*This is Homecoming week for West Virginia.
About the Mountaineers: Yeah, they score fast and in bunches and play with a near-recklessness that opponents—not to mention gridiron traditionalists—find hard to handle. But success speaks for itself and five seasons of eight-to-11 wins is nothing but success. Double-digit victories are again within reach as these Mountaineers have all the tools. Oh, everybody knows about the offensive prowess, but West Virginia has a matured defense able to keep the other team under control…or at least long enough for the scoreboard to burn out. And don't overlook contributions from special teams that complement the rest of the game-plan. A stumble at South Florida means some help will be required to win a fourth Big East title in five years, but counting WVU out of the conference or for that matter national race with half-a-season still to play is a good way to get, well, run-over from behind.
Offense: The numbers are unnerving. Almost 43 points-per weekend, 6th in the country. Over 300 rushing yards a game and 6.2 every carry. Infrequent but efficient passing for 193 yards-per and double-figure gains on each catch. Backfield starters who either own or are closing in on career records as juniors…and backups with even better averages in their turns with the ball. And once in striking distance they cash in; on 34 trips to opposing red zones West Virginia has scored 26 touchdowns with six field goals. Tired yet? Certainly defenders get tired of chasing both QB Pat White and RB Steve Slaton around the turf, real or artificial. Junior White executes this running version of the ‘spread' as if it were designed for him, with instant reads and instinctive moves. He's run for seven touchdowns and gets 6.0 per-carry, but is among the most effective throwers around too. Of his 102 passes he's completed 73 for 865 yards and seven more touchdowns. But it's Slaton making the big ground gains at 104 per game, 5.6 a carry, and nine touchdowns. He has 19 100-yard games (White ten) and with his next rush touchdown (#43) will set the program record. And there's no drop-off when he steps out as superb frosh Noel Devine nets 9.9 yards per carry in relief. If that fast-forward tag-team weren't enough, there's a pounder available in FB/TE Nick Schmidt to get the short yards in a big (5.8 per carry) way. The ‘TE' part is legit, too, as he'll line up on the end of the down-guys for extra blocking. The starting line lists no seniors but has plenty experience together. LT Ryan Stancheck and LG Greg Isdaner have 18-straight starts beside each other, and Jake Figner is a 19-game starter at RT. Even the ‘new' guy, C Mike Dent, had two good years as a backup. When White does throw the favored target is Y-wideout Darius Reynaud with 34 catches, 430 yards and six TDs. That's over twice what the next-leading receiver, X-man Dorrell Jalloh (14, 173, 1) has. Slaton and Schmidt have 18 catches between them, too. And if all that isn't enough, let's toss in one really unnerving number: WVU has converted 52% of their third downs.
Defense: There's more to West Virginia than offense again. After something of a down-year the Mountaineer defense is back, shall we say, up to speed. They're allowing 261 yards each week and getting more proficient over the course of this season. Of course it doesn't hurt having assurance their cohorts will put up lots of points, which allows a freedom of both mind and motion and opportunity to take lots of chances. Which suits the personnel anyway with a near-reckless style of attacking the opponent's attack first out of an odd-man front and baffling variety of from three to six or maybe more in immediate support. Senior NT Keilen Dykes would fit any system at 6-5, 295, and does quite well filling the middle of this front, particularly now with the help of big redshirt DT Scooter Berry. They free senior DE Johnny Dingle to go all over, and he's taken advantage for 8.5 tackles-for-losses and five sacks. MLB Reed Williams is a new starter but already atop the tackle chart at 48. WLB Mortty Ivy has also moved into the lineup as a junior and thrived with 38 stops and four sacks, while veteran SLB Marc Magro has bagged five quarterbacks himself. Nominally this is listed as a 3-3 scheme; realistically the safeties spend as much time within a quick stride of the line of scrimmage. That's how SS Eric Wicks has 4.5 tackles for losses, while ‘bandit' safety Quinton Andrews led the team in tackles as a freshman All-American last fall. Wicks and FS Ryan Mundy both have a pair of interceptions, and the corners are covered by seniors with two full seasons as starters together. That points up another reason why the Mountaineer defense has stepped up to the offense's pace; seven seniors are starting this week's game. And there's been just one lineup change, a temporary one, on D in the last four games.
