*With Hurricane Gustav rolling right through Hammond this week, Southeastern Louisiana moved to Oxford, Miss., and used practice facilities generously made available by Ole Miss.
*Southeastern Louisiana resurrected their football program for the 2003 season, after shutting it down in 1985 though seven of the previous ten years had produced winning records. Since the program reumed play the Lions are 22-34 including this year's successful opener. They are 0-7 against Division IA opposition in this stretch.
*The Lions basketball team plays in ‘The Jungle' as their arena is called. The football stadium's moniker isn't quite as ferocious though. Home field is Strawberry Stadium, originally built in 1937 as a WPA project—just like State's original Scott Field grandstands—and renovated for the revived program in 2003 with 9,758 capacity. It is an artificial surface, also.
About the Lions: Starting a new football program is tough enough; re-starting one in the shadow of the SEC has been a serious challenge for Southeastern. The first two years under Hal Mumme went well with 5-7 and 7-4 marks, then the NCAA-tainted coach SELa had allowed to rehabilitate a reputation bolted for New Mexico State. Aide Dennis Roland took over, had his first year interrupted by Katrina and the second cut short by a dangerous infection. Mike Lucas, interim coach the rest of '06, was promoted last year and has battled to bring some consistency to Hammond. He's brought in some promising young talent, kept the offense entertaining, and ended '07 by beating arch-rival Nicholls State for the first time since 1980 to claim the ‘River Bell.' With all this revived program has endured—including the storm-altered start to this season--it's hard not to cheer for Lucas & Co. as they strive to reach break-even.
Offense: The Lions' debut victory at Alcorn State came with a high price, as on the last play of the first half quarterback Brian Babin was literally knocked out by a concussion. He is not expected to play this week, after throwing three touchdown passes with 143 yards in just a half. Senior Mike Neville, a former BYU signee and juco standout, saw very limited '07 action but was 13-of-17 in emergency relief Saturday with a touchdown and 108 yards. Neville's reputation is more for running, though, which does complicate the game-planning a bit. True FR B.J. Young was a pocket passer in high school and fits more the Babin mold. It's not supposed to be just an ‘air raid' approach in Hammond now. Texas A&M transfer Jay Lucas is an all-American candidate after setting the school record with 1,259 rushing yards. Though he's apt to catch a pass as take a pitch, with a team-best 51 receptions and 485 yards last fall. And when Alcorn State held him to 37 net yards on 11 totes, Lucas turned receiver with 45 yards on eight catches. Backup Jasper Duckworth, a Jones County JC product, got 16 yards on two carries so he'll likely see the field this weekend again. 235-pound Brian DeLong is the classic blocking fullback, though SELa claims plans to use the fullback as a target also. They didn't in the debut. TE Cole Wardell did, twice. The Lions are looking for a lead receiver this year and rookie Chris Wilson came up huge in the opener with 105 yards on just two catches, each for touchdowns from Babin. Soph Andre Cryer added three balls for 71 more yards, while senior starter Merrick Lanaux is waiting his first grab of the year after injury issues all last season. It's a rebuilding year on the offensive front, though, with C Brad Bardy the only returning starter. At least he's a two-year veteran in the leadership position. Guard David Ward missed all 2007 but returns healthy now. Any experience is welcome because it's a lot of youth everywhere else, though hopes are high for soph Kevin Hughes and freshman Miles Abrams at the tackle slots. Juco linemen Willie Pritchett and Keny Stallings, both products of Mississippi programs, will have to provide instant help.
