*But the road-opener record in non-conference play is much better, 14-4-1.
*Louisiana Tech is currently a member of the Western Athletic Conference, Mountain Division…though, alpine areas are hard to find in north-central Louisiana. Mississippi State has no record against any other current WAC member, though in the past MSU played teams that now reside in the offshoot Mountain West league.
*These programs will face one common foe this season. Next week Mississippi State hosts Southeastern Louisiana in the Dog's home opener; a week later the Lions will go to Ruston.
About the (other) Bulldogs: Louisiana Tech didn't just get a coach when they hired Derek Dooley. They got a two-fer as, one year into his coaching tenure, Dooley was promoted to athletic director. He's the only HC/AD in Division I…though the role ought to be familiar. After all, his father Vince held the same jobs at Georgia. What attracted Tech to the son of an SEC legend wasn't the bloodlines as much as his work in five seasons at LSU with running backs, special teams, and as recruiting coordinator. After a two-year NFL stint with Miami, Dooley accepted Tech's opportunity and in his debut year came within a play of breaking even. The Bulldogs plan to do better than that this second time around, though the schedule is daunting; especially for a defense with questions to be answered. Still Tech expects to put up points and will give everyone on the slate all they can handle, as Dooley makes his own name as a Southern coach.
Offense: Dooley is recruiting his own quarterbacks, but for now he and coordinator Frank Scelfo (of Tulane offense fame) are glad Taylor Bennett landed in Ruston after the regime and scheme changes at Georgia Tech. As a Yellowjacket junior Bennett started all 13 games with over 2,100 passing yards. He only arrived for summer but won the starting job, as expected, over sophomore Ross Jenkins who got minimal 2007 duty. Bennett has tools to work with in this ‘multiple' scheme, starting with a collection of excellent targets. Phillip Beck caught a ball every game last year and finished with 359 yards on 30 catches, while then-frosh Phillip Livas was an instant deep threat catching enough long balls for 504 yards and three touchdowns. Shane Womack (19 catches, 236 yards) and Josh Wheeler, back after an injury-limited junior year, round out a quality rotation. Tech likes tossing to the tight end as well, and Anthony Harrison actually topped his team with 33 balls and a 8.9-per catch average in '07. But this attack begins with senior Patrick Jackson, a 139-yard-per game runner who came up just short of the 1,000-yard mark last time around. His name is all over the Tech top-ten lists and with a really good year he'll become their all-time runner. There isn't much drop-off when junior Daniel Porter (592 yards on 99 totes) takes turns, either. The blocking is a bit young but does have experience in soph C Lon Roberts and RG Jared Miles, and the return of LG David Accardo after injury eases some worries up front.
Defense: There were some solid gains on this side of the ball in the first year for coordinator Tommy Spangler, but he has to re-fill six starting jobs and most of them are in the front seven of this 4-3 base set. The experience is largely in the secondary where Antonio Baker was an All-WAC free safety. His 118 tackles led the team, while he broke up ten total passes with three picks. SS Deon Young had three intercepts himself and 79 hits. LCB Weldon Brown had four picks to lead the squad. The newcomer in this unit is a freshman, Terry Carter, who has won the starting nod at right corner. The d-backs might have to double-up on their duties until things shake out in front of them. Though, MLB Brannon Jackson isn't exactly new; he's just back after missing all last season for injury. Senior Quin Harris posted 101 tackles in '07 and lines up at weak-side, and junior Brian White has won the SLB slot. The line has needed a serious rebuild, though, as RT Roosevelt Smith is the lone returning starter. Soph Mason Hitt beat out senior Breon Jackson for the opening-night call at left tackle, and juco transfer Kwame Jordan will start at right end. Hopes are high for soph Randy Grigsby, a local lad, after he made some nice hits as a rookie backup at the other end. Tech's biggest gains of last season were in rushing defense; now the Bulldogs are crossing fingers that the revamped front meshes soon enough to handle the ground-attacks they expect to see early in the season.
