*Until this season the Runnin' Bulldogs had never played a Division I-A (or ‘Bowl Division' in official NCAA parlance) opponent. Their first such foe was the '07 opener, at Ohio, where G-W lost 36-14.
*Mississippi State has announced a discounted ticket offer for both this weekend's home game, and the October 6 home date with Alabama-Birmingham. The special $15 ticket provides admission to the west side, upper deck of Scott Field. Regular-priced game tickets in other seating areas remain available also for this weekend.
About the Runnin' Bulldogs: Until the 2007 schedule was announced, the number of MSU folk who knew about Gardner-Webb football could easily fit into the fieldhouse seats. A few days to read the notes and numbers have opened other eyes, though, as the Runnin' Bulldogs will bring a fine football team to Scott Field. In his 11 seasons at the Carolina school Coach Steve Patton has a 68-43 record, and he's two wins shy of 100 for his entire career. Those in the ‘Championship Division' (the old I-AA) know what Patton is putting on the field, with outstanding skill players in the key offensive positions and a defensive lineman likely to become the school's first draft pick in over a decade. G-Webb even has an offensive line bigger than some pro clubs. So MSU's own Bulldogs have seen a visitor worthy of respect coming to campus this weekend. A rested one, too, coming off their open date; and all the more ready to take a shot at knocking off somebody from the almighty Southeastern Conference.
Offense: Gardner-Webb is another program to latch on to the popular ‘spread' attack, and they're making it work quite well to look at the yardage balance of 136 per-game on the ground, 256 through the air. Every time they snap the ball the R.B.s' net 5.4 yards run or throw. This year more of the scoring has come on passing plays with Devin Campbell doing most the throwing. He is 29-of-49, nearly 60%, with three scores and 201 yards per outing, and is one short catch shy of 3,400 career yards. Still defenses must prepare just in case for fellow sophomore Stan Doolittle (13-of-29, 55 yards per game), who got the Ohio game start. Whoever is under-center, their first choice of target is H-back Duvaughn Flagler. Good choice indeed as the senior has 141 career catches, third-most in conference history, and his 24 touchdown receptions rank second in BSC annals. He's coming off a 64-grab junior year and last weekend caught five balls with another score. Track-man Dobson Collins benefits from defenses chasing Flagler with nine grabs this season already. Depending on the play G-W will put as many as four wideouts on the field…which doesn't mean the ground game is an afterthought. Not with soph David Montgomery in the backfield. He's a classic skitter-back, standing all of 5-7 and under 170 pounds, and a threat to go the distance any snap. He's averaging 8.4 yards per carry this year with 169 yards and two touchdowns. And backup Phillip Peoples is netting 7.5-yards per himself. Run or throw, all benefit from the biggest line fielded by G-W since the school moved up to Division I. The starting unit averages over 6-4 and 314 pounds; compare that to State's starting group that averages 299 pounds and a bit shorter. The ‘little guy' in this unit is also the most experienced, three-year starting LG Ivan Anderson. The key this year has been the arrival of true frosh Corey O'Daniel and his 348 pounds at right tackle, allowing veteran tackle Bailey Walker to move to right guard.
Defense: Foes naturally focus on Gardner-Webb's offensive prowess. But the bunch on the other side of the line is a bunch with potential, too, as after two games they rank first in the conference rankings for defense against the run, in scoring, and total yards. And that's with a lineup that shows only two seniors in starting jobs this week. Potential, indeed. One of those upperclassmen is the unquestioned leader of this Dog-pack. He plays in the ‘lower' Division but senior DE Brian Johnston merits big-time attention and is on the Hendricks Award watch list just the same as d-ends from heavyweight programs. In fact he's the only Big South player nominated for the major national honors. He already has a couple of sacks on the season. The size of this four-man front certainly leans to Johnston's side as he's paired with 271-pound Kenny Baker. The other half of the front weighs only 247 and 245 respectively so no prizes for guessing which way to run first. The linebackers are young-ish but not intimidated. Junior Mario Brown is the ‘old' man in the trio and with ‘sam' Quantavis Jackson a soph; they've got 33 tackles between them. But youth is being served because ‘will' LB Jeffrey Williams has made an instant ‘hit' right out of high school with ten tackles in his debut. Both corners have an interception already, and senior Rent Sherrill (no known relation) is coming off an 11-tackle game at Ohio in his 30th career start. Daniel Cooke not only prowls around at free safety, he was the baseball team's MVP last spring and already holds the career steals record. The Runnin' Bulldogs are holding up well on the ground at 2.8-yard allowed per run, so foes tend to throw often and are completing 51%.
Specialists: Punter Michael Hanna has emerged from three candidates and is off to a booming start this junior season, supporting his defense with a 46.8-yard average. True freshman Evan Kay has taken over the field goal job immediately, and has hit two of his four tries in college with a long make of 38 yards. Taylor Portis does the PATs and is perfect so far, though he hasn't had a touchback in ten tries with two kickoffs going out-of-bounds. Receiver Tyson Petty averages 24 yards on kickoff returns, while Collins fields the punts.
The Series: This is the first-ever meeting of the teams in any major sport. For that matter State has never played a team on G-W's 2007 schedule or in the Big South Conference. Nor have the Runnin' Bulldogs ever played a SEC opponent. They have twice played Mississippi schools, losing to Millsaps in 1970 and beating Belhaven much more recently, 54-7 in 2005.
Did You Know? Gardner-Webb was the final opponent lined up for Mississippi State's 2007 schedule. They filled the hole left when Jacksonville State backed out of their scheduled trip to Scott Field.