Defense: 2007 was a struggle on this side of the line, and especially on the line itself. Injuries played havoc with the front and forced new players into too-early action. But this might turn out to be a '08 benefit as older Lions are now healthy and some youngsters have been seasoned the hard way. Certainly getting DE Walter Vaughn back, from a broken arm after two games, boost the three-man line, and soph Ryan Anderson has the benefit of a year's experience. At the other end converted linebacker Steven Honore brings pass-rush speed. NT Devin Boutwell is back after missing five games; he and fellow soph John Williams are the muscle in the middle of this scheme. SELa lost some good linebackers to graduation yet expectations are even higher for a group of really good underclassmen, some of whom are well-proven already. Such as soph MLB Mark Newbill who only led the team in tackles and sacks as a freshman. He had 18 stops in the River Bell bowl and was honorable mention All-Southland. Fellow soph Ryan Godare was a good alternate OLB and is now starting, and had a game-best seven hits in the Alcorn State win with two tackles for losses. Quentin Pierre, an Itawamba CC transfer, forced the crucial fumble in that game to stake SELa to their late two-touchdown lead. Two-time all-conference SS Tommy Connors might as well be another linebacker with his 75 tackles last year, nine for losses. FS Trey Douglas can cover deep or sack the quarterback. And after an injury-shortened season Marquis Powell is back as another safety option; he's a preseason all-league pick. There isn't as much experience on the corners though Tony Johnson did get two picks in relief work last year. Juco Brian Reynolds made his presence known in the first game by blocking a Braves field goal try.
Specialists: Jeff Turner struggled for a while but when he re-gained his placekicking job last season he delivered one of the best years in program history with 17 field goals in 20 tries (two misses were blocked). He is the reigning first-team Southland kicker. Turner only needed to boot PATs in this year's opener, and kick off. Cody Samples is pre-season all-league after a 37.0-yard average in '07, and was good for 40.3 yards at Alcorn. Wideout Cryer returns punts and kickoffs both.
The Series: First meeting. Southeastern has only played two SEC opponents. They lost to LSU in the one meeting in 1949; and to Tulane in '49 and '51 when the Green Wave was a league member. State has never played any team in the current Southland Conference.
Bulldog Player Notes: The season-ending injury to MLB Jamar Chaney came at the end of one of the senior's best games. Chaney had a dozen tackles against Louisiana Tech, his second-highest output ever. As a junior Chaney made 14 total stops at Arkansas, and 11 against UAB.
*Chaney has 198 career tackles. If he opts to use 2008 to redshirt and return for another senior year, he starts with this total and will join the elite group of Dog defenders with 200 tackles.
*Senior S Keith Fitzhugh intercepted a pair of passes in the opener, his first multiple-pick game. Fitzhugh now has six career intercepts.
*DE Sean Ferguson became the first true freshman to start for State's defense since 2003, when then-DB Quentin Culberson was a starter.
*He didn't get to 100 yards. But HB Anthony Dixon made a good run at it in his 2008 debut, finishing with 91 net yards. That was actually Dixon's highest game output since 108 against Kentucky last October. Dixon has six 100-yard games in his career.
*Dixon now has 1,825 career yards, and climbed two notches on the MSU list to 13th passing Hank Phillips (1,743) and Tom McWilliams (1,808). Next-up is Wayne Jones with 1,865.
*Dixon just moved into 5th in career rushes at State with 484, bumping the great Walter Packer (483) out of the top-five. Dixon also holds the season record with 287 totes.
*Dixon was kept out of the end zone Saturday night; the third-straight year he hasn't scored in an opening game. But the junior still 23 rushing touchdowns in two-plus years and ranks 5th on the career list; but he's only two away from tying Michael Davis for the record with 27. In fact with two touchdown catches last year, Dixon is second again only to Davis in all-touchowns at State, 27.
*And this week Dixon will try to add to his 150 career points, 6th-most in MSU records.
*In some ways QB Wesley Carroll's first sophomore-season game went against the freshman-year grain, for both good and bad. Carroll threw for 172 yards, a figure he topped only twice as a rookie. And where it took him six games to toss a touchdown last year, he did it the first time out in '08. But, Carroll was picked off three times by LaTech. This, after he threw 137 balls to begin his college career without an interception.
*Carroll's twelve completions Saturday averaged 14.3 yards; as a rookie his rate per-catch was 10.4
*Those three intercepts drops Carroll under break-even for his career with nine touchdowns and 10 picks.
