*The Sun Belt lists 10 victories over ‘big six' conference (BCS leagues) since 2001. Middle Tennessee has four of them. This is the tenth season the Raiders have been a member of Division-I, officially now known as the ‘bowl subdivision'.
*Mississippi State is in a ‘Tennessee' tour playing three-straight games against teams from the across the north border. The Bulldogs defeated Vanderbilt two weeks ago, and lost this past week at Tennessee. The last time MSU played three-straight games against foes from the same state was in 1945; Louisiana teams Tulane, LSU, and Northwestern State.
About the Blue Raiders: This is not your typical Homecoming victi…umm, guest. Nor does Middle Tennessee State expect to walk on a SEC gridiron and be taken lightly any more. The Raiders have knocked off or frightened enough big-conference folk in recent years that any sort of cover is blown. Just this season to-date they've already thumped a Maryland team that is holding its own in the ACC, and fell literally a yard short of knocking off Kentucky in Lexington…something State understands the difficulty of. They have speed, they have skill, and few in Starkville would be shocked if the Raiders left town with a win. Upset, yes, but not because such an outcome would be called an upset.
Offense: Wide-open offensive schemes are the norm for small-league programs, but head coach Rick Stockstill—the former Florida State quarterback himself—takes a big-time approach to moving the ball. The Raiders are more likely to line up four wide receivers than two running backs, though they make liberal use of both sets. What matters more than scheme is the skill of the guy calling the shots. Senior QB Joe Craddock is piling up the numbers in the air, a 64% passer with 1,521 yards and eight touchdowns…five of those scores coming on third- or fourth-down throws. Craddock can beat a defense afoot, too, and Raider quarterbacks are expected to run early and often. Dwight Dasher is even better at it, with 109 ground yards in the last two games alternating at QB, though he has tossed a touchdown as well. The ground game has had some ups-and-downs this year but the recent trend is upward, with 171 yards against FIU and 109 against Louisville. Juniors Desmond Gee and Phillip Tanner split tailback time, though the latter has had more production with 316 yards and all five of the team's rushing touchdowns. The obvious priority though is throwing the ball around from various spread-sets with multiple targets. The top two pass-grabbers are both listed as ‘B' receivers but will be on the field at the same time often as possible. Pat Huneycutt has 31 catches and two touchdowns, while true frosh Malcolm Beyah has turned 24 catches into 447 yards—a 18.6 average—with five scores. ‘Z' Eldred King (25, 230) and ‘X' Wes Caldwell (19, 177) round out a group netting double-digit gains each time they get hold of the ball, though in all there are six Raiders with 12 or more receptions through seven games. A fast-forward attack helps ease the stress on a very young offensive line. How young? The two-deep this week shows a single junior, and everyone else is a soph or freshman. At least the ‘old' guy on the line is in the middle, C Mark Thompson. The size is stacked in the middle, with 295-pound LG Jamal Lewis and 310-pound RG Brandon McLeroy flanking the 290-pound Thompson. There have only been eight sacks scored against MTS so the kids are learning on-the-job. The Raiders will also go big at tight end with 6-5, 255-pound Gene Delle Donne, though this isn't a prime receiving position in the scheme. Two other facts are worth noting about this offense. For all the risks inherent in the wide-open approach, over the last three years the Raiders are +24 in turnover ratio. And don't get comfortable taking a lead into the locker room at intermission. The Raiders specialize in second-half scoring in general, and fourth-period points in particular.
Defense: The flip-side to the Raiders' offensive theme is getting involved in lots of shootouts, and the defense has been giving up too many points (26.0) and yards (363). MTS's chief weakness has been on third downs by allowing a 44% conversion rate, and only 17 of the 90-plus series by opponents have gone three-and-out. This doesn't keep the defensive scheme from being as aggressive as their offensive counterparts, multiple sets out of a 4-3 base with plenty blitz packages and adaptable coverages. It's a good idea, given how much ground FS Jeremy Kellem covers. The sophomore has no less than 70 total tackles with three behind the line of scrimmage, but he is adept in coverage with two intercepts and a trio of deflections. Kellem also has recovered two fumbles and knocked a couple more balls loose. SS Kevin Brown is reliable support as well with 48 tackles. Man-coverage took a hit though as top CB Alex Suber (two INT, six PBU) is out with a broken jaw; soph Rod Issac will take his place on the right corner. Talk about active linebackers, this trio has a knack for showing up wherever the ball heads. Junior MLB Danny Carmichael has been brilliant with 70 total tackles and four for losses, while senior RLB Ivon Hickman is having a career-year; his 50 tackles are over twice his best previous output, and he leads the team with 8.5 tackles for losses. He and left-side ‘backer Lonnie Clemons have 10 ‘hurries' between them. Senior LT Trevor Jenkins provides the size, 287 pounds, in the middle of the line and can get across the line as well with three TFLs. The ends aren't overly big at 240 and 230 pounds but can certainly run. LE Emmanuel Perez has 31 stops and a pair of TFLs. Again, this unit does give up too many yards and gets the chains moved on them with uncomfortable consistency. But a quick re-check of the turnover rate reminds that when it's time to make a play, the Raider defense can find a way.
