*The Tigers are ranked #9 (A.P.) and #10 (Coaches/ESPN) this week. Mississippi State's last win over a team ranked in either national poll was in 2004 over Florida (#20) at Scott Field. The last win over a top-ten opponent was in 2000, also at home over then #3 Florida. State was 0-5 against ranked teams in 2005.
*State is 0-1 on LFS this season already. Including the broadcaster's predecessor, Jefferson-Pilot Sports, Bulldog teams are now 16-20 in these regional telecasts going back to 1992. LSU has a 6-11-1 record in such games, and this is their first daylight contest of 2006.
*This is the third-straight time that State's game at Baton Rouge has had a morning kickoff for either J-P or LFS. The Dogs haven't played a night game in Tiger Stadium since 2000.
About the Tigers: If not for the cycle of home/away scheduling and a close-but-probably-correct call, these Tigers would be on the SEC West fast track with the top-three ranking. As it is LSU will play the rest of their league schedule with a chip on their shoulders and an ear tuned to scores from Auburn, hoping for a crack at defending their 2005 Division title. It can still happen because Les Miles' second Tiger team has the cats to run the rest of their table. It's the same formula that Miles' predecessor established: a big, fast, physical defense throttling opponents while a no-frills offense takes care of business. And no SEC team is better at re-filling holes left by the NFL and graduation. Maybe the locals are still trying to warm up to their coach, but success solves all issues and this Bengal bunch is just going to keep winning. Too bad league rules can't be suspended to allow a rematch of Tiger teams on a neutral site. In December. In Atlanta.
Offense: They don't get the same acclaim as their partners on defense, and the only legit opponent played so far kept them out of the end zone. Still this LSU offense is making plenty of noise against lesser foes with 45, 45, and 49 points in the three wins, and only Florida nets more yards per game than LSU's 404 (26th nationally). It's a well-balanced attack as well; 129 of the offensive snaps have been runs, 111 passes. And the Tigers haven't turned the ball over in two weeks. This as much as anything reflects the maturing of QB JaMarcus Russell. He threw for 2,442 yards and 15 scores as a junior but also nine interceptions; so far he's tossed just one pick and completed 66% with seven scores. Only such efficiency could keep a proven triggerman like Matt Flynn on the sideline, or an injury get him off it in a competitive game. Talking of depth, nobody has more proven runners Senior Justin Vincent (74 yards so far) is listed to start but that means nothing. Alley Broussard has come off injury successfully for 92 yards and two scores to-date, and freshman Charles Scott has topped ‘em all with 187 yards and two TDs. Dual-duty back Jacob Hester gets the tough yards with three TD dives. By their recent standards this is a ‘rebuilding' year on the line with only two starters back and one at a new spot. Don't be fooled; this fivesome might not have the combined experience of the '05 front but any SEC coach would gladly have this bunch blocking for his runners and throwers. The elders are on the right side, with former tackle Brian Johnson now at guard so senior Peter Dyakowski can step in at tackle. The real veteran LG Will Arnold, and his experience is a big (319-pounds big) aid to the youngsters at left tackle and center. Even with a 283-pound center the front averages 307 pounds, and there's always a husky tight end or two for extending the wall. Secondaries are sick of chasing FL Dwayne Bowe and SE Craig Davis around. These seniors have combined for 35 catches, 551 yards, and five touchdowns through four games. And that doesn't take into account junior Early Doucet (13, 201, 2TD).
