M&F Bank Bulldog Scouting Report

The Game: Mississippi State (3-8, 1-6 SEC) wraps up the 2006 season with the traditional ‘Battle for the Golden Egg' as the Bulldogs meet Ole Miss (also 3-8, 1-6) in Oxford. Gametime is 1:00 at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium with no network telecast. Fans can tune in to the Bulldog Football Network for live broadcast. Those without local radio access can tune in Sirius satellite radio on Channel 152.

*The ‘Egg Bowl' came back to campus venues in 1991 after almost two decades in Jackson. Since the game returned to college stadiums the Bulldogs have a 8-7 lead. Three of those wins have been in Oxford, though the last was in 1998 when State clinched the SEC West title.

*The ‘State-Ole Miss' rivalry is the 16th-longest in college football, but only began in 1901 after both schools had been playing the game for several years. The Golden Egg trophy debuted in 1927.

*State's season-schedule has ended with Ole Miss every year since 1947. However in 2001 the Bulldogs made up a delayed September game with Brigham Young a week after winning the Golden Egg.

About the Rebels: The record is no better and the statistics all-too-similar. Still the Rebels of November 2006 aren't the same beaten-down bunch as at the end of Ed Orgeron's first season in Oxford. Ole Miss comes into this Egg Bowl playing a much more competitive brand of ball, having given ranked foes Auburn and LSU all those Tiger teams could handle. And if not for fourth-quarter breakdowns (or maybe more accurately, wear-downs) the Rebs would have scored a SEC scalp in November as well as Orgeron's first Western Division success. What is similar to last year is this team's reliance on defense first and foremost, as the offensive struggles continue and leave minimal margin for error. Still these Rebels do keep in contention and at some point the right break will bounce their way. Or so they have to hope.

Offense: Even with a couple of high-profile transfers at the key producing-positions, there just hasn't been the sort of progress expected here. Ole Miss finished 2005 ranked 105th in NCAA scoring and 111th in yardage. Through 11 games this year? 110th in both categories, as well as last in the SEC. At least there is an interesting balance here with 1,446 yards gained on the ground and 1,491 through the air. But of course more was anticipated with the additions at running back and quarterback. For his part RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis has delivered with 88 yards per game, second-best in the league and 31st nationally. He has seven of the team's 11 rushing touchdowns and provides a reliable 4-plus yards each time he totes, typically ‘tween the tackles where Green-Ellis is just a load to handle. Fellow junior transfer Bruce Hall hasn't gotten a lot of carries but netted 5.9 yards at every chance, while flanker Mico McSwain's speed has been used to good effect out of the backfield. The challenge for UM has been making enough happen in the air to free those ground-pounders, a situation made all the more galling by the efforts to get QB Brent Schaeffer in and then with the program. The former Tennessee triggerman doesn't lack for ability and agility and keeps defenses anxious afoot. It's his erratic throwing that confuses friends and foes alike. Schaeffer has 1,311 yards and eight scores in the air, but also tossed ten picks and completed 47%. And fumbles under pressure are always an issue. Schaeffer, well-known to some MSU aides who recruited him at Tennessee, will start but UM now won't hesitate to go with Seth Adams (16-of-28 passing, 166 yards) to settle things down. Last year's top targets all graduated, which has allowed SE Mike Wallace (23 catches, 372 yards, 2 TDs) and FLs Marshay Green (19, 174, 2) and McSwain to show their own stuff. When healthy Dexter McCluster (15, 232, 1) delivers, and former thrower-turned back/TE Robert Lane is always an option in multi-receiver packages. Where the Rebels have improved through the year has been up front, despite some injuries and several shuffles. Former guard Michael Oher has settled in as a 322-pound tackle alongside senior (and former DL) LG Andrew Wicker to stabilize the left side, and juco Corey Actis has stepped right in at center. The right side is younger but much bigger with true freshman guard John Jerry and soph tackle Maurice Miller tilting the field at nearly 700 pounds combined. And the play-calling can go with either 275-pound Lawrence Lilly as a blocking tight end of put 220-pound Robert Hough in for more variety. By no means is this offense as productive as planned, ranking at or near the bottom in third-down conversions and total first downs. Yet when UM can get to the red zone they usually put up points and possession time is respectable. Oh, and the Rebels rarely have problems with penalties.