Specialists: The down-side to scoring on MTSU is having to kick the ball to Gee, about to become the school's all-time leader in returns and a sure factor in the game's field position. Honeycutt takes care of fielding punts. PK Alan Gendreau, a true freshman, took a couple of games to get up to college speed but is doing just fine now and has hit his last three chances, with his range increasing almost weekly. Junior David DeFatta averages 39.1 yards on his punt with six boots of 50-plus.
The Series: It's not much of one, with just two meetings; both since the Blue Raiders upgraded to D-1 status a decade ago. And both have been at Scott Field, with Mississippi State winning 40-7 in 1999 and 61-35 the next year. Middle Tennessee is 15-3 in games against SEC squads, all of the wins coming this decade against Vanderbilt. Mississippi State is 31-5-2 in games against current members of the Sun Belt, the last meeting in 2002 against Troy State.
The Last Time (October 28, 2000): The visiting Blue Raiders scored first, just two minutes after kickoff. But Mississippi State responded to the wake-up call by punching out three first-quarter touchdowns in response en route to a 61-35 Homecoming Game rout. Seven of the nine Bulldog touchdowns came on rushes, and while QB Wayne Madkin got the first on a one-yard sneak the day was dominated by the guys he handed-off too. HB Dontae Walker scored on 14- and 32-yard bursts before the first period ended, and HB Dicenzo Miller matched that with touchdown dashes of seven and 21 yards in the second quarter. Then it was FB Justin Griffith's turn in the second half, diving two yards in the third quarter for one touchdown and one yards at 0:49 of the final horn for another. Backup QB Kevin Fant took care of the last period and threw to TE Donald Lee for a 22-yard touchdown play. And the defense even got in on the fun as DE Connor Stephens picked off a Raider pass and ran it all the way back 36 yards. State netted 270 rushing yards, with 114 for Miller and 104 for Walker. Madkin was 13-of-18 passing for 213 yards. The Raiders did keep things entertaining as a pair of quarterbacks combined for three touchdown passes, matched by three interceptions, and rushes accounted for two more scores. It was just about all-offense as the teams combined for 1,057 yards; 530 for State and 527 for MTSU.
Bulldog Player Notes: Mississippi State had a two-game stretch of no interceptions thrown ended when three Bulldog passes were picked in the fourth quarter by Tennessee. That dropped MSU from 7th in SEC turnover ratio to 9th.
*Opponents have dropped the ball 15 times through six games, but State's defense has managed to recover only six of these fumbles.
*Mississippi State is the only SEC team yet to score a non-offensive touchdown this year. The Dogs have not been able to convert a kick, block, interception, or fumble directly into points so far. Last year State scored six touchdowns on defensive plays and one on a punt return.
*It was a slow night by his standards, with just six total tackles and a credit for one-half a stop behind the line. Still MLB Dominic Douglas maintains a big lead in team tackles with 50. That's well-ahead of SLB K.J. Wright's 33 in second place.
*Wright, though, tops the team in tackles-for-losses at 6.0. And the sophomore is tied with DE Tim Bailey for the sacks lead with 2.0 each. However, Mississippi State has only a dozen combined sacks all this season, shared among ten players. And five of the sacks came in one game, against Vanderbilt.
*The Bulldog defense has only managed five interceptions all year. Senior S Keith Fitzhugh has two of them, both in the opening game. Fitzhugh has moved up to third in tackles at 30.
*Senior S Derek Pegues has only one interception for the season, at LSU. It's a slow pace because Pegues is tied for 3rd in Bulldog career picks with 11. His next interception will tie for 2nd with Izell McGill (12, 1994-97). The record is 16 for Walt Harris (1992-95).
*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 67 punts in four seasons, which ranks him third on the MSU chart. His 724 yards is fourth-most in program history.
