*The Bulldogs will not be televised for a third-straight week.
*This meeting wraps up the two-season series between the respective Bulldog squads, under the SEC's yearly rotation. Georgia will be replaced by Tennessee, at home, on the 2007 State slate. And Alabama takes the place of State on Georgia's '07 schedule.
About the UG Bulldogs: He might not have the flash and dash of a certain superior specimen of the 1990s, but by putting up comparable results with championships it's hard to argue against Mark Richt as the SEC's coach of the ‘00s. In his sixth season with the UG Dogs, Richt has 57 wins to-date, a 73% winning average, a couple of SEC championships and two COTY honors. Of course this only feeds the demand for further or greater success, and 2006 is proving more challenging. Injuries have disrupted any developing cohesion, and turnovers—many of them converted into quick points lately—have short-circuited the offense. And the most intense rivalry matchups are still ahead. Given these obstacles, if this Bulldog team somehow extends a run of 10-or-more-win seasons to five then we'll really have to call Richt the SEC's Spurrier of the 2000s. Just in a more low-key sort of way.
Offense: Must be something about the mascots this season, because Georgia and Mississippi State have something else in common this season. Both have started a trio of quarterbacks either for injury (MSU 2, UG 1) or inefficiency. Georgia's changes began with Joe Tereshinski spraining an ankle in game-two; the joint is OK again but after losing both times after returning the senior has been shuffled behind his first replacement. True frosh Matthew Stafford gets first snap this weekend and redshirt Joe Cox is right there as well. Tereshinski has been a bit more accurate, 56% to 51%, and a better TD-to-INT ratio. Stafford has produced more yards, 582 to 423. And Cox is a 60% thrower with two TDs. It likely doesn't matter who starts, just who is under-center when the game is being decided. And who gets the handoffs is suddenly a concern after a season-ending knee injury to explosive tailback Thomas Brown. Still the depth chart isn't bare of ability or experience. Kregg Lumpkin ranks 10th in SEC rushing at 57.8 yards and gets 5.7 per attempt, and fellow junior Danny Ware has a couple of scores with a 5.2-yard rate. In shorter situations FB Brannan Southerland comes through with four TDs already. The injury bug seems to be moving up to the line of scrimmage now, breaking up a five-game string of starting the same blocking squad. C Nick Jones and TG Chester Adams are both hurting, so their places will likely be taken by redshirt C Ian Smith and soph G Seth Watts. So expect even more focus on the strong side of the UG line, featuring 325-pound T Ken Shackleford and 327-pound G Fernando Velasco. The other side are mere striplings with the 313-pound Watts and 316-pound T Daniel Inman, survivor of 42 career games. Does it surprise anyone that the first target of whoever is throwing the football is the tight end? Too bad Martrez Milner (15 catches, 199 yards, 2 TDs) is out this week with a toe problem. Soph Tripp Chandler is booked to step in and almost surely get a few balls to grab. Soph Mohamed Massaquoi sets the wideout pace with 12 catches, 185 yards, but this scheme distributes the throws beautifully. FL A.J. Bryant has the same number of catches, 11, as tailback Lumpkin. With so many choices, not to mention protection that has surrendered just nine sacks, makes it much simpler to select a quarterback. Or, to change them.
Defense: It's a measure of just how stout this unit is that even after consecutive defeats and plenty points allowed Georgia still ranks second in the SEC and 12th nationally in defensive yardage, as well as fourth and 17th in scoring defense. It's a pick-yer-poison sort of proposition, too, because the Dogs are equally effective on the ground or in the air. Then there's a third-down conversion rate of less than 30% allowed. Coordinator Willie Martinez favors a fairly typical 4-3 sort of set, and it works quite well. The latest big Dog up front is junior DE Charles Johnson, the league leader in tackles-for-loss at 10.5. On the other end senior Quentin Moses doesn't get sacks but does make passers unload early as the ‘pressures' leader here. His 21-game starting string is also tops on this defense. Yes, there's size inside with 290-pound DT Jeff Owens and 277-pound Ray Gant, who has taken over as starter from redshirt and 315-pound pup Kade Weston. There may be linebacker groups as experienced as this but it's doubtful few are moreso. Senior WLB Tony Taylor got off to a somewhat slow start but has come on brilliantly, with 41 of his 49 tackles recorded in the last four games. He also picked a Vanderbilt pass and scored. It's a sign of how balanced this entire defense is that Taylor is only 10th in SEC tackles; these guys share the fun. After missing one start with a foot problem senior Jarvis Jackson is back in the middle. In his absence Danny Wheeler took over briefly at MLB, so Brandon Miller stepped in at SLB…and has stayed. Is it a rule that UG must have a veteran rover safety? Tra Battle has come far from his walk-on days, blossoming with a great 2005 season and continuing that with 35 tackles so far, 4.5 for losses, with four pass breakups. The backfield has forced six turnovers in seven games, with interceptions by WC Paul Oliver and FS Kelin Johnson. Oliver has five career picks, two of them game-savers. It's another impressive defense to say the least, needing just a few more points to take care of business.