Defense: Current NCAA stats only confirm popular opinion: this Tiger defense is as good as they come. First in scoring (20 points in four games) and pass efficiency, second in total yards, passing yards, and interceptions…read enough? Well one more painful fact: even reaching the ‘red zone' is frustrating as LSU leads the league here with a 38% scored-against rate. It literally all starts up-front with this bunch, and the line is built around the newest great Tiger tackle. Junior Glenn Dorsey has only six career starts to his credit and is already regarded as an early NFL departee with 21 stops so far, six for losses and two sacks. Not to mention two SEC DL of the week awards in just four games. He is usually the left tackle but the whole front is adaptable. Soph Marlon Favorite had a big night against Tulane and is listed first at right tackle with redshirt end Ricky Jean-Francois able to work inside also. Senior Chase Pittman is the eldest lineman with 16 career starts, a dozen at right end, and soph Tyson Jackson is off to a good start on the left. For the record, the four-front averages almost 290 pounds, which some O-lines would envy. Junior outside LB Al Highsmith, a monster in the Auburn game, is the veteran in this corps and a Butkus Award nominee after 75 tackles and four sacks in 2005. Luke Sanders waited two years for his chance to start and is showing up strong in the middle now, with Darry Beckwith taking over from Sanders in the weakside-slot. Is there a more-proven pair of safeties anywhere than SS Jesse Daniels and FS LaRon Landry? The latter has the third-most PBUs in school annals and ten career interceptions, which is why he is up for the Thorpe and Lott awards…again. All Daniels has done in three-plus seasons is net 155 tackles and four picks of his own. And his backup, Craig Steltz, has an interception in three-straight games. Junior CB Chevis Jackson is a fixture himself after 16 career starts, but fellow junior Jonathan Zenon is having the big breakout; his three interceptions in four games ties for the SEC lead and is 6th nationally. Just getting a throw off against this bunch is a feat as LSU leads the SEC with 14 sacks. That's a lot of shiny stats for a team that has only three seniors in the current starting lineup. Ouch.
Specialists: He's a senior so this is the last year to refer to PK Chris Jackson as "No Not That One." His 45.0-yard punting average is third-best in the SEC and way ahead of his junior 41.5-yard rate. But after making 26 three-pointers in 44 attempts this C.J. has been superseded in 2006 by Colt David who's made both Tiger field goals. David has hit 54-straight PATs as well. Chevis Jackson is netting 8.8-yards on punt returns while Doucet takes care of kickoffs. If there is any weakness on this team, it's a league-worst average on net punting. Of course the opposition has to kick it away a whole lot more often.
The Last Time – October 1, 2005: An overtime Monday loss, short week and road trip did little to slow down #4-ranked LSU as the Tigers routed State 37-7 before 48,344 at Scott Field. It did take the visiting team a bit to warm up, and the host Bulldogs took advantage as Omarr Conner threw a 66-yard touchdown to Joey Sanders on the fifth snap. It was all the points State would score and that one play would account for over a quarter of all MSU yardage, as the Tiger defense got down to business and held the home team to 229 total and only 56 on the ground. Meanwhile LSU's offense got rolling with a 30-yard field goal by Colt David, then Xavier Carter took an end-around 36 yards for the go-ahead touchdown at 2:19 of the opening period. Early in the second quarter JaMarcus Russell hit Dwayne Bowe for a 14-yard scoring play and 17-7 halftime tally. Jacob Hester finished a drive with a one-yard touchdown dive at 6:58 of the third quarter, Russell found Bowe again for a 44-yard scoring strike, and before the period ran out Joseph Addai crashed over from a yard out for the final margin. LSU netted 402 yards, 222 of it by Russell who was 22-of-27 passing. Conner was 9-of-22 with an interception. Halfback Jerious Norwood was literally knocked out early, with a second-quarter concussion, and had just seven runs for nine yards. Brandon Thornton was four runs for 46 yards.
The Series: This is the 100th meeting of the respective state's universities and save for a few brief stretches the Louisiana school has had much the better of things, with a 63-33-3 lead since 1896 when the Tigers took a 52-0 win. It's been particularly lopsided in the second half of the series as since 1955 State has only 14 wins, and two of those had to be forfeited. LSU has won the last seven meetings, 13 of the last 14, and State's last consecutive successes were in 1990-91. The Tigers are 43-18-1 at Tiger Stadium where MSU last won in 1991. Sylvester Croom is 0-2 against LSU as a coach, and Les Miles 1-0 against State.
Did You Know? Kicker Chris Jackson was the starting third baseman for LSU in 2005, and WR Jared Mitchell was a 10th-round draft of Minnesota and will play baseball in 2007. Neither are on a ‘hope' scholarship.
*Those 18 wins in Tiger Stadium are still the most by MSU at any other SEC campus field. Bulldogs have taken ten wins in Oxford, eight at Tuscaloosa, seven at Florida, and five at Auburn.
*Six Louisianans are on the Bulldog roster: HB Derek Ambrose (New Orleans), HB Justin Williams (Tallulah), PK Keith Andrews (Bastrop), WR Keith Mills (Alexandria), HB Christian Ducre (New Orleans), and TE Jeremy Jones (Harvey).
