*This is Mississippi State's first appearance at Legion Field since 1989. Once upon a time Bulldog (or Maroon) teams played regularly in Birmingham, and not just for SEC games. State played Samford at the first of the last century and was 3-1 at their field; and beat Birmingham-Southern in 1926. All told, State is 18-21-3 playing in that city, including a win over Kansas in the old Hall of Fame Bowl in 1981 at Legion Field.
*This is the first time UAB has hosted any SEC team. Listed capacity of Legion Field is 72,000. UAB drew 23,116 for their only home game so far this season, against East Carolina.
About the Blazers: Most of the ‘star' power has left but the 2006 Blazer squad has something nearly as effective: experience. Lots and lots of experience. The lineup posted for this week shows 17 senior starters with seven on offense, nine on defense, and a double-duty specialist. This is a team that has been together and been around; they know what Watson Brown wants to do and how he likes it done. Brown is in his 12th season running the program, and while there have only been three winning years (2000, 2001, and 2004) the Blazers are usually just one game away from flipping the record around. A softer schedule would surely tip that balance but UAB doesn't shy away from challenges, and nothing makes a Blazer's day like knocking off a SEC club. After a 34-0 loss at Georgia that was more competitive than the score seems, Mississippi State is the final chance in '06 for these seniors to do so. They intend to make the most of the historic homefield opportunity.
Offense: He's gone but Darrell Hackney still casts a broad shadow in Birmingham, after throwing for almost 9,900 yards with 71 touchdowns in his four seasons. No one quarterback has taken his place yet, so UAB uses two. Junior Sam Hunt (21-of-33 passing, 252 yards, 1TD) has started the last two games and is a dangerour runner, but senior Chris Williams (19-of-28, 210, 2TD) gets just about as many snaps and opened at Oklahoma. Neither has been intercepted so far. The two essentially alternate depending on impression more than situation, with obvious headaches for defensive scheming as if that weren't difficult enough. Brown will line up the offense in all sorts of sets and run something entirely different. Still his play calling-card will always start with options, whether single, double, triple, all of it. Ignore the 2.7-yard average per rush through three games, this team can move on the ground. Seniors Dan Burks and Corey White take turns as the regular running back, and fellow senior Marculus Elliott was superb at the end of 2005. White had 632 yards as the '05 workhorse while Burks had injuries and finished with 321. Now they're all healthy and there's enough experienced runners here to stock a ‘box' set, much less a wishbone. Complicating things is that these backs are quality catchers as well so the short toss is essentially a handoff. Burks, White, and Elliot have 11 grabs for 165 yards already. Then there are the guys going longer, like junior Willie Edwards (6 catches, 98 yards) and senior Norris Drinkard (5, 78, 1 TD). Yes, there are three and four (and counting backs, more) receiver sets in this system to utilize. Four seniors start up front, though it is a redshirt freshman Jake Seitz who has stepped in at center replacing an all-CUSA graduate. Again, the stats don't look like much after three games as UAB ranks 100th in NCAA yardage and 109th in scoring. But first consider the competition, and then the experience here, and forget the numbers. These guys know results are all that matters.
Defense: Blazer teams rightly have a rep for offense, but this fall a veteran-dominated defense has come to the fore with Rick Christophel re-assuming the coordinator job he held in 2001. Against a schedule including Oklahoma and Georgia, this unit has allowed a respectable 339-yard average, and UAB has been particularly good at creating turnovers with three interceptions and five forced fumbles. The base scheme looks typical with an offset four-man front and three linebackers. But this group can also toss different looks at opponents thanks to all that senior-ity. Three upperclassmen are on the front line built around 300-pound nose man Clarence Respress, the team leader in tackles for losses. The star is another senior, Larry McSwain, a preseason league defensive POTY and multiple award nominee. He had four sacks in 2005 but made his name the year before with 13 in '04. He has one so far this season. There are two all-CUSA linebackers in this lineup. MLB Mastaki Smith is also a Butkus nominee after a 60-tackle junior season, and WLB Orlandus King was even better with 73 stops and a couple of picks. The two have 20 tackles between them so far, three for losses. All three ‘backers are seniors but the dept behind them is young and promising. The takeaway margin is boosted by an active secondary and three of the four starters have an interception already. It was SS Chris Felders' stripe of a East Carolina receiver at the one-yard line that preserved UAB's 17-12 home win. CB Kevin Sanders has three career pickoffs, and while FS Brandon Register is the only DB without a theft he is always around the ball finishing off tackles.
Specialists: Parker Mullins was 14-of-18 on field goals as a junior and perfect on his 37 PATs. This year he is sharing the job, with Swayze Waters the ‘long' man also doing kickoffs. The latter is 1-of-2 but his long effort was 32 yards while Mullins hit his 31-yarder. Where Mullins is unchallenged is punting; he's off to a 43.1-yard start through three games after averaging only 38.6 as a junior. Sanders fields the punts and three Blazers have run back kickoffs so far, with Drinkard listed first but Elliott more effective.
The Series/Last Time – October 9, 2004: The first-ever meeting of State and UAB was played at Scott Field, and the visitors left happy after a 27-13 win earned by the strong arm of Darrell Hackney and the fast footwork of Roddy White. The pair hooked up for a couple of touchdowns, the first coming after State had taken a 3-0 lead on Keith Andrews' field goal at 12:05. Not even 50 seconds later White was pulling in a Hackney throw for a 52-yard strike. UAB got a field goal of their own but State managed a 10-10 intermission tie as Kyle York, starting in place of injured Omarr Conner, flipped a 8-yard touchdown toss to Eric Butler. But the Blazers regained the lead early in the third period with Hackney's 18-yard throw to White. Both sides added field goals to the score, then UAB return man Reggie Lindsay provided the game-clincher as he ran a punt back 67 yards at 7:40 of the fourth period. Hackney threw for 150 yards, 123 of that to White, and the Blazers got 70 and 65 ground yards from soph runners Corey White and Dan Burks. The loss marred a 201-yard effort by Jerious Norwood, his career best at the time.
