M&F Bank Bulldog Scouting Report

The Game: Mississippi State (1-4, 0-2 SEC) resumes the season after an open date by hosting #13-ranked Vanderbilt (5-0, 3-0 SEC) in an inter-Division matchup. Game time at Scott Field is 1:30, with PPV availability in Tennessee. The radio broadcast can be heard on the Mississippi State Network, as well as on XM satellite channel 200.

*Mississippi State is 2-4 coming off open dates in the past four seasons. But, the last time the Bulldogs had a free week they won the back-to-work game; against Alabama last November.

*That game was also State's most recent win over a ranked opponent, beating #21 Alabama. And two weeks before that the Bulldogs beat a top-20 team (#14 Kentucky) on the road. Vanderbilt is 10-13-1 playing with a ranking.

*Vanderbilt last won a game in Starkville in 1971…which was also their first-ever trip to Scott Field. They have only been back to campus five times since.

*Vanderbilt is looking to be 6-0 for the first time since 1928.

About the Commodores: Can we get past the obligatory ‘is this Vanderbilt?' tone around league and country this fall? Or dismiss sour-grapes talk of lucky breaks (which, heaven knows, they are more than overdue)? And, just acknowledge all of the first-sinces that media like to focus on and get right to the point? Which is, the Commodores are a club worthy of the poll respect and opposing regard being shown. A seven-year process is paying off for Bobby Johnson's bunch, especially considering Vanderbilt lost eight offensive starters and half the defensive lineup from a 5-7 squad that was a gust of east Tennessee wind from breaking even. No, they don't put up offensive numbers, and yes they manage to fall behind every time. It only makes their perfect start that much more impressive. And as long as the Commodores don't get too far behind, or start turning the ball over, or both, there's no reason to expect this team should step aside for anyone in the SEC East. Or even West now.

Offense: Be honest, who all imagined that after going down 13-0 and losing the starting quarterback Vanderbilt would muster enough yards and points to beat Auburn? It doesn't matter what we think, only that the Commodore offense is confident beyond how the numbers read. Take the latest SEC stats; Vandy is ranked 12th in yardage…but 7th in scoring. It's the same story with passing, where this group is last in raw yards but 7th in efficiency. First downs? 11th in total moves of chains, but 8th in converting on third downs. Efficiency is one good way to put it. But even better is ‘opportunistic.' Simply, Vanderbilt pounces upon what opportunities the opposition presents and makes them pay in points. To wit, this is the SEC leader in red-zone offense…and by absolutely no coincidence, in turnover margin also. It obviously helps having a reliable and low-risk ground game producing 183 yards a game and 10 of the team's 16 touchdowns so far. In five games Jared Hawkins has already surpassed his entire 2007 season totals with 322 yards and three touchdowns. He's gotten one-third of the team's totes to-date and might be getting even more now if QB Chris Nickson has any lingering effects from a sore shoulder Saturday night. Before then Nickson had run for five touchdowns with 310 yards, netting 5.1 per carry. The man who actually got more center-snaps last year, McKenzi Adams, is a change of quarterback pace; he can run but more to buy time before locating his target. Vandy doesn't throw much anyway so Adams is just 16-of-28 for 184 yards…again, totally misleading statistics because the most important throws get caught. Usually it's Sean Walker on the receiving end as his 13 catches and 171 yards are most in the group. Justin Wheeler is an underappreciated alternate choice, too, with nine grabs for 82 yards and another score, and the backfield guys can get into positions for the quick dumper. Want to know the REAL story to this team, this season? Vanderbilt had to replace the entire 2007 offensive line, normally something that would doom any offense the next season. Not this bunch. The running game works because guys like RT Thomas Welch, C Bradley Vierling, and LG Ryan Custer are fourth-year juniors comfortable in the system and with either quarterback's style. And ignore the fact there's just one 300-pound starter, and look at the height; tackles 6-6 and 6-7, guards 6-3 and 6-4. That's a lot of reach and stride for defenders to get around. Oh, and if anyone thinks the ‘Dores might be a one-year wonder…all 12 linemen listed on the two- and three-deep are underclassmen. And back to efficiency, there is only one thing this offense hasn't done well this season; they're last in SEC 4th-down conversions. But then, they've only tried it once…