Specialists: The defense can count on help from Chris Keagle, the top punter in the WAC with a 41.3-average and 37-yard net. There's a ‘new' placekicker, sort of, because Brad Oestriecher did redshirt as a junior and is available to replace a four-year starter. RB Jackson is listed a first on kickoff return, though several Bulldogs have shown they can do this job too. And WR Beck was one of the nation's best at running back punts in 2007 with a 17-yard average. Oh, and watch out for the kick-rush as Dominque Faust tied the school record as a freshman by rejecting four attempts.
The Series: These respective Bulldog teams have met nine times in football, all of them in Starkville, with State leading 7-2. And while it isn't a real ‘series' there is certainly some history here. The first game was all the way back in 1904, in only the sixth year of Mississippi A&M football. The home won that one 32-5, and would take the next three games in 1908, '27, and '38. After a thirty-season gap Louisiana Tech came back to town and scored a 20-13 win. Mississippi State was able to revenge that in 1980, '87, and '88 before the most recent meeting, detailed next. Coach Sylvester Croom is 10-5 in non-conference games.
The Last Time (September 21, 1996): Visiting Louisiana Tech hit the host Bulldogs with a 16-point blitz and never looked back en route to a 38-23 victory that spoiled Mississippi State's home opener. Tech quarterback Jason Martin threw the first of his four touchdown passes, a one-yard flip, at 9:47 of the opening quarter for a lead LT never lost. That score came after MSU's game-opening series ended in a botched field goal and unplanned pass from holder Rob Morgan that was picked off. Martin threw a 26-yard touchdown (the PAT missed) and Tech added a field goal at 12:11 of the second period to build their cushion. State finally got on the board as Keffer McGee ran 45 yards for a touchdown, and caught the two-point pass as well, but Tech matched that with a 16-yard scoring rush and successful two-point play. In the third period Martin tossed touchdowns of eight and four yards for a 38-11 lead, before State got some vanity points on Matt Wyatt touchdown throws to Robert Isaac and Lahita Grant. Wyatt, who took over from starter Derrick Taite in the first quarter, threw for 248 yards while Tech's Martin was 28-of-41 for 300 yards. McGee carried 26 times for 182 yards. The home team actually managed more total yards, 425 to 410, but three Dog turnovers negated any such advantage.
Bulldog Player Notes and Records: How much does HB Anthony Dixon mean to the MSU gameplan? Look at his sophomore season when Dixon scored 16 of the team's 36 (30 offensive) touchdowns in 2007; he had over half of the rushing yards; and he tied for 5th in season receptions.
*Dixon rushed for 1,066 yards his second season, the 6th-best fall ever at State and only the ninth 1,000-yard rushing year ever for a Bulldog. With another such season Dixon can join Jerious Norwood (2004, '05) and James Johnson (1997, '98) with two 1,000-yard campaigns.
*His two-season total 1,734 yards ranks Dixon 15th on the MSU career list already. He is 8th in rushes with 456, but holds the season record with 287 totes last fall.
*Dixon has six 100-yard rushing games through two seasons. His career-high for rushing is 152 yards last October against UAB.
*But it is on the scoreboard where Dixon has made the brightest impression and is about to create a ‘class of one' in the MSU record book. In just two seasons his 23 rushing touchdowns rank 5th on the career list; and the record is just 27 running scores, by Michael Davis (1991-94). Add in his two TD catches and Dixon stands second only to Davis (still 27) on the all-touchdown chart.
*His 14 rushing touchdowns last season, capped by the game-winner in the Liberty Bowl, are second only to the 16 TDs put up by the great Jackie Parker in 1952.
*Dixon's 150 career points are sixth-most in MSU history, a category normally owned by kickers. Jackie Parker's 185 points is most by a Bulldog back, 4th overall, though he also kicked PATs; and Davis is 5th at 166 points.