Specialists: Here's a case of looking beyond a number. Such as Pat McAfee's punting average of 37.3 yards; seems short, but then consider that when the junior does take the field it's typically at or inside the 50-yard line. More telling are five balls downed inside the 20 and four fair-caught, pointing to the speed of coverage. McAfee's leg-strength shows better with four touch-backs on his kickoffs, a 7-of-8 efficiency on field goals (long of 49 yards) and 31-of-32 PATs. Lots of guys have had chances to return kickoffs, mostly Devine and Reynaud. Vaughn Rivers nets 10.6 yards on ever punt he fields.
The Series: This is the second meeting of the programs in football, after West Virginia took a 42-14 decision in Starkville last year. Mississippi State is 5-4 in all games against teams currently in the Big East league, while WVU is 20-17-1 against SEC programs.
The Last Time (October 7, 2006): The Mountaineer tandem of Steve Slaton and Patrick White combined for 261 rushing yards and three of the team's five rushing touchdowns as West Virginia took a 42-21 win in Starkville. In fact the visitors produced more yardage on the ground, 314, than State's overall total of 306 yards. WVU scored on their first possession though not with either of the stars crossing the goal; it was big back Owen Schmitt getting the five-yard touchdown. Early in the second quarter White got in the act with his own five-yard TD dash. The Bulldogs cut the deficit in half before the half on a long catch and short fumble by Tony Burks recovered in the end zone by Lance Long. And it was just a 21-7 margin after three periods with Slaton getting the third Mountaineer touchdown n his 11-yard run. Two State passes were intercepted in the third quarter, one in the end zone, and any hopes of an upset faded when White kept on a 46-yard scamper for touchdown in the fourth quarter. State's Anthony Dixon dove for a one-yard touchdown at 5:31 but WVU covered the onsides kick and Schmitt capped a drive with his second scoring run. The final margin was padded on a 50-yard punt return at 1:07. White only threw nine passes, for 92 yards. State's Omarr Conner was 10-of-19 for 135 yards passing with Burks catching 118 yards of that on four grabs.
Did You Know? This decade, West Virginia is 48-1 when scoring 30 or more points.
Bulldog Player Notes: DE Titus Brown—and the entire State defense—has not scored a sack in the last two games. The senior remains at 16.5 sacks for his career, ranking 7th on the MSU list behind Greg Favor (19.0, 1994-97) for 6th. Brown was able to make a tackle behind the line Saturday, giving him stops for losses in 13 of his last 15 games. His 9.5 TFLs this year tops the team.
*Through six games the Dog defense is credited with 46 tackles for losses of 170 yards and 11 sacks. Brown has six of those sacks. He and fellow DE Avery Hannibal have 19 quarterback ‘hurries' between them, of the team's 34 total. In fact, Brown and Hannibal have more hurries between them as all MSU's opponents managed in seven games, 15.
*The Dog defense has intercepted eight passes through seven games; last year's group had 12 picks in a dozen games. Four of these interceptions have been returned for touchdowns by four different Dogs: CB Anthony Johnson (UAB), S De'Mon Glanton (Gardner-Webb), S Derek Pegues (Auburn), and LB Gabe O'Neal (Tulane). Probably not by coincidence, all those pick-sixes have come in a Bulldog victory.
*Glanton broke up four Tennessee passes, a personal-best and most of any Dogs in a single game this year. That now has the safety tied with CB Johnson for the team lead in PBUs at six each. In fact these two account for half of the entire defense's 24 break-ups.
*Pegues has two interceptions for the year and seven on his career. He let a pick get off his hand Saturday, so is still two-shy of breaking into the MSU top-ten. But his three touchdown-returns off interceptions are a career record. He also holds the season record with two pick-six plays in 2006.
*Pegues averages 19 yards in returns every time he picks off a pass.
*Pegues posted a career-high ten tackles in the Tennessee game.