Defense: It's already a good group, so imagine how effective the UM defense would be with more scoring support. That's why the rankings in such categories as scoring and yards are somewhat deceptive, because the Rebels make the opposition earn almost everything. The base is routine, an offset four-front with three linebackers. The results are not average because those ‘backers aren't. MLB Patrick Willis chose to return for a senior season and made it pay off; he is far-and-away the SEC tackle leader at 124 and nominated for every position-honor in the country. Willis doesn't just sit back and pile up tackles like a typical middle LB, he initiate the action with ten stops for losses and seven pass deflections. And the addition of JC and former MSU signee Rory Johnson on the weak-side has given Willis more freedom to attack. Johnson is second in team tackles at 83, while converted safety Jamarca Sanford has moved into a mid-season opening at SLB given the corps an extra dash of speed. When graduation took the entire starting line trouble was forecast. Instead the group has been rebuilt quickly and effectively, though without as much size or experience. Such as at both ends where true freshmen Greg Hardy and Marcus Tillman are booked to start the Egg Bowl. Hardy (47 tackles) certainly hasn't played like a rookie and leads the team with three sacks. 290-pound soph Peria Jerry has had some health issues but should be anchoring the center alongside 275-pound noseman Jeremy Garrett. The most experienced area on the squad is in the secondary with a pair of senior safeties in SS Bryan Brown and FS Charles Clark. On the right corner Trumaine McBride will make his 33rd and last college start. Still for all the vets back there the Rebel coverage has produced just two interceptions, both by Clark, which means a glaring disparity in the whole team's turnover margin despite forcing a fair number of fumbles. Other weak points on this defense are a tendency to give up third-down conversions and just 13 sacks for 11 games. And as always success depends on getting sufficient scoring support to keep a competitive defense from being ground down by the final quarter.

Specialists: They're young, with a freshman kicker and second-year punter. P Rob Park did earn the job as a rookie and has kept it through '06 with a 38.8 yard average and 13 balls downed inside the 20-yard line, helping keep net punting in good shape. Frosh PK Joshua Sheene is 12-of-15 on field goals, and while only once has he been asked to hit something in the 40s-range he did it. He's also made a 52-yarder and had nothing blocked. Marshay Green nets 7.9 yards per punt return and 25.2 on kickoffs. That latter job is shared though with McSwain (24.6) and McCluster (21.1) taking turns.

How They Compare (SEC Rank):

Scoring Offense: MSU 18.5 (11th), UM 15.3 (12th)

Scoring Defense: MSU 26.3 (11th), UM 23.5 (9th)

Total Offense: MSU 284.4 (11th), UM 267.0 (12th)

Total Defense: MSU 332.4 (9th), UM 357.5 12th)

Passing Offense: MSU 194.4 (8th), UM 135.5 (12th)

Rushing Offense: MSU 90.0 (12th), UM 131.5 (8th)

Net Punting: MSU 32.9 (11th), UM 34.3 (8th)

Turnover Margin: tied for 9th, -0.36 each

3RD-Down Conversions: MSU 35.6% (9th), UM 29.2% (12th)

3RD-Down Defense: MSU 37.0% (7th), UM 43.0% (11th)

Sacks By: MSU 20 (8th), UM 13 (11th)

Sacks Allowed: MSU 28 (10th), UM 27 (9th)

Penalty Yardage: MSU 54.4 (11th), UM 36.7 (3rd)