*Dixon made himself a reliable receiving option his second season, with 14 catches and almost 12 yards per grab.
*In the Egg Bowl win Dixon scored State's first touchdown on a reception, one of his seven catches that day for 101 yards. He had the second-longest catch of any Dog last season with a 53-yard play in the comeback win over Ole Miss. He'd had six catches for 56 yards in 11 games before that one.
*Junior HB Christian Ducre added 487 rush yards last year and actually had a better per-carry rate, averaging 4.3 yards each touch to Dixon's 3.7. Ducre had three of the other four MSU rushing touchdowns of 2007, including the game-winner at Auburn and game-clincher at Kentucky.
*He was supposed to sit out the freshman season. But QB Wesley Carroll being forced into action a year was the unexpected key to 2007 success. Replacing injured elders, Carroll played in every game, started nine and won six of those he opened. He was the only quarterback to play all 13 games.
*Carroll's six wins are the most of any State starter since 2000. Not only that, but more than any other starting quarterback scored in multiple seasons from 2003-07.
*For his rookie year Carroll completed 52.5% of his throws, with nine touchdowns against seven interceptions. He was the first State passer with a positive score-to-pick rate since 1998 (Omarr Conner 8-to-5 in 2005). Carroll began his career with 137 passes thrown without an interception, falling one-shy of the NCAA record for the start of a career.
*Carroll ended up with 1,392 passing yards and 10.4 yards per-caught ball.
*The 39 passing yards in the Liberty Bowl was Carroll's lowest output as a 2007 starter…but he also opened the game-winning drive with two runs for 18 yards and completed two throws for 15 more yards. In other words, his stats came when they mattered most.
*Carroll became the first Bulldog to throw for 400 yards in 13 years when he had 421 yards of completions against Arkansas. It was the third-best day for a MSU quarterback ever, behind only Derrick Taite (466, 1996 Tulane) and Dave Marler (429, 1978 Alabama). His 51 attempts in that game were second-most ever at State (53, Joe Reed 1970); and the 29 completions second also (32, Tommy Pharr 1969).
*The four touchdowns passes at Little Rock tied for the MSU game record, matching Tony Shell (twice), Taite (twice), and Omarr Conner.
*WR Jamayel Smith had a breakout junior season with 33 catches for 510 yards and three touchdowns. Though, the biggest chunk of that came in a single game when he had 208 yards against Arkansas, on ten catches. Those yards were the most by a Bulldog since Danny Knight had 208 against Florida in 1982.
*Smith was good for 15.5 yards on every ball he caught last year. That's actually a bit below his career rate of 16.0 per-catch on 53 total grabs. *By comparison to Smith's 510 yards, all other returning eligible receivers had 711 receiving yards last season.
*Last season the Bulldog offense caught more passes, and more touchdowns, than the year before; but passing yardage actually dropped from 2,300 to 2,079. But, the yardage and scoring in 2007 was better-distributed as backs and tight ends had five of the 12 touchdown catches.
*Of the 25 catches made by MSU tight ends last year, all graduated.
*State quarterbacks were sacked 23 times last year in 13 games, compared to 29 sacks the previous season in 12 games.
*Much of the 2007 defense is back for another season, but there are significant statistical losses to replace. Especially in quarterback sacks. Of the 19 total sacks credited last year, 12 were by three graduated seniors. And there are 26 ‘hurries' graduated, too, which is more than the 23 hurries all State's opponents tallied last year. Almost half of the tackles-for-losses, 42.5 out of 92 total, are also gone.
*But, two-thirds of the pass interceptions—12 out of 18—are back with current personnel. And last year five passes picked by Bulldogs were returned for touchdowns—all of them in State wins.
*All Bulldog linebackers had just two sacks last season, a figure sure to improve under the direction of new defensive coordinator Charlie Harbison.
*MLB Jamar Chaney begins this senior season with 198 career tackles, tops among current veterans. Chaney also led last year's squad, more particularly his fellow linebackers, with 89 total tackles. His nearest competitor was, and like this year is again, WLB Dominic Douglas (78 tackles).