Specialists: If not for that boomer at Auburn, senior Gordon Ely-Kelso would be the league's leading punter with his 42.5 yards average. He's dropped seven inside the 20-yard line this year, and excellent coverage means a 41-yard net on his punts. Until Brown's injury this was maybe the best returning team in the conference; it's still quite good with Asher Allen getting almost 28 yards running back kickoffs. Punts are where UG is really dangerous. Mikey Henderson doesn't meet the SEC or NCAA minimums for numbers of returns, but all know about him with a 18.9-yard average and two touchdowns, including a 86-yarder against Tennessee. It's enough to make an offense just go for it on every fourth down.
The Series: For a couple of schools that got in on the ‘ground floor' of the old SEC, these canine cousins haven't seen a lot of each other. There have been only 20 meetings of State and Georgia, with the UG Dogs thoroughly dominating to a 15-5 tune. In fact Georgia has won the last eight games, spread out since 1975 of course (there have never been more than two consecutive meetings). State's last win was in 1974 in Jackson; and MSU hasn't won in Athens since 1956. UG has a 8-2 lead in games played on their home field. Sylvester Croom is 0-1 against Georgia, and Mark Richt 1-0 against State.
The Last Time: September 24, 2005 – Quarterback D.J. Shockley made the most of his only meeting with Mississippi State, throwing for a career-best 312 yards as #7-ranked Georgia took a 23-10 win at Scott Field. Shockley was 21-of-36 passing with touchdown tosses of 28 and 10 yards in the first half. The rest of Georgia's points came off the toe of Brandon Coutu with three field goals in the last half. The host Bulldogs actually got on the board first, with a field goal as well when Keith Andrews hit a 34-yarder four minutes into the action. But the visiting hounds answered as Shockley evaded a sack and hit Danny Ware for the 28-yard strike at 8:49. Dog defenses kept it 7-3 until five minutes were left in the half, when big tight end Leonard Pope caught a short Shockley throw and dragged a tackler into the end zone. State was able to keep Georgia out of the end zone the rest of the afternoon, so Coutu was called on to convert on kicks of 27, 23, and 23 yards again. State's only touchdown came on a four-yard flip from Omarr Conner to Eric Butler with 7:18 left. MSU managed just 254 total yards, 49 of that on the ground as Conner was 19-of-32 for 204 yards. Jerious Norwood was held to 43 yards on 14 carries.
Did You Know? There are ten schools with 700 all-time football victories. Georgia needs two more wins to become #11.
*Georgia lists two Mississippians on the roster: QB Blake Barnes (Baldwyn) and OL Josh Davis (Tylertown). On their pre-season roster, 76 of the 111 players listed were state natives.
*There are 14 MSU Bulldogs hailing from Georgia addresses. Ten of them play on defense.
*Mississippi State has not started the same 11-man lineup on either side of the ball in consecutive games so far this season.
Bulldog Player Notes: Sophomore CB Derek Pegues provided Mississippi State's first first-quarter points of any sort this season when he returned a first-play interception off Jacksonville State for a touchdown. It was Pegues' second pickoff-points of the season after he ran back an interception in the third quarter at LSU for touchdown. With two such plays, Pegues has tied for both the season and career records as far as interception-return touchdowns. The other three Dogs who have done it in the same season before are Conner Stephens (2000), Walt Harris (1994), and Harper Davis (1948). Anthony Derricks (1995-96) and Ashley Cooper (1998-99) had two such plays for their careers.