*Carroll now has thrown for 1,564 career yards. That's just over half what he needs to break the MSU top-ten, with Matt Wyatt's 2,940 yards the target. The MSU record is 6,336 by Wayne Madkin.
*Carroll has had some big days throwing, and was the first Bulldog to toss for 400 yards in 13 seasons last fall when he had 421 yards at Arkansas. It was the third-best day for a MSU quarterback ever. The four touchdown passes that day tied the MSU record matching Tony Shell (twice), Derrick Taite (twice), and Omarr Conner.
*A pair of Bulldogs scored their first career touchdowns in the opener, WR Brandon McRae (from Carroll) and FB Brandon Hart. Hart got his score on his only carry of the game, though he also caught a eight-yard pass. McRae grabbed four balls in all, twice as many catches as he had all 2007. And his 60 yards Saturday were more than his 50 total last year.
*Senior WR Aubrey Bell had a career night with six catches, or more than in any two other games of his tenure combined. The 67-yards were also a career-best.
*A new target emerged in the opener. True freshman WR Delmon Robinson had five catches for 63 yards.
*Senior WR Jamayel Smith had an off-night by his career standards, with one catch for five yards. In the previous three years Smith averaged 16.0 yards every time he hauled in the ball.
*Hart wasn't the only fullback catching a pass in game-one. Eric Hoskins returned from a serious shoulder injury that kept him out of the Egg and Liberty Bowls, and pulled in a throw for 14 yards. Typically for Hoskins, his catch produced a first down.
*State did not return a tight end who had a catch in 2007. None do after one game this year, either, though starter soph Marcus Green was hobbled by a groin problem and couldn't get out on patterns quickly.
*Backup QB Tyson Lee absorbed all three sacks at LaTech, behind a line with three new starters and two tackles not in the positions they practiced in spring. State quarterbacks were sacked only 23 times in 13 games last season.
*Senior S Derek Pegues had his streak of 25-straight starts ended by suspension in this year's opener.
*Pegues has ten career interceptions, half of them last season. He is tied for fifth in career picks at State, even with Frank Dowsing, Steve Freeman, Kelvin Knight, and Fred Smoot. With his next pick he will tie for third with Henry Davison and Kenny Johnson.
*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.
*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), 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 P Blake McAdams' average punt of 31.9 yards at LaTech was his lowest since his rookie year when he averaged 31.0 against Arkansas. But two of his seven punts were inside the 20-yard line and two more were not returned.
*McAdams now holds the career record with 221 punts, surpassing the 217 of Dana Moore. He has kicked balls for 8,736 yards, or 4.96 miles. The yardage record is 8,860 by Moore.
*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 did not have an attempt in Ruston and is 18-of-29 for his career. Carlson did hit both PATs and is 69-of-70 in four seasons with a good-streak of 22 now. He hit the first 47 of his college career.
*Carlson is now 4th in career PATs at State. The record is 89 by Brian Hazelwood.
*Some 56 Bulldogs played in the opening game. That total included five true freshmen: DE Sean Ferguson, TE Nelson Hurst, S Charles Mitchell, WR Delmon Robinson, and LB Bo Walters. In 2007, six true freshmen played.
*2007 season redshirts who made their college debuts in the opener were: ST Wade Bonner, TE Marcus Green, LB Jamie Jones, CB Damein Anderson, ST Terrell Johnson, OL Addison Lawrence, OC D.J. Looney, OT Quentin Saulsberry, and 2007 walk-ons DB Robert Gurley and WR Andrew Ellard.
*2007 redshirts who have yet to play are: QB Chris Relf, HB Robert Elliot, and OG Dakota Merritt.
*P McAdams leads this team in career starts (37). OG Anthony Strauder leads the non-specialists in starts with 31.
*Fitzhugh, McAdams, Chaney, LB Anthony Littlejohn, and S De'Mon Glanton all share the games-played lead with 37 apiece.