*The first-place records he now holds are for both kickoffs returned (100 even) and yards (2,233) as Pegues just become the first Dog with 2,000 such yards. He is now the #3 all-time kickoff returner in SEC history, having just passed Domanick Davis of LSU; and is 30 yards from catching #2 man Mark Johnson of Vanderbilt.
*Pegues is also closing on 3,000 combined return yards. He has 2,957 now, 4th-most in SEC history but still second-most at MSU to Tony James (3,194, 1989-92).
*HB Anthony Dixon just moved over 2,200 career rushing yards. The junior stands 9th on the career list with 2,207 yards, only two yards behind #8 Dicenzo Miller (1998-01). If Dixon were to put in a 100-yard night this game, he would vault three more places on the career list. Dixon has only broke 100 once this year, with 107 against Vanderbilt.
*Dixon is not far from becoming the most-worked back in Bulldog history, too. He has 569 rushes, which is #4 on the list; but the record is only 578 rushes, by Michael Davis (1991-94).
*And Dixon is on the verge of catching Davis for the career rushing-touchdown record, which is 27. Dixon has turned handoffs into six points 26 times in his three seasons.
*But adding his two TD catches, Dixon does have 28 career touchdowns-scored, the most of any Bulldog ever. The official MSU record book only lists ‘touchdowns accounted for' which includes the passers. Don Smith (1983-86) owns that mark of 52.
*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.
*Junior HB Christian Ducre has 212 rushing yards, and 97 more receiving. He averages 4.9 yards gained each time he gets the football.
*QB Tyson Lee got off 108 passes as a college quarterback before suffering his first interception. Then his first pass of the fourth quarter at Tennessee was picked, followed by two more interceptions in the period that were returned for touchdowns.
*Last year QB Wesley Carroll, as a true freshman, threw his first 137 college passes without a turnover; falling one-short of matching the NCAA recognized record for a rookie.
*As a starting quarterback for three games, all SEC contests, Lee is 41-of-71 (57.7%) passing for 370 yards. As a backup in three games, he was 30-of-45 (66.7%) for 291 yards.
*Lee has netted 24 yards on 32 carries, a positive rate rare for Bulldog quarterbacks this decade.
*Mississippi State quarterbacks have been sacked 19 times this season. Lee has absorbed 16 of these baggings.
*Sophomore Carroll has thrown for 1,927 career yards. He was 1-of-7 passing at Tennessee. Carroll needs 2,940 yards to make the MSU top-ten list.
*Carroll has 12 touchdowns for his college passing career so far, with 13 intercepts.
*Of State's dozen touchdowns this year, five 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. Redshirt HB Robert Elliot got into the end zone on a six-yard scamper at Georgia Tech. And Henderson got on the board with his end-zone grab against Vanderbilt.
*That was not only Henderson's first college score, but his first college catch.
*Junior WR Brandon McRae is the favored target of any Bulldog passer. With two more catches at Tennessee, he now has 35 receptions for the season. That is more than the 2007 team leaders had (33) in all 13 games last season. McRae is tied for 4th in SEC catches per-game, after getting just two receptions all last year.
*McRae's ten catches at Georgia Tech tied Jamayel Smith's total at Arkansas last year for the most grabs by a Bulldog during Croom's tenure.
*Senior WR Aubrey Bell is also having a career year, with 21 catches for 184 yards this season. He had 14 catches for 186 yards all of 2007.
*All last year, State completed 188 passes; halfway through this season there are 123 completions. But, the average gain-per-grab has steadily slid the last three games and is now an overall 9.7 yards for the season. Opponents are netting 12.9 yards per-grab by contrast.
*With touchdowns by Henderson and Wilbanks, State already has as many tight end scores this year as all last season.
*Senior P Blake McAdams is the most prolific punter in MSU history. His 255 kicks and 10,010 yards are both Bulldog records, and 4th and 9th in the SEC charts.
*After missing three-straight field goal attempts, PK Adam Carlson has been good on three of his last four tries. He is now 23-of-38 for his college career, and 79-of-80 on PATs.
*Carlson is tied for 8th in made field goals, even with Kinney Jordan (23, 1975-76). His next make will tie Carlson with Chris Gardner (1989-92) and Brent Smith 2002-03) at 24 for 6th place.
*Seven true freshmen have played so far this season. 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, DT Joshua Jackson, and TE Kendrick Cook.
*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 (43). OG Anthony Strauder leads the non-specialists in starts with 37.
*S Keith Fitzhugh, P Blake McAdams, LB Anthony Littlejohn, and S De'Mon Glanton all share the games-played lead with 43 apiece.