Game Three Scouting Report

The Game: Mississippi State (1-1) stays on the road for a second September weekend, this time heading westward for a Saturday evening meeting with Tulane (0-0). Kickoff is scheduled for 7:00 at the Independence Bowl Stadium in Shreveport, and the game will be shown by College Sports TV on cable networks. Locally many affiliates of the I Network (formerly PAX) will carry the game, so check local listings.

*This rematch of Bulldogs and Green Wave, the third in a five-year contract, was to be played in Tulane's ‘home' at the Louisiana Superdome. The late-August ravages of Hurricane Katrina damaged the facility beyond use, and ravaged Tulane's New Orleans campus to the point of stopping the whole fall semester. Tulane has since managed to place Wave teams in cooperating schools, with the football team finding a home-away-from-home with Louisiana Tech at Ruston. Tulane decided on Sept. 3 that the season would resume this Saturday with their second scheduled game, against Mississippi State; and a week later agreed to play the game in Shreveport. Fans with tickets purchased for New Orleans can read policies for this re-sited game on the MSU web site The Wave's scheduled season-opener at Southern Mississippi has moved to December.

*These teams have each appeared once in Independence Bowl Stadium, in the bowl game itself. In 1987 Tulane lost to Washington 24-12; while on New Year's Eve in 2000 the Bulldogs won an ‘instant classic' now called the Snow Bowl by beating Texas A&M 43-41 in overtime.

*Mississippi State has waived the $200,000 guarantee that would have been paid for playing Tulane as originally contracted, to assist the Wave's athletic department in this crisis. State is also urging fans who have purchased tickets but cannot attend to forego refunds and have the cost of the ticket donated to Tulane athletics.

About the Green Wave: While for three weeks the focus has rightly been on Tulane's plight, and then whether and where the game would be played, not enough attention has been given to the actual matchup itself. Not until now, that is. It's about time because once past the emotional storylines there are the makings of a very good football game here. Yes, much of the Green Wave lineup is the same that lost at Scott Field last September. But this looks like a different team, based on how Tulane turned things around in November with three victories (Navy, Army, and TCU) to finish 5-6 and raise expectations in 2005. It's also a veteran team with eight starters back on offense, ten on defense, and a few more who started in 2003 but had to miss '04 with injuries. This might be the most experienced lineup State has to face all fall. The real turning-point of 2004 was actually a 59-55 home win over UAB, which showed what the Wave offense was capable of. It still is; seventh-year coach Chris Scelfo has always liked scoring points and he should have another squad able to light up the board. He certainly has another quarterback with pro potential in junior Lester Ricard. He missed the last 2-1/2 contests of '04 with a broken wrist right after hitting 18 of 19 passes against Navy for a school and league record. A year older and healed, Ricard can think about joining three of his quarterback predecessors now in the NFL. Tulane can call on two proven producers at running back, and talk about a ‘tandem,' both Matt Forte and Jovon Jackson gained exacty 624 yards each last season splitting snaps. Soph Forte is the bigger of the pair and listed #1, while Jackson is three inches and 15 pounds smaller but averaged five yards a tote with five scores as a junior. They are also excellent pass-catchers and know what to do after making the grab(s). The backs might be the primary targets, at least initially, because the top three wideouts are graduated including career-TD leader Roydell Williams. Junior Demarcus Davis has the most experience with 37 career catches and three TDs; he lines up as the ‘X' receiver. Junior Preston Brown is listed as the ‘Y' guy but a bunch of fresh faces—Cary Koch, Charles Harris, and Brian King—will be asked to contribute here immediately. The line is in good shape on the left side with T Chris McGee and G Matt Traina, who have 36-straight starts each. Center Joe Traina is a two-year regular. The right side is less established as G Derek Rogers is coming off knee repair and T Troy Kropog is a redshirt frosh. Still it's hard not to respect a line with 120 combined career starts. Evaluating the Wave defense is risky; this is a group that was tagged for double-digit points every time in '04 and only twice allowed less than 24 points. Yet if they've turned bitter experience into lessons-learned this could be a tougher team because the lineup is largely intact and eager to prove itself with six seniors and three juniors listed as starters for this game. MLB Anthony Cannon is a mighty stout centerpiece to build around, having notched over 100 tackles in all three previous seasons. He's joined by fellow seniors Antonio Mason and Brandon Spincer as the outside ‘backers. Three upperclassmen are in the secondary, most notably SS Tra Boger who missed all but two games with a knee injury. He was Tulane's top tackler in 2003, and further strengthens the run-support. Senior Sean Lucas moves from corner to free safety where he wants to add to his seven career interceptions. The only underclass-area of the defense is up front where there are ten lettermen but, for a second-straight year, no seniors. Yet there is still plenty of tested tacklers. DT Antonio Harris started every game as a true freshman. He lines up beside soph redshirt and 300-pounder Alvin Johnson to fill the middle, with 280-pound Taurean Brown as the ‘big' end and 240-pound Craig Morris the ‘fast' guy on the other end. The line also welcomes back DE Michael Purcell, who despite '04 injuries had nine tackles for losses. And the defense can count on punter Chris Beckman to put them in good positions; the Grenada native led CUSA in yardage as a sophomore.

