*The Bulldogs get a break from facing foes with a national ranking in front of the name. The Bulldogs have lost three games against ranked opponents this season. Auburn was #4, LSU #9, and West Virginia #4 on the day they defeated MSU. And next week State will again see a ranked foe as Georgia should still be in the polls.
*Mississippi State is 44-20-3 in all official Homecoming games since 1937. But State has lost the last two such games.
*Mississippi State has lost the coin toss in all six games this season.
About the Gamecocks: He's been coaching for three decades now and made high-profile stops at Auburn, Clemson, Baylor, and Arkansas…the latter as head Hog for two years (1990-91) and one 1992 game. But since 2000 Jack Crowe has found his niche directing the Gamecock program and taking it up the football ladder. Three years ago his work paid off in an Ohio Valley Conference championship and Coach of the Year recognition, and in '04 JSU won the league again. The Gamecocks fell off to 6-5 the next year but now, with three OVC wins already, they are back on track. And nothing would give JSU more second-half momentum in the league race than knocking off a SEC squad.
Offense: The names, uniforms, league, and even Division are different. But for a second week the Bulldogs have to prepare for an offense that thrives on ground-pounding. Almost 70% of Gamecock snaps result in a rush, and with good reason as JSU nets 210 yards a game this way at over five yards per attempt. The attack is led by tailback Clay Green, a Payton Award nominee who could reach 2,500 career rushing yards this week in his 38th JSU game. He's producing 103 yards per 2006 game on a 5.5 average with nine of the team's 14 rushing touchdowns to lead the OVC in scoring. But there's more to watch in this backfield; backup Daniel Jackson notches 6.6 yards each time he totes, and fullback Raynodd Zeine a startling 8.2 yards. Quarterback Matt Hardin doesn't need to run, but he doesn't get to throw all that often either. After a strong rookie year the 5-8 junior missed five games last season; he's back in charge directing things and, when needed, tossing the ball at a 54% efficiency for 129 yards per game. He has three TDs against four picks. FL Tauren Rhetta is the top target with 13 catches and all three aerial scores, getting 19 yards each time he grabs the ball. Not surprisingly the backs figure prominently in the passing plans, too. The blocking is mostly underclassmen but developing nicely. And with 290 and 315 pounds on the left side this is hardly a ‘small league' line. The experience is on the right side with senior T Carnillous Tables and junior G Al Jefferson, both 295-ers. And when not running patterns senior TE Keller Speaks will do his blocking duties. It's an effective offense, and JSU doesn't hurt itself often. The last two games have seen no turnovers of any sort. And once in striking distance the Gamecocks produce, having scored in 19 of 20 trips to the red zone.
Defense: They are called the ‘Red Bandits' but this Gamecock defense doesn't have to steal anything. They earn their honors with just good overall efforts. In the AA stats JSU ranks eight in scoring, ninth in yardage; and in the conference they are first or second in six categories. This group has not allowed a first-quarter offensive touchdown so far and 65 total points in five full games. The house specialty is stopping the run, and in OVC play they have held 18 of the last 25 opponents under 100 ground yards. So far this year only one run has made more than 20 yards. It's a 3-4 sort of scheme, with senior John Scott on the nose and 285-pound soph Aaron Jones using surprising speed on one end. The linebackers are all upperclassmen and WLB George Summers tops the team in tackles with 34 this year, 144 in his career. The big hitter, though, is bandit LB LeMarcus Rowell, an Auburn transfer who sat out 2005. He's back with a vengeance, having tallied six tackles for loss and a couple of sacks already besides breaking up three passes. He's also scored on a fumble return. CB Montae Pitts is another former Tiger-turned-Gamecock; his stats don't look like much at 17 tackles and one breakup but that's only because he is too good to challenge often. He had 43 tackles starting for Auburn last year. The rest of the secondary has been proven over the years as well, with senior Craig Agee and junior Adrian Smith on the corners in a group that ranks sixth nationally in pass yardage defense. Opponents complete barely half the balls thrown and the per-catch average is under ten yards. But with a run defense this efficient, foes have no choice but keep putting it up.
Specialists: Soph Zach Walden is having a superb season punting the ball, with a 43.7 yard average and nine balls downed inside the 20. Against Eastern Kentucky, Walden hit a 75-yarder, longest since JSU moved up to D-I ball. PK Gavin Hallford is 5-of-7 on field goals with a long of 37 this year and two misses in the 40s range. In fact he's 1-of-6 at that distance for his career. Green runs back kickoffs at a 26-yard clip and Agee is good for 13.4 yards fielding punts; he currently is second in I-AA career return yardage. And keep an eye on Rhetta on special teams as he has four career blocked punts.