*Speak of media-friendly; each week the press is invited to attend ‘Pasta With Patton' for a luncheon at Georgio's Restaurant with the head coach, not merely a routine press conference.
Bulldog Player Notes: DE Titus Brown scored a sack at Auburn, giving him 12.5 for his career and moving the senior into the MSU top-ten at #9. Brown has a tackle-for-loss in 10 of his last 11 games and 134 career tackles.
*State's defense has been credited with 17 quarterback ‘hurries.' Brown and fellow starting DE Avery Hannibal account for 10 of these, with five apiece.
*By contrast, State's offensive line has allowed just six ‘hurries' in three games.
*It took three games but junior FS Derek Pegues did what was expected when he moved from cornerback for this year. He converted a turnover into a touchdown for the third time in his career, on a 20-yard runback at Auburn. He now holds the career record for pick-six plays, and is tied for the season record with two last fall. Pegues has six career interceptions, needing to reach nine to make the MSU top-ten, and every time he picks a pass he produces 19.7 yards in returns.
*Pegues had just four total tackles in the first two games; he tallied five at Auburn. And three of his stops this year have been ‘saves' as he stopped opponents on breakaway runs short of the end zone.
*Pegues just passed Glen Young (1979-82) for third in MSU career kickoff returns with 67. He is third in KO return yards at 1,456, trailing Young's 1,538 for second. Pegues needs five more punt-return yards to move into the career top-ten; he has 382 to-date.
*Junior WLB Dominic Douglas continues to lead the team in tackles, with 21 in three games. But MLB Jamar Chaney and CB Anthony Johnson are close behind with 19 each.
*Douglas is one of three transfers starting on the MSU defense. He and DTs Jessie Bowman and Cortez McCraney, account for 32 tackles. Add in backup DE Jimmie Holmes and it's 43, or roughly 20% of the team total. But, their combined 8.5 tackles-for-losses are over one-third of what this team has tallied in three games.
*Junior P Blake McAdams has booted the ball 151 times, passing Jeff Walker (1996-99) for 8th-most punts by a Bulldog. His career average of 39.99 is eighth-best on the MSU list as well.
*Senior WR Tony Burks ran his string of consecutive games with a catch to 11. His lone grab at Auburn was still good for 15 yards, right at his average for this season. Last year Burks led the SEC in yards-per-catch at 24.3.
*Burks is still looking for his first 100-yard receiving game of 2007. As a junior he had five, tying Mardye McDole (1978) for the program season record. Burks is also tied for fifth on the career chart at five 100-yard games. The record is eight, by David Smith (1968-70).
*At Auburn, for the first time this year, no MSU tight end caught a pass. Four of the catches were by wide receivers and the fifth by the passer himself as Wes Carroll snared his batted throw.
*So three games into the year and TEs Jason Husband and Eric Butler both have three catches. For three seasons Butler has 44 catches, in 33 games, for 577 yards.
*Junior FB Jeremy Jones' touchdown reception at Tulane was the first receiving score by a Bulldog fullback since Bryson Davis in the 2005 Egg Bowl. It is also the only touchdown catch for State so far this season.
*Sophomore HB Anthony Dixon notched his second-straight 100-yard rushing game with a 103-yard output at Auburn. This came after a career-best effort at Tulane with 131 yards, and is the first back-to-back ‘century' games for Dixon. He has four 100-yard outings in his young career.
*Dixon can't complain about being underworked lately; he carried the ball 27 times at Tulane, then 29 more times at Auburn; a career-most.
*The first freshman to lead State in rushing since 1989, Dixon now has 946 career yards in 15 games.
*Now back on the injury list for 2-to-4 weeks, junior QB Mike Henig has 2,190 career passing yards on a 45.1% completion average. Before his injury Saturday, Henig was coming off his fourth career 200-yard game in the win at Tulane when he had a career-best completion average of 64.5% (20-of-31).
*At Tulane, Henig scored the first rushing touchdown of his MSU career when he ran 18 yards into the Wave's end zone in the first quarter.
*Henig has completed passes to a dozen different receivers this year; six wideouts, four running backs, and two tight ends.
*PK Adam Carlson has converted all six of his PAT tries this season. Last year he was one of four SEC kickers who did not miss a point-after, and he is now 40-of-40 for his career.
*Carlson bounced back from a 1-of-3 evening at Tulane on field goals, to hit both his tries—of 32 and 30 yards. He is now 11-of-21 for his career with a long make of 47 last fall at UAB.
*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 37 contests through three seasons.
*But by not starting at Tulane, Butler fell one behind P Blake McAdams who has started 26 times. Those are consecutive starts for the specialist, also the team-lead. C Royce Blackledge is first among non-specialists with 21-straight starts.
*Five true freshmen have played this season: QB Wesley Carroll, ST Karlin Brown, S Zach Smith, DT Lamarcus Williams, and OT Derek Sherrod. Three more have dressed for all three games—S Wade Bonner, LB Jamie Jones, LB K.J. Wright—without playing; and RBs Robert Elliott and Marcus Green dressed the first two games without ‘burning the redshirt.'
*True frosh who have not dressed out in the first three games are: 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.
*Redshirted 2006 freshmen who have played so far are: OG J. C. Brignone, SN Aaron Feld, OT Mark Melichar, DE Rodney Prince, and TE Brandon Henderson. Classmates who have yet to see action are WR Alex Carpenter, DL Brandon Cooper, TE Chris Herrera, DT Reggie Odom.