*But Douglas, with freedom to roam on the outside, more than doubled Chaney's tally for TFLs, 8.5 to 4.0.
*Senior S Derek Pegues is suspended for this opening game, which means his streak of 25-straight starts—most among non-specialists on this year's roster—will end.
*Pegues has ten career interceptions, half of them last season. He is tied for fifth in career picks at State, even with Frank Dowsing (1970-72), Steve Freeman (1972-74), Kelvin Knight (1990-93), and Fred Smoot (1999-2000). With his next pick he will tie for third with Henry Davison (1974-77) and Kenny Johnson (1976-79).
*Pegues already owns the career record for interception-touchdowns with three; two in 2006 and one last season. And his average return, scoring or not, of 21.8 yards on each pick is by-far the best of any Bulldog ever.
*Changing to safety was the right move for Pegues, who had more tackles in 2007 (50) than in his two previous years at cornerback (46).
*That 75-yard punt return touchdown in the Egg Bowl was Pegues' second scoring play off a punt. He had an 81-yard TD return in 2006 against Jacksonville State, his longest runback of any sort to-date. Pegues has 620 career yards (4th-most at MSU) on 53 punts (5th-most). But only Tom McWilliams (1944-48) has a better career average return, 14.5 to 11.7, of the top-five.
*Where he stands at the top after three years is kickoffs returned, with 81. His 1,790 yards are still second to Tony James (1,862 from 1989-92), but that mark likely won't survive September. Pegues hasn't scored on a kickoff, yet.
*Counting both punts and kickoffs, Pegues has the 9th-most return yards in SEC history.
*Senior Blake McAdams finished last season with a 39.3-yard average per punt, over a yard more than his soph season's rate. His career average is 39.8. Of his 77 kicks last season 18 were downed inside the 20-yard line, a career-best.
*With 214 punts in three seasons McAdams is tied for second-most kicks in MSU history, with Dick McGraw (1965-67). The career record is just 217 by Dana Moore (1979-82) and probably will fall this first weekend of 2008.
*The 8,513 yards of punts by McAdams is 3rd-highest by a Bulldog, and works out to 4.8 miles.
*Senior Adam Carlson ended 2007 on a career-streak, having hit his last seven field goal attempts (over ten games) including the game-winner in the Egg Bowl. He began the year making three of the first six kicks. He was 10-of-13 for the season, those ten makes more than the eight in the previous two years combined.
*Carlson's 48-yarder to clinch victory over Ole Miss was not only his career-longest make, but his first game-winner as a Bulldog.
*Carlson hit the last 20 PATs of 2007, after his streak of 47-straight career makes ended in the UAB game. He is 67-of-68 for three seasons, ranking fifth in career PATs. Carlson has 121 total points as a MSU kicker; 144 points is the threshold for top-ten status.
*A total of 36 Bulldogs played in all 13 games last fall; 22 of them are back including kickers and holder.
*As a new senior class moves up, P McAdams assumes the roster lead in both career and consecutive starts at 36 games. The starts leader among non-specialists is OG Anthony Strauder with 30. Besides McAdams, five Dogs have played in 36 career games, all consecutively.
*A total of 43 Bulldogs have started at least one game this season. Only 10 players have started every game of 2007, including the two specialists.
*Last year six true freshmen played: LB K.J. Wright, QB Wesley Carroll, ST Karlin Brown, S Zach Smith, DT LaMarcus Williams, and OT Derek Sherrod.
*2007 redshirts awaiting their first college action this week are: QB Chris Relf, S Wade Bonner, HB Robert Elliott, HB Marcus Green, MLB Jamie Jones, CB Damein Anderson, OLB Terrell Johnson, OG Addison Lawrence, OC D.J. Looney, OG Dakota Merritt, PK Eric Richards, and OT Quentin Saulsberry.