MSU head coach Sylvester Croom said a new season began at the half way point of 2006. So far in the new season, the Bulldogs are 1-1 after a narrow loss at Georgia a week ago.
Every coaching staff hopes their team improves as the season goes along and the Bulldogs are no different.
In the past two seasons the Bulldogs are 3-3 at home in the second half of the schedule.
2004 featured back-to-back home SEC wins over Florida and Kentucky. The lone setback was a 24-21 loss to Arkansas, where some controversial officiating closed out the first half and prevented the Bulldogs from putting any points on the board before time expired.
In 2005, the Bullies were 1-2 in their final three home contests. Losses to Houston and Alabama were competitive, but in the end the Bulldog offense could not put points on the board. Scoring came in an abundance in the final home game as MSU knocked off Ole Miss in the Battle for the Golden Egg 35-14.
I said all that to say this. Wins have not been easy to come by for this program the past several seasons, but down the stretch the Dawgs have had a bit more bite, at least at home.
A win over Jacksonville State and a loss at Georgia, that came down to the games' final play, showed a Bulldog team capable of scoring and competing. Perhaps a turnaround of sorts is in the offing in the final weeks of the 2006 season.
The Kentucky Wildcats come into the contest with one of the nation's worst pass defenses and a national overall ranking of 119th out of 119 teams in total defense. Mike Archer's unit is yielding a whopping 462 yards per game.
Bulldog quarterback Mike Henig will look for an emerging corps of wideouts led by Tony Burks. Burks leads the SEC in yards per reception by a rather considerable margin. Burks should draw extra attention which will force Aubrey Bell and Jamayel Smith to make plays. Bell and Smith have come on in the past few weeks which makes the Cat's defensive chores that much more difficult.
The Wildcats are pretty good at playing catch, but a good portion of the passing yards accrued have been while the Cats were trying to play catch up. Dicky Lyons is the Cats' weapon of choice and is a rising star in the league. Lyons took advantage of his new found popularity and made some rather interesting comments about the Mississippi State football team to the media this week. It will be interesting to see how hospitable the Bulldog secondary is to Lyons.
One Bulldog defender who will get acquainted with Lyons at some point is cornerback Derek Pegues. Pegues is having a break out season and is now 7th in the nation in punt returns.
Pegues may have appeared to be the path of least resistance to quarterbacks earlier in the season, but Derek is rapidly changing his fortunes. Pegues has four interceptions on the season and has returned two of them for touchdowns. All of Pegues pass thefts have come after his game to forget, Tulane.
It's been said that if you live by the sword you also die by the sword. The same could be said of the 2006 Kentucky Wildcats. They love to pass and hate to defend it. With both teams looking to make plays down the field, this game could turn into a high scoring affair that boils down to who makes the fewest mistakes.
Both teams are middle of the pack when it comes to pressuring the quarterback. Kentucky has actually recorded one more sack than MSU despite playing one less game.
Both teams have also struggled to protect the quarterback. MSU gave up a season worst six sacks against West Virgnia. Since that time adjustments have been made to the offensive line and Bulldog quarterbacks have been able to stay on their feet with a bit more regularity.
The running game should favor MSU. With Brandon Thornton again healthy and Anthony Dixon and Arnill Stallworth a bit more seasoned, the Bulldogs should be able to count on their running stable to help control the clock and keep Woodson and Lyons off the field.
Kentucky's most explosive playmaker and leading ground gainer, Rafael Little, will be sidelined until mid November after having surgery on his knee. Tony Dixon will get most of the carries, but Dixon is no where near the homerun threat Little is.
Both teams believe this is a game they can win and both probably penciled this one in is a win back this summer, but only one team can come away with a win. The Cats are coming back from a bye week after getting throttled 49-0 at LSU. The Bulldogs still have the bitter taste of letting one literally fall through their hands last week at Georgia.
This series has been a very good one for both teams over the years and the past ten have been split between the two at five a piece. MSU has won five of the last six at home against Kentucky and I expect that mark to advance to six of seven.
