*This inter-conference series will take a break with the next scheduled meeting in 2011, at Scott Field.
About the Green Wave: After a three-year layoff and one season as offensive coordinator at New Mexico, Bob Toledo is back in charge of his own team. The former UCLA coach (49-32 from 1996-02) assumes the position opened by the unceremonious dumping of Chris Scelfo last winter after eight mostly-struggling seasons. The timing is promising because there is maturing talent on this roster that will be around for a while; only three seniors are booked to start this year's opener on offense, and just four on defense. The schedule is another reason for optimism, too, opening with four-straight home games and listing some ‘winnable' road contests. So by season's end perhaps ‘Holy Toledo', the obvious theme even indulged in by the media guide, will be more than a P.R. line.
Offense: One of the aforementioned offensive seniors is in the backfield and healthy again. Matt Forte was on his way to a 1,000-yard season, only the third ever at Tulane, before a knee injury in game-nine stopped him at 859. The Walker Award candidate should get there this season and easily surpass 3,000 for the career. The 225-pounder can also catch a ball and get good ground. Classmates Ray Boudreaux and Ade Tuyo are the early-year backups. And the fullback is expected to be a regular member of the gameplan this year, after seasons as an afterthought or receiver-only duties. If Tulane runs Forte to the left side no wonder as LT Troy Kropog and LG Michael Parenton are two-letter juniors, joined by senior center Aryan Barto. No such experience over on the right side where a pair of freshman—one a true rookie—are booked to start the opener. Expect tight end Gabe Ratcliffe, a proven receiver, to contribute more to the blocking this time around. The past dozen year's records belie a successful stretch of quality signal-callers at Tulane. Toledo isn't inheriting such a proven play-maker though as Lester Ricard has gone. His place now belongs to a guy Ricard beat out for the job three years ago, as junior Scott Elliot draws the game-one start. He's 61-of-122 for the career with 647 yards and four scores. Elliot started three games to end the 2005 season. Soph Anthony Scelfo is a baseball starter and football backup working for a bigger job now, though redshirted freshman Kevin Moore is ready to make his challenge now. Whoever is under-center has a long list of potential targets, though the top two producers of '06 are graduated. Jeremy Williams (40 catches, 484 yards, 2 TDs) tops these veterans. It's the turn for Brian King and Chris Dunn to step up, make plays, and loosen defenses for Forte to do his thing.
Defense: It's been a long time since Tulane was known for steady defense, but coordinator Thom Kaumeyer inherits a good core of veterans he can slot into the 4-3 base system. Of course any scheme up front would benefit from having a David Skehan playing in support. The junior free safety not only led TU in tackles with 80 stops, but he was tops in sacks at 6.5; and still managed to record four of the team's eight interceptions. The strength of the team might in fact be back in the secondary, with senior SS Joe Goosby coming off a 54-tackle, 2.5-sack season himself. Corners Josh Lumar and Carlis Jackson each have three varsity letters so they've been around the block—or field—plenty. Weak-side LB James Dillard had 55 tackles, three for losses, as a soph and is in line for more. Along with MLB Evan Lee and SLB Cody Sparks, the Wave linebackers average a stout 230 pounds. That matters as the defensive front is just a bit light in the middle…but not on experience with seniors Avery Williams and 34-straight-game starter-Antonio Harris. There's depth as well with backup (and 330-pounder) Frank Morton getting a team-best four sacks in '06. It's at end some rebuilding has to be done. Sean Carney is coming off an injury-shortened season, while fellow junior Reggie Scott will start on the left end for the first time.
Specialists: It won't be easy replacing Chris Beckman's 42.4-yard punting average. Soph PK Ross Thevenot has only punted once at Tulane, but he'll do it first this season with freshman Darren deRochemont his backup. Thevenot is much more secure kicking from the tee after hitting 9 of 15 field goals and 23 of 28 PATs last year. Matt Harding returned some kickoffs two years ago, none in '06, and now is back in the job. And true frosh Phillip Davis gets first chance fielding and returning punts.
The Series: Mississippi State holds a 29-26-2 lead in a series dating back to 1901, long before both became 1932 charter members of the Southeastern Conference. Tulane left the league in the 1960s and the rivalry halted in 1965 after the Green Wave snapped a four-game losing streak to State. The programs got back together from 1982-94 with State dominating, winning ten of 12 meetings before another interruption that ended in 2003. Since Tulane left the SEC the scoreboard favors State 12-4. Tulane leads 16-22-1 in all games played in their home town, but State has won five of the seven games contested in the Superdome since 1982.
The Last Time: September 16, 2006 It was a shaky bunch of Bulldogs hosting a third-straight home game after consecutive SEC shutouts to start the season, and visiting Tulane seized the opportunity to score a 32-29 upset at Scott Field. The game hinged on the third quarter when the Wave, already leading 14-7, exploded for three unanswered touchdowns on a deflated Dog defense. Though from State's perspective the game was likely lost in the first half. While redshirt freshman quarterback Tray Rutland struggled, Tulane senior Lester Ricard threw touchdowns of 8 and 27 yards for a 14-0 lead. Senior WR Omarr Conner was moved to quarterback in the second quarter and directed State's first scoring drive of the year, capped by a five-yard run from Anthony Dixon at 3:19 of the half. But Tulane answered with a 76-yard series of just three snaps to open the third period. Bulldog turnovers set up easier touchdowns for the Green Wave though they missed two PATs and a two-point attempt, so it was 32-7 going into the fourth period. Defensive back Marcus Washington scooped a fumble and returned it nine yards to start State's comeback, with Arnil Stallworth scoring at 7:22 on a three-yard dash and Conner running it in himself at 1:45 from five yards out. The two-point conversion by Conner had State within three points but Tulane covered the onsides kick and ran out the clock. Ricard threw for 298 yards and four scores, and Matt Forte ran for 170 Wave yards. Conner was 15-of-25 for 241 yards passing and ran for 71 more yards in relief, and Tony Burks had four catches for 130 yards.
