*State's last road victory over a ranked team was in 1997, at #11 Auburn.
*Bulldog teams are 5-14on ESPN2, including two losses this season. The last win on this network was the 2004 season-opener against Tulane. But, State's last victory over LSU (1999) was carried by ESPN2 from Scott Field.
About the Fighting Tigers: It's natural to say they're baaa-aack, but really…who thought the Tigers were going away after their national championship season? Despite pre-season quarterback questions and loss of some marvelous defensive talent to the NFL, LSU was still the leading pick to win the West again. And after an impressive comeback at Auburn, they not only have the inside track on the Division but are looking like repeat league champs. In fact, with what looks to be a better-balanced offense and a well-rounded defense, this just might turn out a more potent ball club than last year's title-taking Tigers. Having an open date to get ready for the Florida-South Carolina-Georgia stretch doesn't hurt their chances, either.
Offense: What is it with Tiger backup quarterbacks? Going back to 2001's SEC Championship Game, whenever LSU's starter goes out the second guy becomes the instant hero. Add Jarrett Lee to the list; though technically more an alternate than backup, he certainly saved the day (or night) at Auburn by taking over from a bell-rung Andrew Hatch and throwing two touchdowns—three counting his first-half TD pick—in another classic SEC West showdown victory. Lee is 27-of-50 for the early year with four TDs and a pair of picks. Don't rule Hatch out too soon, though; the three-game starter is a 51% thrower and if not as strong-armed as Lee is a safer decision-maker. So far. Of course the safest choice of all is handing the ball to league-leading rusher (#7 nationally) Charles Scott who is netting 131 yards per-game with four scores and a 9.0 gain each tote. Interestingly, Hatch is the only other Tiger with over 100 ground yards through three games. But Keiland Williams has the speed to go any distance at any point…and he's thrown an option-pass touchdown this year, too. Not surprisingly the play-calls have tilted heavily to rushing, by a 55-45 percentage. Still when Tiger ends, split or tight, get the ball they get yards…five of them are averaging double-digit gains, led by ‘X' Brandon LaFell (15 catches, 248 yards, 3 TDs) and ‘Z' Demetrius Byrd (8, 100, 2). And of course TE Richard Dickson is available to run a route or two as his BCS title game pair of touchdowns showed. The only o-lines with more combined experience in the middle three positions are in the NFL. C Brett Helms has 29 career starts; guards Lyle Hitt and Herman Johnson 16 and 25 respectively. And they average 316 pounds across the front, though that figure—not to mention the field—is tilted by the 375-pound Johnson at left guard. Beef up front, speed to either side and behind, and quarterbacks who can run or throw? Sounds like an offense that can proudly stand as an equal beside the traditional Tiger defense.
Defense: By no conceivable implication is this a ‘no name' defense since there will be the usual quota of all-conference and all-Americans tabbed from the 2008 roster. It's just the stars of the last couple seasons burned so brightly, most of these Tigers don't stand out quite so much. Thing is, though, as a group they might be even more effective. This week LSU ranks 14th in NCAA rushing defense, 17th in scoring, and 18th in yardage. That's a collective groan you just heard from the rest of the conference. On Saturday's it's more of an ‘ooof' when opponents collide with this monstrous front-four. '07 is senior LE Tyson Jackson's year to claim the spotlight, and he makes his 30th career start this weekend. He's already got 2.5 sacks and five hurries in three games, which doesn't sound like much until one considers how potent his peers are. Any other team and junior RT Ricky Jean-Francois would be the big cat on defense. He's also the only underclassman starting on the four-front, which says something about the cumulative experience here too. Just in case any short-yardage beef is needed, 320-pound Al Woods moves into the middle of the line. Things get a little bit greener in back of the line. A leg injury will likely keep veteran and Lombardi Award candidate MLB Darry Beckwith out another week, so junior Jacob Cutrera should get his second start there. And WLB Kelvin Sheppard and ‘buck' Perry Riley each made their first college starts in the Auburn game…which didn't seem too much of an issue at crunch time. LSU has still allowed for such things by starting other combinations in the first two games, using a true ‘dime' secondary to get the season started right. Having waited two years to become a starter SS Harry Coleman has made the most of opportunity; through his first three openers he has a team-best 17 tackles. Senior FS Curtis Taylor is the old hand back here and has a 37-yard interception return to his '08 credit. Either Danny McCray (third in tackles with 12) or Chad Jones enters as the nickel man when needed. Junior LCB Chris Hawkins is another new face in the lineup making an impact, with two of LSU's three interceptions and 13 stops. Again, those tackle totals don't look like a lot compared to other SEC defenses; Coleman only ranks 17th on the current league listing. But when a Tiger celebrates making a tackle, he's not necessarily boasting of whipping an opponent; he's likely more proud of just getting to the ball-hauler before the rest of his teammates.