*MLB Jamar Chaney has begun to build a lead in the team's tackle list. He now has 50 total stops (26 solo, 24 assists), five ahead of his cohorts SLB Gabe O'Neal and WLB Dominic Douglas with 45 each. Douglas has more tackles for losses of the three starting linebackers, 4.5 to O'Neal's 3.5.
*Junior P Blake McAdams has come back strong after a slow start to this season. In his three October games McAdams has averaged 45.7 yards at South Carolina, 42.0 against UAB, and 42.8 against Tennessee. On his 16 punts this month McAdams has averaged 43.7 yards.
*This year nine of McAdams' punts have been downed inside the opponents' 20-yard line; only one has gone into the end zone for a touchback.
*McAdams has 171 punts in his MSU career, tying him with Mike Patrick (1972-74) for fifth place on the MSU list. His 6,887 yards are sixth-best behind Patrick's 6,999.
*Senior WR Tony Burks ran his consecutive-games with at least one catch to 15, with five in the Tennessee game. On his 16 grabs this year Burks has 268 yards, a 16.8 average. Last year he led the SEC in this unofficial category at 24.3 yards. Burks is still looking for his first 100-yard receiving game this year; he had five as a junior, tying the MSU season record.
*WR has matched Burks for total catches this year with 16, for 206 yards. Between them Burks and Smith have three touchdown catches, half the team's total six.
*FB Eric Hoskins got his first college catch a week ago against UAB. He grabbed two balls in the Tennessee game. His 22 yards are more than other fullbacks Jeremy Jones (4 for 17) and Brandon Hart (1 for 4) have combined. Jones still has the only score by either a tight end or fullback, on his eight-yard touchdown at Tulane.
*Last year HB Anthony Dixon set school freshman records for rushing touchdowns (nine), yards (668) and rushes (169). Through seven sophomore games he's already surpassed his output in the first two categories, with ten touchdowns and 694 yards…and on five fewer carries.
*Dixon has also posted four 100-yard games this year, twice his freshman-year tally.
*With 19 career touchdown Dixon is already on the MSU top-ten list, tied for ninth with Shorty McWilliams (1944-48). The record is 27 by Michael Davis (1991-94). The season-rush touchdown record is 16 (Jackie Parker 1952), though with one more this year Dixon will move into that top-ten.
*QB Wesley Carroll lost his first SEC start but had a productive afternoon all the same with 203 yards on 18 completions and a pair of touchdowns. They were his first college scores, too.
*Carroll has completed 40-of-74 passes, a 54.1% for 381 yards. His average completion produces 9.5 yards. And the freshman has not thrown an interception as a collegian.
*Carroll is actually fourth in team rushing, though with just 36 net yards. The only rushing touchdown by a Bulldog quarterback so far this year is junior Mike Henig's 18-yard dash at Tulane, his first such score. HB Christian Ducre accounts for State's 13th running score of 2007, the game-winner at Auburn.
*PK Adam Carlson had a 47-made PAT streak end in the UAB game on his first try. He came back to make the next three in that game and all three against Tennessee to begin a new streak. Carlson did not attempt a field goal that day and is 5-of-8 for the season, 13-of-24 career.
*Carlson lined up for a three-point try against Tennessee, but took the direct snap for a roll-out punt instead. His first college punt rolled out at the three-yard line for a 30-yard net.
*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 41 contests through four seasons. The consecutive-start lead belongs to P Blake McAdams at 30. C Royce Blackledge is first among the non-specialists in starts with 25-straight.
*A total of 38 Bulldogs have started at least one game this season. Only 13 players have started every game of 2007, including the two specialists.
*This year six true freshmen have played: LB K.J. Wright, QB Wesley Carroll, ST Karlin Brown, S Zach Smith, DT Lamarcus Williams, and OT Derek Sherrod.
*True freshmen who have not played are QB Chris Relf, S Wade Bonner, HB Robert Elliott, HB Marcus Green, LB Jamie Jones, CB Damein Anderson, LB Terrell Johnson, OL Addison Lawrence, OL/SN D.J. Looney, OL Dakota Merritt, 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, TE Brandon Henderson, and DE Brandon Cooper who was activated in the UAB game. Classmates who have yet to see action are WR Alex Carpenter, TE Chris Herrera, DT Reggie Odom.