Did You Know?: Tulane plays two SEC teams this year, State and LSU (on Sept. 29), but this is their only game with a Mississippi opponent in 2007.
*The only hold-over coach at Tulane is Greg Davis, in charge of running backs.
*Tulane has not won a season-opener since 2002, but the last four Wave coaches have won their debut game.
Bulldog Player Notes: DE Titus Brown opened his senior season with one sack in the LSU game. That leaves him half-a-sack short of moving into the MSU career top-ten as he now has 11.5. Brown won the team sack-race as a junior, edging out fellow DE and senior Michael Heard 7.5 to 6.5, and he tied for 5th in the final SEC standings.
*S Derek Pegues has 366 career yards in returning punts. He needs 21 more yards to move into the MSU top-ten, to tie Robert Isaac (1994-97) at 387. Pegues already ranks 4th in MSU career kickoff return yards at 1,332; and is tied for 4th in kickoffs returned at 61. Last season he ran back 29 kickoffs, breaking his own MSU season record.
*Pegues already has a top place in the program record book. As a sophomore, Pegues returned two of his four interceptions for touchdowns; not only tying the school season standard but the career record as well, with seven Dogs of the past. Pegues has five career interceptions; nine is needed to move into the career top-ten at State.
*Junior P Blake McAdams has booted the ball 142 times, 9th-most in MSU history. And he has kicked it 3.2 miles in the process.
*Senior WR Tony Burks only had one catch in the opening game, but the 45-yard connection emphasized his career tendency for big plays. Last year Burks led the SEC in yards-per-catch at 24.3 yards averaged. That was second-best ever by a Bulldog, behind only the 25.0-yard rate by Danny Knight in 1982.
*Burks had five 100-yard games as a junior, tying Mardye McDole (1978) for the season record. That's also tied for fifth on the career chart, with the record eight 100-yard games by David Smith (1968-70).
*Three junior college transfers made their mark in the 2007 opener, most notably LB Dominic Douglas who led the team in tackles with nine including one sack. DT Jessie Bowman and DE Jimmie Holmes each had five total tackles, with Holmes also getting a sack.
*HB Anthony Dixon became the first Bulldog freshman to lead the team in rushing since 1989, and the first true freshman period to do so, with 668 yards gained in 2006. He managed just 29 yards, on 13 attempts, in this year's opener.
*Dixon also set freshman MSU records for rushing touchdowns (9) and attempts (169).
*Junior QB Mike Henig tied a program record he'd have preferred not to by throwing six intercepted passes in the opening game. That matched the six picks tossed by Max Stainbrook against Cincinnati in 1949. A couple of Bulldog quarterbacks combined for six interceptions in the 2003 loss at Arkansas.
*Henig's 11 passes caught by Bulldogs last week did produce almost 11 yards per completion. His career completions average is over 13 yards. Henig is 49 yards short of reaching 2,000 career passing yards. He needs 2,940 to move into the MSU top-ten.
*PK Adam Carlson is one of four SEC booters to not miss a PAT last season. Nor has he missed a point-after in his career, with a 34-of-34 record so far. He is 8-of-16 on field goals for two varsity seasons, with a career-best effort of 47 yards at UAB.
*Senior TE Eric Butler holds the school records for his position with career touchdowns (8) and single-season scores (4). He only caught one TD pass as a junior, though. For three seasons Butler has 42 catches, in 32 games, for 564 yards. *Two Bulldog seniors hold the team lead in career games played. Both TE Dezmond Sherrod and DE Avery Hannibal have gotten on the field in 35 contests through three seasons. That's one ahead of LB Gabe O'Neal at 34.
*But the career-starts lead is shared by TE Eric Butler and P Blake McAdams at 24 games. McAdams has 24 consecutive starts, too, the team-lead; C Royce Blackledge is first among non-specialists with 19-straight starts.
*Four true freshmen made their MSU debuts in the opening game; LB/ST Karlin Brown, QB Wes Carroll, S Zach Smith, and DT LaMarcus Williams. True freshmen who dressed for the LSU game but did not play were: S Wade Bonner, HB Robert Elliot, RB Marcus Green, LB Jamie Jones, OT Derek Sherrod, and LB K.J. Wright.
*True frosh who did not dress for the first game were: CB Damein Anderson, LB Terrell Johnson, OL Addison Lawrence, OL/SN D.J. Looney, OL Dakota Merritt, QB Chris Relf, PK Eric Richards (injured), DL Quentin Saulsberry, and FB Ethan Stockett. This was partly because only 80 players can dress and potentially play in a SEC home game; 70 for a SEC road game, though there is a little-used provision that up to five more can dress for the game but not travel with the team and not play. There are few restrictions on non-conference dress rosters, home or away, and State is expected to take at least 78 players to New Orleans.
*Redshirted 2006 freshmen who played in the first game of '07 were: OG J. C. Brignone, SN Aaron Feld, OT Mark Melichar, and DE Rodney Prince. Classmates who have yet to see action are WR Alex Carpenter, DL Brandon Cooper, TE Chris Herrera, TE Brandon Henderson, DT Reggie Odom.