Defense: A low-risk offensive approach puts the pressure on their defensive cohorts to keep games under control. It's a job description this unit has proven quite comfortable with. Vanderbilt will give up some yards, most of them in the air, without giving away the game. Just the opposite, in fact, as their SEC-best turnover rate shows. But the truly apocalyptic sign is this: Vanderbilt leads the SEC and is 6th nationally in sacks, without one truly great rush-artist. Nine ‘Dores have gotten to the other quarterback at least once in five wins. What this really points to is an outstanding secondary that gives the front seven and eight time to run down passers, built around junior FS Ryan Hamilton with his 40 tackles and team-topping three interceptions. Senior SS Reshard Langford has picked a pair of passes, too. Those safeties, and nickel backs like Josh Allen or Jared Fagen, are free to look for the ball either in-air or on-ground because cornerbacks D.J. Moore and Myron Lewis are completely confident playing man-on-man all the time without support. They've each got a pair of picks with five deflections among them, and Lewis has even been able to corner-blitz for three sacks of his own. By now it's probably not a surprise that this unit leads the league in interceptions with 11, even with the ‘box' being stacked in most sets. Redshirt freshman Chris Marve has taken over middle linebacker quite handily, freeing OLB Patrick Benoist to roam all over and lead the team in tackles (22 solo, 28 assists, and 5.5 for losses). It might not be quite as bulky a front as most SEC squads, but if a lack of 300-pound tackles bothers Vanderbilt it's not showing. Junior Greg Billinger and soph Adam Smotherman check in at 290 and 285 and that's more than sufficient size at the two tackle slots in this even-front. 270-pound DE Steven Stone has four hits behind the line with a pair of sacks, the same as 230-pound counterpart Broderick Stewart. There's nothing fancy about the approach: pack the front, leave the corners on islands, and dare the other team to do their worst. Most times so far, the opposition has done the worse in either turnovers or penalties; yet another category Vanderbilt ranks first in this week's SEC standings.

Specialists: Bulldog cover teams are getting tired of taking on return aces, and here comes another. D.J. Moore doesn't just lead the SEC in returning punts. His 28.5-yard average is best in the nation this week. Senior B. Hahnfeldt is the league's most consistent placekicker having made good on 7-of-8 attempts with a long effort of 48 yards and all 16 of his PATs. Punter Brett Upson is averaging 39.4 yards, and good coverage makes Vandy third in SEC net-punting.

The Series: This is Mississippi State's least-played rivalry among the original SEC membership with 19 meetings since 1904. And, the only SEC series that stands in State's favor, with a 10-7-2 scoresheet. The Commodores took the early lead with four wins and two ties, but from 1942-2003 the Bulldogs won ten of 12 meetings until Vanderbilt won in Nashville in 2004. As noted above there have been just six games played at Scott Field, where State holds a 5-1 lead. The teams will meet in Nashville next season as rotating inter-Division foes, then not play again until 20-13.

The Last Time (October 2, 2004): Jay Cutler sliced the baffled Bulldog defense apart with three second-quarter touchdowns as Vanderbilt thumped Mississippi State 31-13 in Nashville. Wearing all-white uniforms for the first time since 2002, the Bulldogs did take a first-quarter lead of 7-3 as Jerious Norwood ran it in from ten yards out. But early in the second period Cutler called his own number, found a crease at the line and dashed 26 yards for the go-ahead score. Four minutes later a one-yard rush made it 17-7, and 13 ticks before intermission Cutler found an open receiver from the 13-yard line for another touchdown. The Commodores added some third-quarter insurance with a eight-yard rushing score. Norwood, who managed 67 yards on 12 carries, got a meaningless fourth-quarter touchdown. With Omarr Conner sidelined by injury, Kyle York made his only SEC start at quarterback and was 16-of-32 for 127 yards with three interceptions before Mike Henig made his college debut with some relief snaps. Cutler was 10-of-17 for 91 yards without a turnover, and ran for 49 of his team's 228 rushing yards. Vanderbilt averaged 4.7 yards per rush and held a 11-minute edge in possession time.

Bulldog Player Notes: *Senior P Blake McAdams is the most prolific punter in MSU history. His 241 kicks and 9,540 yards are both Bulldog records, and 8th and 12th in the SEC charts. He has booted balls for 5.4 miles in his MSU career.

*Opponents have dropped the ball 15 times through five games, but State's defense has managed to recover only six of these fumbles. Six of the eight Dog offensive fumbles have gone to the other team.

*Senior LB Dominic Douglas keeps piling up the tackles. He made eleven total stops at LSU, his best outing of the season, and extended his team-lead to 36 tackles.

*Douglas, the starting weak-side linebacker all last season and three games this year, has opened at MLB the last two games.

*The Dog defense has eight official sacks so far; by seven different players. Only SLB K.J. Wright has more than one sack in this pack.

*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.

*Pegues got his first interception of this senior season with a second-quarter pick at LSU. That gives him eleven for the career, tying Pegues for third on the MSU list with Henry Davison (1974-77) and Kenny Johnson (1976-79). One more pick will match Izell McGill (1994-97) for second place.

*Pegues' average return off an interception of 21.9 yards is the best of any Bulldog ever. And he holds the career record for interception touchdowns with three.

*Pegues has returned 64 punts in four seasons, which ranks him third on the MSU chart. His 691 yards is fourth-most in program history.