The Series: Mississippi State holds a narrow 28-25-2 margin in a series that dates back to 1901, when Tulane took the inaugural meeting in New Orleans. The city has been the site of all but 15 of the games in fact, and this will be the first matchup on a neutral site since 1963 when State won in Jackson. MSU has a 3-1 lead in games not played either on campus or at the Superdome, and a 9-2 advantage at Scott Field. In the years Tulane was part of the Southeastern Conference (1933-65) the series score was 11-8 in Mississippi State's favor. The rivalry took a break from 1966-81, then the schools played 12 times in 14 seasons with State winning all but two of the games. The series resumed in 2003 with Tulane winning 31-28 at New Orleans. The Bulldogs won last year 28-7 in Sylvester Croom's college coaching debut; Chris Scelfo is 1-1 against State.

Wave Notes: Tulane got a 2004 scare from Hurricane Ivan, evacuating the campus and postponing their home game with Louisville until December. They lost to the Cardinals 55-7 to end the season. This year is the latest season-debut for Tulane since 1973.

*Scelfo has a 31-40 record after six seasons at Tulane, but is the only Wave coach with as many as two bowl game wins (1998, 2002). He already has the third-longest tenure in school history and is fourth in career victories. Scelfo is a 1986 alumnus of Northeast Louisiana (now Louisiana-Monroe) and, now based temporarily at Ruston, is only a drive up the interstate from his alma mater.

*At this time Tulane is still deciding where to play the other five home games on their 2005 schedule. Their next action is at SMU in Dallas, where the team found temporary post-hurricane housing before settling in at Ruston.

*CUSA begins divisional play this season and Tulane has been placed in the West loop along with Houston, Rice, SMU, Tulsa, and UTEP. Tulane is one of the six schools left in CUSA when five members left for other leagues (Louisville, Cincinnati, South Florida, and TCU) or went independent (Army). By luck of the draw only Tulane has to play all six of the league's new members.

Did You Know? Well of course you know Tulane was in the original 13-team Southeastern Conference formed in 1933, along with Georgia Tech and Sewanee. And the Green Wave won an outright SEC title in 1949 and shared the 1934 crown. The school made what turned out to be a disastrous decision to drop out of the league in 1965 and has struggled on the field and at the box office since. But few recall that from 1966-68 there were seven games by league teams with Tulane that counted as ‘appointed' SEC games by the conference, so several schools could meet the six-SEC-game standard for a season.

Connections: Two Tulane players hail from Mississippi, P Chris Beckman (Grenada) and LB Jordan Ellis (Pass Christian). Four Bulldogs are Louisiana natives: HB Derek Ambrose (New Orleans), PK Keith Andrews (Bastrop), DL Soloman Ona (Scotland), and TE Jeremy Jones (Harvey).

*State OL coach J.B. Grimes was on the Arkansas staff when Tulane WR coach Darryl Mason played for the Razorbacks. MSU LB coach Amos Jones worked at Tulane from 1995-96.

Bulldog Record Watch: Halfback Jerious Norwood now has 2,248 career rushing yards and just took sole possession of seventh on the MSU career list, passing Dicenzo Miller's 2,209 from 1998-2001. The next names on the ladder are John Bond (2,280 from 1980-83) and Dennis Johnson (2,284, 1974-77). Walter Packer holds the career rushing record of 2,820 set from 1973-76.

*Norwood has notched nine 100-yard rushing games in his State career, and has scored nine touchdowns.

*Tight end Eric Butler took only 11 games to tie the Mississippi State record for touchdown catches at his position. His scoring grab against Murray State gave Butler five TD, matching the total of Treddis Anderson from 1989-91. Butler had four TD catches in ten freshman games which set the season record. For his early career Butler has grabbed 20 passes for 220 yards, a 11.0-yard average.

*Quarterback Omarr Conner tied the MSU mark for game-touchdown passes with four against Murray State, and now shares the standard with Derrick Taite (vs. both Tulane 1994 and Memphis 1995) and Tony Shell (Georgia 1988). Conner now has 11 career touchdown throws in 11 games under-center, against eight interceptions.

*In his first year of kicking PATs, Keith Andrews was a perfect 21-of-21. He added five more points-after in his '05 opener and now needs 11 more PATs to match the MSU record for consecutive good kicks set by Kinney Jordan in 1975-76 of 37. Andrews is 7-of-12 on field goal tries after a missed 47-yarder at Auburn.

*DE Willie Evans just moved into the career-top ten in quarterback sacks, with 11.5 in his three-plus seasons. He passed both Kevin Henry and Wesley Leasy by snaring the passer at Auburn; one more sack ties him with Larry Williams for eighth place and moves him past Ed Smith's 12.0.

Rookie Report: Nine of the 21 true freshmen on the 2005 roster have already seen game action. One, P Blake McAdams, is starting. The rest have played in backup roles: WR Aubrey Bell, DE Charles Burns, LB Jamar Chaney, OG Anthony Dunning, CB Keith Fitzhugh, OT Michael Gates, RB Brandon Hart, and CB Derek Pegues.

The newcomers who have not played yet are: WR Tay Bowser, OG Johnny Carpenter, WR Adron Chambers, QB Ty Evans, WR Corey Gardhigh, OT Craig Jenkins, DB Jarvis Kyles, LB Jimmy Miller, QB Tray Rutland, OL Chris Spencer, DE Quinton Wesley, and OT Calvin Wilson.

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