The Last Time: November 19, 2005 – Jerious Norwood left Scott Field for the last time in style. Actually the senior halfback should have left carrying the Golden Egg, having carried the real football for 204 yards and three touchdowns and caught a pass for a fourth score in Mississippi State's 35-14 victory over the visiting Rebels. And Norwood did all his damage in roughly three periods, missing much of the third quarter with an ankle injury. The sideline-time was likely all that kept him from setting a single-game MSU rushing record, though Norwood was more than content with the win. The final margin belied a well-balanced battle in the first half, with Ole Miss getting on the scoreboard first on a 41-yard pass from Ethan Flatt to Tay Biddle just 91 seconds after kickoff. State's offense was stifled over the opening quarter, needing a blocked punt by Clarence McDougal early in the second period to get something going. As in Norwood, who on the first snap bolted 33 yards for the tying score at 13:47. Four minutes later he scored from two yards out, the short drive set up by a Jeramie Johnson interception. The turnover caused Ole Miss to change quarterbacks and Micheal Spurlock evened the score 14-14 with his touchdown throw to Robert lane at 5:06. MSU quarterback Mike Henig passed the Dogs downfield to the goal line, with Norwood getting the last yard himself at 0:46 so State could take a lead into the locker room. The last half was dominated by the Dog defense, which made sure the existing margin would be sufficient. But the offense did tack on some insurance scores. At 8:46 of the third period Henig flipped the ball to fullback Bryson Davis for a one-yard score, and after returning at quarter's end Norwood was able to get his fourth score at 5:13 of the fourth period on a five-yard toss from Henig, who was 11-of-20 throwing for 105 yards. In Norwood's absence Brandon Thornton ran for 80 yards on 13 carries. The Rebels got 86 passing yards and two TDs from Spurlock, while Jamal Pittman was the rushing leader with 35 yards. State more than doubled the visitors in total output, 409 yards to 189, with a nine-minute advantage in possession time. MSU safety Johnson snared three interceptions for the day.

Did You Know? The Rebels have scored 109 points in first halves, 63 in the second halves. The best quarter for State scoring is the fourth, with 71 of the team's total 180 points coming in the final period of regulation play.

*The last time both programs played in a bowl game in the same season was after the 2000 campaign. State won the Independence Bowl over Texas A&M and Ole Miss lost to West Virginia in the Music City Bowl.

Bulldog Player Notes: Junior WR Tony Burks has 825 receiving yards for 2006, which is the eighth-best season for a State catcher with one game left. With a typical afternoon he is within reach of #7 Kelvin Love (834, 1999), #6 Eric Moulds (845, 1994), and #5 Justin Jenkins (880, 2003) or even better. The record is 1,035 by Mardye McDole in 1978.

*Burks is having the best season ever by a Bulldog receiver in yards-per-catch, with a 25.0 average. That tops the record set by Danny Knight in 1982 of 24.97 yards per grab. The SEC doesn't chart this but Burks' rate is the best among the league top-ten ranked in receiving yards per game.

*Burks has already tied the program record for 100-yard games in a season, with five. He had the fifth-best game in MSU annals with 192 yards, on a season-best seven grabs, against Kentucky. He needs one more touchdown catch to move into the season-top ten; Burks has five in '06, four of them in the last three games.

*Two current Dogs are now tied, with five former Dogs, for the career interception/touchdown record at two. Both senior LB Quinton Culberson and soph CB Derek Pegues have run back picks for scores twice, though Pegues has done it in this same season. Culberson collected his scores in 2004 (Kentucky) and '06 (Alabama).

*Pegues has gone three games without an interception and remains at four for the season, five for his career. Senior FS Jeramie Johnson has seven career interceptions but hasn't picked a pass since last year's Egg Bowl.

*Pegues is one good runback from setting a season record for kickoff yardage. He has 619 yards so far this fall, and the record is 643 by Michael Robinson (1986). Pegues just set the season record for kickoffs returned with 28. Pegues has slipped off his mid-season pace for return average and this week ranks 6th in the SEC and 36th nationally at 23.8.

*In punt returns, Pegues ranks second in the SEC and ninth nationally at 14.2 yards. His 81-yard touchdown return against Jacksonville State is the second-longest punt runback in the SEC this season.