*There are five Mississippians on the LSU roster: OG Will Arnold (Gloster), TE Mit Cole (Picayune), DE Donald Harris (Diamondhead), TE Richard Dickson (Ocean Springs), and LB Derrick Odom (Jackson).
MSU Rookie Report: Nineteen Bulldogs have made their college-game debuts this season, including seven 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. At UAB last week, LB Jamon Hughes and DT Kyle Love saw their first college action.
*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, TE Brandon Henderson, 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 36 stops through four games. He had seven tackles at UAB, coming after a dozen in the Tulane game. Culberson has flown by the 200-tackle mark and is at 212 in four seasons. He has six double-digit tackle games in his career, two of them this season.
*Senior DT Deljuan Robinson followed up a career-best eight tackles in the Tulane game with only two at UAB. But Robinson still is tops in the SEC in tackles behind the line of scrimmage with 7.5. The senior has more stops for losses through four games this year than in his preceding three MSU seasons.
*Senior DE Michael Heard is the team sack-leader with 7.5 in 32 career games. By bagging the UAB quarterback last week Heard now ranks fifth in the latest SEC standings with three in four games.
*After Culberson picked off a South Carolina pass on the first play of that game opponents threw the ball 94 times before S De'Mon Glanton got State's next interception in the third quarter at UAB. Then CB Adron Chambers picked a Blazer throw in overtime.
*Senior safety Jeramie Johnson has seven career interceptions and needs two more to move into the MSU top-ten chart.
*After a shaky rookie year soph CB Derek Pegues has blossomed in kick-return duties. This week he ranks first in the SEC and second in the NCAA in kickoff return yardage at 36.0, and that is without a runback longer than 61 yards. Pegues also is third in the SEC, 23rd-nationally, returning punts at 12.6 yards with a long effort of 26 yards.
*Of Mississippi State's 422 net rushing yards, 227 have come from freshman HB Anthony Dixon. He is getting 4.0 yards per carry and 57 yards per game, despite not having yet started a contest. The last freshman to lead MSU in rushing was Kenny Roberts in 1989, and no true frosh has ever done so.
*QB Omarr Conner has the best per-carry average though, with 5.5 each time he totes the ball. Dixon and Conner have four of State's five rushing touchdowns. Opponents have scored four times on the ground.
*Mississippi State's longest scoring drive of this season is 87 yards, against Tulane. That game also saw State's most ‘extended' drive with a dozen snaps. Both series went for touchdowns.
*In barely six quarters this year Conner has thrown for 356 yards. He now has 2,483 in his career at quarterback, leaving him 263 yards short of getting into the career top-ten at State. He is 11th in touchdown passes with 14, and already in the top-ten in completions tied for eighth with Matt Wyatt at 222. His 52.9% career efficiency is fifth-best in Bulldog history.
*Whoever is throwing balls is having trouble finding junior TE Eric Butler. He had one catch against South Carolina for 20 yards, then went two games without a grab before making a 19-yard catch-and-run at UAB. 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.
*Soph P Blake McAdams is off to a slow start this season with a 38.6-yard average through four games. He punted at a 41.9 clip as a freshman. But he's already hit dropped half-as-many punts, seven inside the 20-yard line as his 14-total in 2005. He ranks 7th in SEC punting currently and State is 10th in league net-punting.
*Soph PK Adam Carlson has hit all four of his PAT tries this season, and is 11-of-11 career. More encouragingly, he booted a 47-yard field goal at UAB, the first of this year.
*Three Bulldogs have now played in 38 games: CB David Heard, S Jeramie Johnson, and DS Russell Cook. Heard and Johnson are tied with 23 starts, though as a snapper Cook is unfairly excluded in this category. But the most starts by a current player is the 28 for MLB Quinton Culberson, in 34 games. Omarr Conner has 28-straight starts at either quarterback or wideout, and DT Andrew Powell 24.
*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 22 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 43 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. A total of 68 Dogs have played in at least one career game on this roster, though four—WR Aubrey Bell, TE Jeremy Jones, OG Anthony Dunning, and OT Roland Terry—have yet to see the field this season.