Did You Know? Of course you did, that Watson Brown was offensive coordinator at MSU in 1991-92 under Jackie Sherrill. The former Vanderbilt quarterback was head coach of his alma mater 1986-90 with a 10-45 record.
*Blazer DC Rick Christophel was State's receiver coach for four years, 1991-94.
*Blazer kicker Parker Mullins and reserve lineman Patrick Swoopes are both Starkville natives. Swoopes is the son of former Bulldog and NFL defensive lineman Pat Swoopes.
*Alabama-Birmingham is 2-8 in games against SEC schools since the program achieved I-A status in 1996.
MSU Rookie Report: Seventeen Bulldogs have made their college-game debuts this season, including five true freshmen. HB Anthony Dixon, ST Anthony Johnson, and ST Marcus Washington all played in the South Carolina game, and the next week HB Arnil Stallworth and S Anthony Summers joined them. Redshirted 2005 freshmen who have played so far this season are: QB Tray Rutland, OT Craig Jenkins, DT Quinton Wesley, ST Jarvis Kyles, CB Adron Chambers, ST Christian Ducre, and ST Tay Bowser.
*Other first-year players are juco transfers WR Tony Burks, OT J.D. Hamilton, and LB Tim Bailey; soph HB Justin Williams, and soph WR Jamayel Smith.
*True freshmen yet to play are: OG J.C. Brigone, WR Alex Carpenter, DL Brandon Cooper, DS Aaron Feld, TE Chris Herrera, LB Jamon Hughes, TE Brandon Henderson, DT Kyle Love, OT Mark Melichar, WR Keith Mills, DT Reggie Odom, and DE Rodney Prince.
Bulldog Player Notes: Senior LB Quinton Culberson has taken a strong early-season lead in the team tackle lists, with 29 stops through three games. With a dozen tackles credited in the Tulane game, Culberson just passed the 200 mark with 205 for his four seasons. He has six double-digit tackle games in his career, two of them this season.
*Culberson also has the only Bulldog interception of this season, on the first play of the South Carolina game. Opponets have thrown 82 balls since then without a pickoff.
*Senior safety Jeramie Johnson has seven career interceptions and needs two more to move into the MSU top-ten chart.
*Senior DE Michael Heard is the team sack-leader with 6.5 in 31 career games.
*Senior DT Deljuan Robinson twice had to be helped off the field in the Tulane game with a leg problem, but that did not stop him from recording a career-best eight tackles. This came after he'd improved his career standard only one week earlier with seven tackles against Auburn. In three senior games Robinson has already exceeded his total of tackles-for-loss in the preceding three seasons.
*Of State's 256-net rushing yards through three games, 189 have come from freshmen Anthony Dixon (146) and Arnil Stallworth (43). But the best runner per-carry is Omarr Conner, who returned to quarterback midway of the Tulane game and produced 71 yards on 13 carries, a 5.5 average.
*State is averaging just 2.6 yards per rush, but all three offensive touchdowns in the Tulane game came via the ground.
*In just over two quarters Conner threw for more yards, 241, than previous starters Mike Henig and Tray Rutland combined, 170. Conner now ranks 9th in MSU career completions with 208, and his passing percentage of 52.4 is fifth-best in school history. He needs 368 yards of completions to move into the career-top ten for ground covered, and one more touchdown toss in that top-ten tally.
*Junior WR Lance Long tops the chart with nine catches, four in the Tulane game. But with 78 yards on one catch-and-run in that game junior Tony Burks has taken the yardage lead with 149 on six grabs, a 24.8 average. Bulldog wideouts net 10.9 yards per catch.
*Junior TE Eric Butler's season is off to a slow start. He had one catch in the S.C. game, for 20 yards, and none the next two weeks. In his first two years Butler had 29 grabs in 21 games, with seven touchdowns to set both a season (four) and career record for his MSU position.
*P Blake McAdams began his sophomore year well with a 41.6-yard average against South Carolina, placing three punts inside the 20-yard line. He's dropped off since and now hits ‘em for 38.5 yards on 21 punts. The opposition is averaging 47.4 yards. McAdams averaged 41.9 yards as a freshman and ranked 33rd in the NCAA stats. His career average to-date still ranks fourth-best in MSU history, for punters with 75 or more kicks.
*Soph PK Adam Carlson hit all three PAT attempts against Tulane and is 10-of-10 for his short career. He is 2-of-6 on field goals and 0-of-2 this season, though one was blocked by Auburn.
*Three Bulldogs have now played in 37 games: CB David Heard, S Jeramie Johnson, and DS Russell Cook. A foot injury ended FB Bryson Davis' streak at 36. Heard and Johnson are tied with 22 starts, though as a snapper Cook is unfairly excluded in this category. But the most starts by a current player is the 27 for MLB Quinton Culberson, in 33 games.
*NG Andrew Powell had his team-leading string of consecutive starts stopped at 22, when Antonio Johnson took his place for the Auburn game. This gives OG Brian Anderson the team-lead now at 21 games. Anderson has also started four different positions in his career, every line slot except center…where he played one game as a backup in 2004. He also played as an second-TE as a 2003 true freshman.
*There are 44 players on the current roster who have started at least one MSU game since 2004, including specialists. Rookie Stallworth is the latest to join this list.