*The first-place records he does hold now are for both kickoffs returned (95) and yards (2,151) as Pegues just become the first Dog with 2,000 such yards. He is now the #4 all-time kickoff returner in SEC history.

*Pegues' combined 2,842 return yards are fourth-most in SEC history…and still second in MSU records to Tony James' 3,194.

*HB Anthony Dixon is now the all-time touchdown scorer at Mississippi State, having notched the 28th of his career on a half-yard roll across the goal line at LSU. Dixon had been tied with Michael Davis (1991-94) for first place.

*But Davis still has the edge on Dixon in rushing touchdowns. All of Davis' 27 scores came on the ground, while Dixon now has 26 rushing scores and two catches for touchdowns.

*Dixon's 167 career points place him 5th on the all-time MSU list, one ahead of Davis. He needs 185 to catch Jackie Parker (1952-53) for 4th, though 41 of Parker's points came on PAT kicks. The top-three spots all belong to pure placekickers.

*Dixon has had to work hard for his yards this season. The junior managed 50 yards on 15 attempts at LSU, a comedown from his 94-yard effort at Georgia Tech. So Dixon is still #10 on the career ground-gaining list with 2,054, trailing 9th-place Kenny Roberts (1989-92) at 2,070.

*Dixon has six 100-yard games, the most recent at Kentucky last season.

*His 527 rushes are 4th-most in program history.

*Junior HB Christian Ducre had a big evening in Baton Rouge, and in his home state, with his first two-touchdown game. He scored State's first touchdown of the evening on a five-yard run; then got the last TD on a 11-yard catch-and-run. Ducre finished with 58 net yards, running or catching, on 11 touches.

*For the year Ducre has 153 yards on 37 rushes; and 91 yards on 11 receptions. As a soph he caught 16 balls in 13 games, none for touchdown, so Ducre is well-ahead of that pace.

*Halfbacks Dixon and Ducre had seven of the total 17 Bulldog catches at LSU.

*Juco transfer QB Tyson Lee made his first senior college start last week, at LSU, and was 17-of-26 passing for 175 yards. That was actually a bit less than his 179 yards off-the-bench the week before at Georgia Tech, where he also had 17 completions, on 27 throws.

*Lee has completed 66% of his throws, 71 of them, with no interceptions yet. But, he has been sacked seven times.

*Lee's first college touchdown pass came at LSU, an 11-yard catch by Ducre.

*Sophomore QB Wesley Carroll did not play at LSU; the first game he has missed at State. He had played in 17-straight games, 13 of them starts.

*Carroll is 51-of-95 for the season, 54%, and has three touchdown tosses. But six of his throws have been intercepted. Carroll began his college career throwing 137-straight balls without a turnover.

*Carroll has 12 touchdowns for his college passing career so far, with 13 intercepts.

*Carroll has thrown for 1,920 career yards even. He needs 2,940 to break the MSU top-ten.

*Of State's ten 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. But he has been lost for the season after a knee injury at LSU, where he had 18 yards on 4 carries with no receptions.

*Whoever is throwing, WR Brandon McRae has been the favored target this season. He added four catches to his season total in the LSU game, though for just 14 net yards which dropped his average gain under ten yards. After making two catches all of last season, McRae now has 28 receptions, 263 yards, and two touchdowns…all team-bests.

*McRae's 10 catches at Georgia Tech tied the total by WR Jamayel Smith last season at Arkansas for most grabs by a Bulldog in the Croom era.

*Senior Smith has had a slower start to the year, but in the last two games he's gotten back on his '07 pace when he was the leading receiver. He had four catches and 58 yards at GaTech, and his only catch at LSU went for 41 yards. That raised his average gainer to 15.6 yards, best of the regular wideouts.

*Freshman Delmon Robinson made an impressive debut at Louisiana Tech with five catches and 63 yards; then went three games with a single grab for three yards. At LSU he made 18 yards on his only chance. He's been slowed by a bum shoulder lately.

*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 hopes to play this week after missing three games with a pelvis problem, 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 making nine-straight field goals, including the last seven tries of 2007, PK Adam Carlson hit a slump with three not-goods. Only one, against SE Louisiana, was a real miss; the others resulted from a mis-placed hold and a block. Carlson was good from 42 yards at LSU, and is now 21-of-35 for his college career.

*Carlson is 77-of-78 on PATs with a 30-make streak ongoing. He now ranks second in career PATs, having just passed Joel Logan (76, 1987-90). The record is 89 by Brian Hazelwood (1995-98).

*Carlson 9th in made field goals, and tied for eighth (Dave Marler, 1977-78) in attempts.

*Seven true freshmen have played so far this season, the latest being TE Kendrick Cook. 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 (41). OG Anthony Strauder leads the non-specialists in starts with 35.

*S Keith Fitzhugh, P Blake McAdams, LB Anthony Littlejohn, and S De'Mon Glanton all share the games-played lead with 41 apiece.


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