Specialists: Special teams staffs across the SEC have nightmares thinking about kicking to Trindon Holliday, a 100-meter ace who can cover 100 yards—or as much of it as needed—before coverage can react. He's averaging a SEC-best 26 yards on punts. Williams gets 25.2 yards on kickoff returns, not that LSU's defense allows a lot of chances of course. Senior Brady Dalfrey averages 37.9 punting and coverage is understandably sharp. Senior Colt David is 4-of-5 on field goals with a 46-yarder but he's got a lot more range than that if needed.
The Series: It is Mississippi State's second-oldest continuous series, dating back to 1896 and the second year of MSU football. The Tigers have dominated the rivalry of neighboring state State schools, with a 65-33-3 record (including a pair of forfeited MSU wins), and have won the last eight meetings since 1999. LSU owns a 44-18-1 edge in Baton Rouge, aided by the fact that all games were played there from 1934-57. In fact LSU did not visit Starkville from 1923 to 1982, with all their ‘road' games played in Jackson. The last Bulldog success in Tiger Stadium was in 1992.
The Last Time (August 30, 2007): LSU came to town ranked #2, but played like the team that would end the season ranked #1 and national champions and blanked the Bulldogs 45-0 on a Thursday night opener at Scott Field. The game was actually competitive for most of the first half, with the Tigers getting just a first-quarter field goal. But the LSU defense had better reads on State QB Mike Henig's passes than his own targets, picking him off four times in the first half. A turnover set up the first touchdown, a one-yard Keiland Williams dive at 5:52 of the second period. And when State got the ball back before halftime, trailing 10-0, they tried to make something happen and Henig was picked again. Williams ran the ball in from a yard out on the last play before the break. The Tigers set the second-half tone by driving for a 24-0 lead as Matt Flynn threw to Early Doucet for an 11-yard TD play. After another intercepted Henig toss, Flynn found Charles Scott for the touchdown pass. Backup quarterback Ryan Perriloux ran for one fourth-quarter touchdown and threw for another. LSU had balance on offense with 198 rushing yards, 68 by Jacob Hester, and 149 passing with Flynn completing 12-of-19 for 128 yards. Henig ended up with six of his 28 passes caught by Tigers, completing 11 others for 120 yards. HB Anthony Dixon managed just 29 yards on 13 carries.
Bulldog Player Notes: *Senior P Blake McAdams is the most prolific punter in MSU history. His 236 kicks and 9,323 yards are both Bulldog records, and he now ranks 9th and 12th in SEC annals in those categories. He has booted balls for 5.3 miles in his MSU career.
*Opponents have dropped the ball a dozen times through four games, but State's defense has managed to get to only five of these fumbles. Six of the eight Dog offensive fumbles have gone to the other team.
*Senior S Keith Fitzhugh is the active leader in interceptions with six. He picked a pair of passes against Louisiana Tech. But, those are the only interceptions State has through four games.
*Despite an Achilles problem last week and a sore shoulder in the game, senior LB Dominic Douglas keeps piling up the tackles. He has 25 combined stops in the four games, best on the squad. S De'Mon Glanton is next at 18, as State has played almost as much three-safety scheme as three-linebackers this year.
*Douglas, the starting weak-side linebacker all last season and three games this year, opened at MLB at Tech.
*Senior DE Tim Bailey has active in the opponents' backfield. He leads the team in both tackles for losses (4.0) and quarterback hurries (6).
*The Dog defense has seven official sacks so far; by seven different players.
*Junior CB Tay Bowser deflected an Auburn kick in the third quarter, his second block of this season after he got a PAT at Louisiana Tech.
*Senior S Derek Pegues is making up for time lost to his opening-night suspension. In three games he has 15 credited tackles with one pass deflection and a fumble recovered.
*But Pegues is looking for the first interception of his senior season. He came into the year with ten, tied for 5th on the Bulldog record list with list with Frank Dowsing, Steve Freeman, and Fred Smoot. His average return of 21.8 yards though is the best of any Bulldog ever.
*Pegues has returned 62 punts in four seasons, which ranks him third on the MSU chart. His 681 yards is fourth-most in program history and he has an average gain of 11.0 yards.
*The records he does hold now are for both kickoffs returned (88) and yards (1,985) as Pegues is about to become the first Dog with 2,000 such yards. He needs 2,005 to become the #4 all-time kickoff returner in SEC history.
*Though still a bit slowed by a groin strain the previous week, HB Anthony Dixon rebounded from a five-yard evening against Auburn to net 94 at Georgia Tech. 71 yards of that came on a single burst. And if not for a seven-yard loss on one fourth-down attempt, Dixon would have notched his seventh 100-yard outing in three seasons. He last broke the 100-mark at Kentucky.