*PK Adam Carlson is one of four SEC booters to have not missed a PAT this season. Carlson is 25-of-25 on extra-points.

*MLB Culberson is in a tight race for second in SEC total tackles. He has 98 credited stops this senior season, one behind Kentucky's Wesley Woodyard. Fourth-place is tied between two other SEC ‘backers with 86 tackles. Culberson is coming off his sixth double-digit tackles game of the season; he had only three such efforts in the previous three seasons.

*With one game left the squad sack title is coming down to the wire. Junior DE Titus Brown clings to a half-sack lead over fellow DE and senior Michael Heard, 7.0 to 6.5. Brown is tied for 5th-best in SEC sack-per-game and Heard is tied for 7th. The two have 13.5 combined sacks; the rest of the State squad 6.5 together.

*Brown is in good shape to win the team tackle-for-loss race as well. He has 12.5 stops behind the line of scrimmage, which ranks 5th in the league this week. Senior DT Deljuan Robinson has 11.5 TFLs, but by virtue of playing in one less game he ranks 4th in the league. Heard has 11.0 in 11 games, so three Dogs rank in the SEC's top-ten for now.

*Senior FS Johnson also has held on to his league-lead in fumbles forced with five, though he hasn't rattled a ball loose in over a month. Four SEC peers have four forced-fumbles to date.

*Freshman HB Anthony Dixon will be the first freshman to lead Mississippi State in rushing since 1989. The rookie has pounded out 543 yards this year, 210 of that in his last two SEC games. He had 65 yards on a touchdown dash against Arkansas, his longest carry of the campaign and his eight score. Dixon has accounted for 55% of State's ground yards this season.

*Senior QB Omarr Conner gets an unexpected last-game chance to add to his career passing totals. Conner currently ranks 10th in career throwing yardage at 2,918, 22 yards behind Matt Wyatt (1996-99), and with a decent day would become the eighth Bulldog with 3,000 passing yards. Conner ranks eighth in both pass attempts (476) and completions (253). In fact his completion rate of 53.15% is fifth-best in MSU history, despite Conner being shuffled out of the QB job last year and being hurt much of this year. Conner is also tied for ninth with Wyatt for career touchdown passes, at 16.

*But perhaps the most startling stat is that Conner has the best interception (or non-interception) ratio of any MSU quarterback with complete career stats available. Only 14 of his throws have been picked, a 2.9% rate.

*The passer whose place Conner is taking this week, soph Mike Henig, was having a strong season second-half. Since returning from his first injury Henig had thrown for seven touchdowns (against nine interceptions) and 1,182 yards, completing 45%. As a freshman he was 44.4% for 630 yards and two scores against five picks.

*Henig's 384-yard day against Kentucky was the fourth-best effort every by a Bulldog passer. And this when Henig's passes were caught they netted 16.2 yards.

*Junior TE Eric Butler has had to devote most attention to blocking this season and has just nine catches and one touchdown for the season. His first two years Butler produced 29 combined catches and seven scores. But his 2006 rate of 17.9 yards per catch is the best of his Bulldog career.

*Soph WR Jamayel Smith has blossomed in the second half of the season. In the last four games the walk-on has caught 15 balls for 246 yards, a 16.4-average. In his first five games Smith had four ctaches and 80 yards.

*Four defensive Dogs have started every game this season: DE Heard, MLB Culberson, LC Pegues, and RC David Heard. On offense only OC Royce Blackledge and RT Craig Jenkins have started every game.

*David Heard, Jeramie Johnson, and Russell Cook all top the varsity roster for career-games at 45. Each also has started 30 games. But Quinton Culberson has the most starts of this group with 35, out of 41 career games. And Brian Anderson has the longest active consecutive-starts mark at 29, ahead of D.Heard and Culberson at 27-straight.

*There are now 50 players on the current roster who have started at least one MSU game since 2004, including specialists. The latest to join the list is LB Jamon Hughes who opened at Alabama. A total of 72 Dogs have played in at least one career game on this roster.

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. Mills has been dismissed from the team.

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