The Last (and only previous) Time: September 14, 2002 – QB Kevin Fant threw for 336 yards and three touchdowns as Mississippi State romped to a 51-13 victory. The sophomore accounted for 371 yards of total offense, the fifth-best day by any Bulldog. But the first two scores of the day came from a runner, as FB Justin Griffith got a 5-yard touchdown ramble; and on defense as S Richard Ball returned a fumble 50 yards. The Gamecocks cut their deficit in half with a 39-yard touchdown pass to open the second quarter, then Fant found Terrell Grindle for a 50-yard scoring strike. RB Fred Reid caught a 13-yard touchdown and ran three yards on his own for another and a 32-13 halftime margin. In the third period Fant and Ray Ray Bivines hooked up on a 89-yard touchdown pass, at the time the longest in MSU history. State padded the margin in the last period with a one-yard TD dive by RB Dontae Walker, a 27-yard field goal by Brent Smith, and a safety by FS Josh Morgan. Walker had 62 rushing yards, and both Grindle and Bivines topped 100 receiving yards. The 547 total Bulldog yards were the most since 1986. JSU had 248 total yards with 120 and two TDs thrown for by Anthony Mayo.
Did You Know? While the I-A and I-AA designations are still in use, the NCAA has come up with new titles for these branches of Division I football. I-A, the big league with 85 scholarships per team, is the ‘Bowl' division; and I-AA, limited to 65 grants, is the ‘Championship' division.
*JSU was once a member of the Gulf Coast Conference in D-II, where they won eight championships from 1974-91.
*CB Craig Agee (Taylorsville) is the only Mississippi native on the JSU roster.
Bulldog Player Notes: Senior QB Omarr Conner's last Bulldog season may have ended on a groin injury in the third quarter of the West Virginia game. If so, Conner will finish with the tenth-most passing yards in MSU history at 2,840. He is eighth in both career completions (247) and attempts (267). More impressively, his career passing of 52.89% is fifth-best in MSU history.
*Before the injury Conner was credited with the 16th touchdown pass of his career, breaking a tie with Jackie Parcker (1952-53) and tying him on the MSU charts for 9th with Matt Wyatt (1996-99). That is two behind John Bond (1980-83) in eighth place.
*Junior WR Tony Burks has notched three 100-yard receiving games this season; 130 vs. Tulane, 103 at LSU, and 118 against West Virginia. But Burks had only two grabs in the other three games, thus he doesn't meet the minimum for catches-per-game to be listed on the SEC stats.
*Though Burks got credit for the 45 receiving yards, he lost control of the ball at the goal line on a catch-and-run Saturday. Thus WR Lance Long, who fell on the fumble, got the touchdown, his first as a collegian.
*Senior LB Quinton Culberson notched the seventh double-digit tackle game of his career (third this season) Saturday with a dozen credited stops. Culberson has 54 tackles this season, fourth in the latest SEC standings and only eight in back of the leader. He now has 230 tackles in 36 career games.
*Senior DT Deljuan Robinson had his string of 35 consecutive games-played, every game of his MSU career, ended by a knee injury suffered at LSU. Robinson will be able to play this weekend, but will likely be limited. He was leading the SEC in tackles-for-losses before the injury and still ranks second after missing a game. Robinson has 8.5 for the year, after making just 5.5 stops behind the line of scrimmage his first three years.
*Senior FS Jeramie Johnson is tied for 10th in SEC tackling this week.
*Senior DE Michael Heard has just taken over the team lead in career tackles for losses, at 14.5. He was tied with Robinson at 14.0 going into the WVU game. Heard still leads the team in career sacks at 7.5.
*Sophomore CB Derek Pegues leads the SEC in kickoff return yardage, 27.4. He took a step back in punt returns in the WVU game, and now stands second at 10.4 yards. Only halfway through his second season, and his first in full-time return duty, Pegues already ranks 10th in MSU career kickoff return yards at 888.
*Pegues recorded his second career interception and first touchdown return in the LSU game with a 23-yard pick-and-run. It was State's first defensive score since 2004, against Kentucky when Culberson returned an interception for touchdown.
*Junior TE Eric Butler has been held in check this season, by either injury or defenses, and has just three catches in six games. When he does get the ball Butler produces, with 59 yards on those receptions. Coming into the season Butler had 29 catches and 354 yards with a tight end-record seven career touchdowns.
*Soph PK Adam Carlson has hit all eight of his PAT tries this season, and is 15-of-15 career. But after hitting his first career field goals in the UAB (47 yards) and LSU (32) games, he missed from 48 against West Virginia. He is 2-of-5 for the season.
*Soph P Blake McAdams is having a surprisingly erratic second season. A 34.5-yard average Saturday on four punts dropped his season rate to 39.2. He averaged 41.9 as a freshman on 69 punts. McAdams is ahead of that pace, though, with 37 punts halfway through this campaign. He is one good long punt from reaching 2.5 miles in yards-covered, and he ranks fifth in career punting average.
*Three Bulldogs have now played in 40 career games: CB David Heard, S Jeramie Johnson, and DS Russell Cook. Heard and Johnson are tied with 25 starts, though as a snapper Cook is unfairly excluded in this category. But the most starts by a current player is the 30 for MLB Quinton Culberson, in 36 games.
*OG Brian Anderson has the most consecutive starts with 24, while Heard and Culberson are at 22.
*There are 45 players on the current roster who have started at least one MSU game since 2004, including specialists. HB Anthony Dixon is the latest to join the list, having opened against West Virginia. 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.
MSU Rookie Report: Twenty 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, 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, OC Johnny Carpenter, 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.