*But the junior has surpassed one MSU milestone; he just became the 10th Bulldog back to rush for 2,000 yards. Dixon now has 2,004 yards. Next-up is the 2,070 by Kenny Roberts (1989-92) for 9th place.
*Dixon's 3.9-yard average carry is lowest of any MSU top-ten career runner.
*His 512 rushes are 4th-most in program history.
*Blocking breakdowns kept Dixon from vaulting over the goal line as planned in the first quarter at Atlanta, and thus he remains tied for first in MSU career touchdowns at 27 with Michael Davis (1991-94). All of Davis' scores came on rushes, so he holds that record still while Dixon has 25 running TDs and two receptions for scores.
*Dixon's 162 career points stand 6th on the MSU list.
*QB Wesley Carroll was 14-of-22 at Tech, keeping his season completions rate in positive territory at 53.7%. But after throwing nine touchdowns against seven interceptions as a freshman, the first Dog passer with a plus-finish in years, this soph season Carroll has three touchdowns against six picks.
*Carroll's completions in the first two games averaged double-figure yardages. In the last two games the rate has fallen to 7.8 against Auburn and 8.6 at Tech.
*Carroll now has thrown for 1,920 career yards even. He needs 2,940 to break the MSU top-ten. The MSU record is 6,336 by Wayne Madkin.
*Of Carroll's dozen touchdown passes, seven have gone to wide receivers, three to tight ends, and two to halfbacks.
*Of State's seven touchdowns this year, four have been career-firsts. WR Brandon McRae and FB Brandon Hart got their first college scores at Tech;TE Austin Wilbanks scored his first D-I touchdown against SELa on a throw from Carroll. And at Atlanta, redshirt HB Robert Elliot got into the end zone on a six-yard scamper.
*Of Bulldogs with multiple catches Elliot has the top average gain of 13.2 yards on his four receptions.
*WR Brandon McRae resumed a superb junior season by catching ten balls at Georgia Tech, matching the number of catches WR Jamayel Smith had against Arkansas last season for most grabs in the Croom era. McRae gained 102 yards on his catches, also a career-best.
*Through four games McRae has 24 receptions; compared to the two catches he made all last season. With 249 yards he is averaging just over ten-per grab.
*But WR Aubrey Bell isn't that far behind, with 17 catches including seven at Tech.
*He's not off to the fast expected start this senior year, but WR Jamayel Smith is picking up the pace. After snaring two balls the first three games, he had four catches and 58 yards Saturday. *Injuries and inexperience have hampered Bulldog tight ends, who between them have just two catches this year and both in the same game. They were a 50-yard grab by Marcus Green, and a one-yard touchdown flip to Austin Wilbanks against Southeastern Louisiana. Green is likely out this week again with a hurting pelvis, and Brandon Henderson is still getting up-to-speed after the cast on his right hand was removed prior to the Auburn game. Freshman Nelson Hurst has yet to catch his first college pass.
*After hitting his last seven field goal kicks of 2007, in ten games, and the first two tries this year, PK Adam Carlson has hit a really rough streak with three-straight misses and not all of his own making. After he missed from 32 against SELa, Carlson couldn't do much with a mis-placed hold that caused a 38-yarder against Auburn to go wide. And at Tech, his 18-yard chippie was deflected at the line.
*Carlson is now 20-of-34 for his college career on field goals. On PATs he is 74-of-75 with a 27-make streak ongoing.
*Carlson is now 9th in field goal attempts at State as well as makes. He needs to hit three more to tie Kinney Jordan (1975-76) for 8th in makes. He is tied for third in made PATs with Bob Morgan (1980-82) and two behind Joe Logan's 76 (1987-90). The record is 89 by Brian Hazelwood.
*Seven true freshmen have played so far this season, the latest being TE Kendrick Cook who was activated at Tech. Two rookies, DE Sean Ferguson and TE Nelson Hurst, have starts to their credit. Their activated classmates are S Charles Mitchell, WR Delmon Robinson, LB Bo Walters, and DT Joshua Jackson.
*First-year frosh who have yet to play are: WR Arceto Clark, WR Terrance Davis, DB Louis Watson, CB Corey Broomfield, RB T.J. Patterson, DE Nick Bell, LB Mike Hunt, DE Trevor Stigers, DT Devin Jones, OG Tobias Smith, OT Templeton Hardy, WR O'Neal Wilder, WR Charles Bailey, and DE Shane McCardell.
*P McAdams leads this team in career starts (40). OG Anthony Strauder leads the non-specialists in starts with 34.
*S Keith Fitzhugh, P Blake McAdams, LB Anthony Littlejohn, and S De'Mon Glanton all share the games-played lead with 40 apiece.