an MSU supporter. I have even been threatened with bodily harm as I walked into Tiger Stadium last season only because I wore an MSU baseball cap. My son asked out of a school field trip because some older kids picked on him because he refused to chant LSU, LSU, LSU, on the school bus to the zoo. I had to hold back a drunk LSU fan who got a little too boisterous with a young family as he yelled Tiger bait over and over back in 2000. All of these things have happened and I count them all as gain. I just consider it doing my part as a supporter of my team.

The last few years have been exceptionally hard on all of us who cheer for the maroon and white. I too am frustrated, but I haven't figured out yet how being negative will help the Bulldogs win. If and when a change is brought about then the folks who are paid to do that will do that. My role is to cheer and I have to pay to get in to do that. I won't worry about things that are beyond my control.

I am not convinced that this team is done quite yet. There is a lot of football left. If Jackie and his kids rally and upset a top 10 LSU team this weekend, it would go a long way towards helping everyone's confidence. Will the naysayers be satisfied? Of course not! They'll just wait in the wings like the Rebels do and wait for us to stub our toe again.

We Super Bulldogs have seen all this before more times than we can count. We have some success followed by some adversity and 1/3 of the 'fan' base is ready to become USM fans. We start winning again and they come back around. We'll start winning again this time, too. It won't be long and the most rewarding fact for all real Bulldog fans will be the fact that we were here all along, supporting our team.

Now is the time we should be coming together as a fan base and pulling this team through. Have we sent any faxes to the team's hotel when they're on the road pledging our support? Have we set up signs on the interstate welcoming the team to town? Are we calling into call-in shows showing a unified front? Are we doing our part by showing up and cheering for these kids? I don't know what everyone's level of commitment to this team is. For each one it's different, if we want this program to get to the next level, we must make that next step commitment ourselves.

One of my lifelong dreams has been to give a pre-game devotional to the football team before the Egg Bowl. I had the chance to bring the Easter devotional to the MSU baseball team the year before last when they came to Baton Rouge. It was a surreal experience. The kids and coaches were great. I got to eat breakfast that morning with Tommy Raffo. He is the nicest of guys. I asked him why he didn't go with Coach Mac to Florida. Tommy rocked back in his chair and with a grin on his face said, "Steve, I am Bulldog plain and simple. Nothing else would look right on me, but maroon and white." I know exactly how Tommy feels; nothing else feels right. Let's get back to winning! Go get 'em Dogs!!

Until next week,

Steve Robertson
1Corinthians 15:2

Steve Robertson is a free-lance correspondent who writes The Robertson Report for the premium site portion of Gene's Page. Steve's email address is

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