*Mississippi State is 5-12 in games shown by ESPN2, but the Dogs split games shown by the network last season with a win over Tulane and loss at Alabama.
About the (other) Bulldogs: It took a decade and a couple of coaching changes, but that two-team monopoly of the SEC Eastern Division has been broken up for good. Under Mark Richt's direction Georgia has muscled its way into the top tier of the loop alongside Florida and Tennessee, with a pair of Division titles in his first four seasons and an overall 2002 title…the first brought to Athens since 1982 when Herschel Walker was the baddest dog in the land. Along that line UG folk are celebrating the silver anniversary of their 1980 national championship…and asking if the current club has what it takes to win another. With a consensus top-ten rating in September early signs are promising for a club that knows all about winning: this senior class is 36-6. Georgia thrashed then-#18 Boise State to open the year, outlasted South Carolina, and thumped Louisiana-Monroe despite having to use quite a few backups. The bad news for State is that most of the UG Dogs who missed the last game with injuries should be back in the lineup this week.
Offense: Worse news is that Georgia comes in ranked first in SEC total offense averaging 489 yards, and second in both rushing (233 yards) and passing (256) yardages. The Bulldogs like to pound the ground with two quality rushers, both sophomores. Danny Ware had 692 freshman yards and already has 195 in three '05 games, with a 6.1 average per carry. He's the ‘big' back at 216 pounds, while 183-pound Thomas Brown is the ‘fast' runner with 186 yards on a 6.6 rate already despite sitting out last week with a sore shoulder. Whoever lines up deep, defenses first have to watch for running quarterback D.J. Shockley who gets 8.8 yards each time he totes, with three TDs. Replacing the winningest career QB, David Greene, in school history isn't easy but Shockley has made it look that way so far with 647 throwing yards, six TDs, and the 10th-best passing efficiency in the NCAA this week. Georgia definitely likes to spread the passes around to both split and tight ends. SE Bryan McLendon has assumed the top-target role and has 11 of the 46 receptions, with true frosh Mohamed Massaquoi and flanker Sean Bailey (injured last week) the prime deep targets. But TEs Leonard Pope and Martrez Milner both have six catches already, and Milner has two scores and 190 yards. These guys are free to run routes because a veteran five-man front can take care of most blocking duties. It's all seniors on the ‘tight' side with 340-pound Max Jean-Gilles and 306-pound Dennis Roland, with juniors on the other side of center where both Russ Tanner and Ryan Schnetzer rotate. They're seniors, too, on a front that has only allowed two sacks in three games. And Georgia leads the league in turnover margin. Heard enough?
Defense: For the last three years Georgia ranked in the NCAA top-ten in scoring defense, so when coordinator Brian Van Gorder left for the NFL there was natural concern of a dropoff. Needlessly. DB coach Willie Martinez has moved up and his unit stayed up in the elite, ranking 10th nationally after three games in scoring and 12th in yardage. But then a defense with three seniors on the front line and three more in the secondary shouldn't fall off anyway. The four-man front is where things start as usual, and tackles Gerald Anderson and Kedric Golston are a stout pair to build around. They don't get the stats but tie up blocking so active ends Will Thompson and Quentin Moses (11 career sacks) can, and UG is entirely comfortable rotating in Charles Johnson to rush the passer as well. Safe to say all-star David Pollack is not being missed much. There is depth at linebacker also, where junior Danny Verdun Wheeler stepped in for the injured Jarvis Jackson at WLB and had 11 tackles against ULM. Jackson had thumb surgery but should play. Brandon Miller has taken over at SLB and is leading the ‘backers in tackles after three games, while MLB Tony Taylor is back after missing all 2004 with a knee injury. The secondary didn't have a typical season last fall with just five interceptions, but they're making up for it early in '05 with seven picks through three contests. Rover Tra Battle has two, and also is second in team tackles with 17 while FS Greg Blue not only has 19 tackles but three hurries on the blitz. The corners are both seniors and each has one interception so far with more to come. All this defense has failed to do in September is collect a touchdown…and if the past is any guide they won't be scoreless for much longer.
Specialists: Brandon Cotu has hit all 13 of his point-after attempts and is 6-of-7 in field goals with a 58-yarder against ULM. He currently leads the SEC in scoring. Punter Gordon Ely-Kelson averaged 40 yards as a sophomore starter and is hitting them at a 41.3-yard clip now. It's probably lack of practice due to the defense that Thomas Flowers has only averaged 18.3 yards running back his few kickoffs; his talents are more evident with a 11.3-yard punt return rate.
The Series: Both schools are charter members of the original Southeastern Conference, and no farther apart than most league campuses. Yet in the 73-year history of the SEC the respective Bulldog teams have only played 19 times (though the official SEC guide has 21 games). Only Vanderbilt has appeared less-often on MSU schedules from the original league lineup; and State is the least-common SEC foe for Georgia, period. The teams first met in 1914, then did not play again until 1950. Given how the infrequent series has played out this hasn't been a bad deal for the MSU Bulldogs, since Georgia holds a 14-5 lead. The UG Dogs also boast a seven-game win streak that dates back to 1974; in fact, Georgia is 12-1 against Mississippi State since 1959. Georgia leads 3-1 in games played in Starkville, and 8-2 at Athens. State's only win at Scott Field over UG came in 1951. This will be the first game for both head coaches against each other.