A watershed week for both teams awaits. Those still on the losing team's bandwagon will likely find more elbow room after this week.
MSU 28 Kentucky 27
Elsewhere around the league
Auburn vs. Ole Miss
Off the field issues have dominated the media this week in Oxford. Starting linebacker Garry Pack has been dismissed from the team and several others have been suspended. The latest attrition could not come at a worse time as the Rebels are mired in depth concerns.
Auburn appears to be streaking towards the finish line and the Rebels may not provide a lot of resistance. Quentin Groves feasted on the Rebels a season ago. With the Ole Miss offense sputtering again this season, the Tigers could do some damage.
Josh Shene has addressed the Rebs kicking concerns and he should get on the board again this week. If Brent Schaeffer can get protection, if he can deliver a nice ball and if his receivers can hang on it could be competitive game, but those are a lot of ifs.
Auburn 31 Ole Miss 10
Vanderbilt vs. Duke
This one is a must have for Vanderbilt and Bobby Johnson. The Commodores and one loss away from their 24th consecutive non-winning season. With Florida and Tennessee still ahead, the streak appears safe.
Duke is still winless on the season, but they gave Alabama, Florida State and Miami fits the past few weeks. If Vanderbilt goes in over confident the Blue Devils may have something to feel good about before they reopen Cameron Indoor.
Vanderbilt 21 Duke 14
Florida International vs. Alabama
Florida International made headlines for all the wrong reasons after an on the field brawl in the Orange Bowl against the U. The altercation lead to several suspensions and a dimissal or two.
Has anyone seen Kenneth Darby? The Tide tailback was expected to contribute mightily this season and has yet to score his first touchdown. He should be able to break through against a talent deprived FIU squad handicapped even further by suspensions.
Miami probably won the fight with FIU, but the Canes got beat on the field and off the field by LSU in their previous fracas. Alabama gave LSU a good game last time out. Let's go with the Tide in a split decision.
Alabama 27 FIU 3
Florida vs. Georgia
Georgia's season could be turned around with a win over Florida. The Dawgs have been less than impressive, but they are still winning. The Bulldogs will be in a bowl game again even in a rebuilding year which speaks volumes about that program.
Florida is playing well in big games under Urban Meyer. The road loss to Auburn was not a big shock, but a loss this week would be. The Gators need to put pressure on Matthew Stafford who avoided being dumped on his backside a week ago.
Rivalry games are always tough to call, but it looks like Florida has more than enough to hold off a Georgia team still trying to find itself offensively.
Florida 28 Georgia 13
UL-Monroe vs. Arkansas
It's true that Arkansas scheduled on the cheap in the non-conference schedule save the USC game. The three wins that will ultimately be collected against hapless non-conference foes would have put an average Hog team in bowl contention. This team is far from average and continues to improve. Could a New Year's day bowl game be in the cards?
UL-Monroe, who's lone win came against Div 1-AA Alcorn State, will provide little resistence. Arkansas will roll to 7-1 with some rough waters ahead. Home contests with Tennessee and LSU will determine if the season is a good one or a special one.
Arkansas 42 UL-Monroe 7
Tennessee vs. South Carolina
Old friends get reunited as Phil Fulmer and Tennessee visit Steve Spurrier and his South Carolina team. Things have not gone quite as planned for the Gamecocks, but enough adjustments have been made that South Carolina should be bowling. Barring an upset to Middle Tennessee State, Spurrier and company will have at least six wins.
Tennessee needs some help to get into the SEC Championship game. They must win out and hope that someone knocks off the Gators. Even if the Vols finish second best in the east, there is no question they are back.
This one was downright ugly last season. Spurrier pulled out a one point win in Knoxville which you know upset Tennessee fans beyond all belief. Phil should be able to pay the favor back this week. If Erik Ainge and Tennessee can avoid turnovers they should be able to pull it out.
Tennessee 28 South Carolina 24
Well, that's the week. With a perfect 6-0 last week, we marched on to 57-9 on the season. I admit I am a little worried about another surprise or two this week, but that's life and times in the SEC.