*In the JSU game Pegues also got his first kick return touchdown, running back a second-quarter punt 81 yards for the score. It was the seventh-longest punt return-touchdown in MSU annals, and earned Pegues SEC Special Teams POTW recognition. Pegues regained his league lead in punt returning at 14.2 on the season, almost six yards ahead of Florida's Brandon James. He also ranks 11th in the NCAA. Pegues has kept his lead in SEC kickoff return yardage at 27.4, which ranks 17th nationally.
*Pegues is already 10th in MSU career kickoff return yards, though JSU never kicked the ball to him.
*Junior TE Eric Butler got his first score of 2006 when he pulled in a 17-yard pass in the third quarter of the JSU game. It was his eighth career touchdown, in only 33 receptions, and he has the MSU record for touchdowns at his position. Butler has caught just four balls all this season but averaged 19.0 yards per grab. His career average gain per grab is 13.0
*Junior WR Tony Burks had a slow day by his mid-season standards with just two catches and 50 yards in the JSU game. Before, Burks had tallied 130, 103, and 118 yards in three of the previous games with four catches each contest. Due to two catch-less games (South Carolina, UAB) he comes up short of making the SEC top-ten in yardage or catches per game. But his net of over 26 yards every time he touches the ball puts Burks up there with the league's best deep threats.
*Soph WR Aubrey Bell had only two catches and 25 yards in his freshman season. He surpassed in his first 2006 appearance with three grabs and 62 yards against JSU.
*Senior LB Quinton Culberson ranks fourth in the SEC and 44th nationally in tackles per game, at 8.4. This after getting credit for just five stops in the JSU game, one behind the line of scrimmage. He is tied for eighth in the SEC in stops for losses. Culberson has three double-digit tackle days this senior season, seven for his career, and 235 tackles in 37 college games.
*Junior DE Titus Brown now is second in the SEC in tackles for losses, with nine for the year so far. Brown took advantage of DE Deljuan Robinson's one-game absence to take the team lead in TFLs, but it's a narrow one as the senior has 8.5. And Robinson still ranks 3rd in the SEC stats there.
*The State sacks lead is a tied race now between Robinson and senior DE Michael Heard with five total apiece. Heard now has a team-topping 9.5 career sacks and 17.5 tackles for losses.
*Senior FS Jeramie Johnson is tied with four SEC peers for second in league fumbles-forced this season, with three apiece.
*Soph QB Mike Henig's 183 passing yards against JSU was his second-highest total in a still-young State career. It was his highest output as a starter, however; he threw for 200 yards at Kentucky last year in relief.
*Henig's touchdown toss Saturday was the first of this year, his third overall. He has been picked off nine times in 12 games.
*Soph P Blake McAdams' erratic season continues, at least statistically. His 38.8-yard average on four kicks against JSU leaves his 2006 average at 39.2 yards, compared to 41.9 yards as a rookie. But, McAdams has had ten balls downed inside the 20-yard line this year compared to 14 for all last season. McAdams ranks third in the SEC and 60th in the country in yardage. He has kicked the ball a total of over 2.5 miles halfway through his second college season.
*Three Bulldogs have now played in 41 career games: CB David Heard, S Jeramie Johnson, and DS Russell Cook. Heard and Johnson are tied with 26 starts, though as a snapper Cook is unfairly excluded in this category. But the most starts by a current player is the 31 for MLB Quinton Culberson, in 37 games.
*OG Brian Anderson has the most consecutive starts with 25, while Heard and Culberson are both at 23-straight.
*There are 45 players on the current roster who have started at least one MSU game since 2004, including specialists. A total of 72 Dogs have played in at least one career game on this roster. Three saw their first action this past weekend: OT Mike Brown, walk-on LB Marshall Brown, and redshirt OT Chris Spencer.
Redshirt Report: Twenty-three Bulldogs have made their college-game debuts this season, including seven true freshmen. First-year rookies yet to play and by now almost certainly not to 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.