Georgia Notes: Georgia ranks sixth-best in winning percentage for 2001-to-present. The current senior class is 3-0 in bowl games.
*Georgia teams have blocked 20 kicks of all sorts in the past four seasons, but none in their first three games of 2005.
*Georgia has only given up more than 30 points once in Richt's tenure, in 2003 in the SEC Championship game loss to LSU. And his UG teams are 15-2 in games played in August-September.
Connections: Both MSU coordinators have worked with members of the UG staff. DC Ellis Johnson and Georgia offensive coordinator Neil Callaway were on the Alabama staff from 1997-2000; and in '97 MSU OC Woody McCorvey was also there, when current state RB coach Freddie Kitchens was playing quarterback. McCorvey and Georgia WR coach Jon Eason were at South Carolina in 1998.
*A total of 18 MSU Bulldogs hail from Georgia homes, and the roster is well-balanced with ten playing defense and eight on offense. State has more Georgians on the 2005 roster than imports from any other state. And nine of these MSU players were teammates with a member of the current Georgia roster. But there is only one Mississippian playing for Georgia this year, freshman QB Blake Barnes of Baldwyn.
Did You Know? The MSU Bulldogs are beginning a three-week run of matchups with SEC teams currently ranked in the top-ten. Georgia comes in rated #7 by Associated Press and #6 in the coaches poll. State will also be facing LSU (#3 this week in both polls) and Florida (#5 both) in the following weekends. If those upcoming foes are still listed in the top-ten by game day(s), this will be the first season Mississippi State will have played three-straight clubs with top-ten rankings. Back in 1986 the Bulldogs did have consecutive top-ten matchups, against #7-Auburn and #8-Alabama, followed by a game against #11-LSU. The last time MSU played three ranked opponents consecutively was at the end of the 1999 regular season with a lineup of #11 Alabama, #22 Arkansas, and #23 Mississippi. State last held a ranking of its own at the end of September 2001 when the Bulldogs were rated #21.
Bulldog Record Watch: Halfback Jerious Norwood now has 2,347 career rushing yards and ranks fifth on the MSU career list. In the last two weeks he has surpassed Dicenzo Miller (2,209 from 1998-2001, John Bond (2,280 from 1980-83) and Dennis Johnson (2,284, 1974-77). The next rung on the ladder is 105 yards away, the 2,452 compiled by J.J. Johnson in just two seasons 1997-98. Walter Packer holds the career rushing record of 2,820 set from 1973-76.
*Norwood barely missed his tenth 100-yard rushing game as he came up with 99 against Tulane. But he did score his tenth rushing touchdown in four seasons, and caught his first career touchdown pass as well.
*Tight end Eric Butler is only in his second varsity season and already has the career touchdown-catches record for his position with six, in just 13 games. Butler set the season record with four TD grabs as a freshman in ten games, and this year has scoring catches against Murray State and Tulane. And talk about efficiency, Butler has caught just 21 balls for those six scores.
*Omarr Conner's two touchdown tosses against Tulane gives the second-year starter a dozen scoring throws in just 12 games as a college quarterback. In this year's opener Conner tied the program record for game TD passes with four, against Murray State, matching the standard Derrick Taite (vs. both Tulane 1994 and Memphis 1995) and Tony Shell (Georgia 1988). Conner now has 1,681 passing yards and a 53.6% completion rate.
*Senior Willie Evans had a career-best four tackles for losses in the Tulane game, including three sacks to bring his four-year total baggings to 14.5. That ranks the defensive end 7th on the MSU list. He needs 1.5 more sacks to match Robert Young (1987-90) for sixth.
*Evans and Norwood have played in 38 career games, tops on the current Bulldog roster. But senior CB Kevin Dockery, with 36 games, leads in career starts with 30. Norwood is the leader in consecutive starts with 22 going into this weekend.
*Keith Andrews continued his perfect record on PATs with three good boots against Tulane, bringing his career mark to 24-of-24. Andrews is kicking for the consecutive-PAT record of 37 set by Kinney Jordan in 1975-76. He is 7-of-12 on field goals at State and five of his dozen kickoffs this year have gone into the end zone.
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, though CB Derek Pegues is the #1 kickoff return man. The others are: WR Aubrey Bell, DE Charles Burns, LB Jamar Chaney, OG Anthony Dunning, CB Keith Fitzhugh, OT Michael Gates, and RB Brandon Hart.
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.
*Of those unplayed frosh, Carpenter, Wesley, and Wilson dressed for the Tulane game. All are expected to be on the dress-out list this weekend and Wilson is projected as a substitute at some point.