*Mississippi State will recognize 23 graduation seniors in the annual Senior Day at Scott Field. Five of these joined the roster as walk-ons; DS Anthony Bowles, LB Mark Brown, FB Eric Hoskins, WR Jamayel Smith, and ST Taurus Young.
*Four members of Coach Sylvester Croom's first recruiting class, in 2004, are making their last appearance at Scott Field: PK Adam Carlson, S De'Mon Glanton, LB/ST Anthony Littlejohn, and OG Anthony Strauder.
About the Razorbacks: The divorce was abrupt and acrimonious, and some remain unconvinced how this rebound partnership is working out. Still if Bobby Petrino's first team can finish the schedule strong and earn a bowl berth then holiday get-togethers will be much more amicable in Arkansas. Now no one disputes that Petrino inherited something of a rebuild job and that departed premier talents aren't simply replaced. Not even by playing no less than 16 true freshmen this year. But the Razorbacks have enough veteran muscle on both lines for a sturdy foundation, seniority at quarterback always helps, and one thing hasn't changed with the coaching staff. These Hogs play hard all game, every game. Which is why after a debut year of ups and downs that bowl berth remains very much within reach.
Offense: Talk about a changing courses. After three years of the SEC's most explosive ground game, Arkansas has gone to the air. The new staff certainly favors this approach, of course, yet the guy throwing the ball has also been unleashed to do more than hand off. Senior QB Casey Dick has thrived, throwing for almost 240 yards per game on 57% completions. He will take chances and has a negative ratio of 11 touchdowns, 14 picks. But put up enough balls—and Dick has thrown more passes than anyone in the league—and good things can happen. Particularly when Arkansas floods coverages with three and four receivers and a back, or two, for good measure. With all those targets to choose from, Dick has favored TE D.J. Williams who is second-SEC at 4.8 catches-per with 613 yards and two scores. The 250-pounder doesn't just make short grabs, either, he can and does go long making for serious size mis-matches. ‘Z' wideout Joe Adams (29 catches, 369 yards) is one of those true rookies playing big parts, while ‘X' London Crawford (22, 246) spreads the field further. Note: nobody listed this week at any of the four receiving spots is a senior. Nor is anyone in the backfield, so the SEC is going to be chasing mighty-mite Michael Smith for another season. The 5-7 junior has been spectacular at times with his corner-turning speed and can go the distance any snap, with 1,012 rushing yards and seven touchdowns. Smith literally IS the UA ground game, averaging 112.4 of the team's 113.5 net rushing yards. And just because he doesn't get the handoff, defenses can't relax; Smith has 30 catches and 302 yards. His explosion makes blocking easier for a line that is used to big-play backs already. Senior Jonathan Luigs won the 2007 Rimington Award as the nation's best center and hasn't fallen off any this final season. 313-pound senior Jose Valdez takes the lead at strong-side tackle, and the unit averages 307. But they've also allowed a SEC-last 37 sacks, and Arkansas is 12th in the league in turnover margin.
Defense: It's been a tough season on this side of the line, though not entirely unexpected with the loss of seven starters and an overall shift in the program's emphasis. Still there's something bizarre about seeing Arkansas listed last in the SEC in scoring, rushing, and total defense. Of course being last in this league doesn't necessarily mean the Razorbacks are bad; it's more the case of struggling against a grueling schedule. And you can't overlook any front line featuring junior DT Malcolm Sheppard, who is having a career-year with ten of his 45 tackles for losses and 4.5 sacks. Veteran nose man Ernest Mitchell has had his senior year interrupted by knee problems but is about back to strength in time for the end-year run. His place has been filled capably by true freshman Zach Stadther, the 4th-leading tackler on the team. Junior Adrian Davis weighs just 238 pounds but is plenty effective at rush-end with four sacks and four more hurries. The linebacker trio look as if stamped from a mold, just over six feet and all 220-or-so pounders. Translated: they can run, especially weak-side man Jerry Franklin, yet another first-year man making a fast transition. So fast that he tops the tackles list at 76 stops along with two interceptions and a couple of recovered fumbles. Meanwhile middle- and strong-siders Wendel Davis and Freddy Burton have near-identical stats and 108 combined hits. The rebuilt secondary has been shuffled over the course of this campaign; the lone opening-day starter still in that role is field CB Isaac Madison with one pick and five deflections. Either Matt Harris or Rashaad Johnson will open at free safety, though there seems little drop-off either way the staff opts, while SS Dallas Washington is the ranking veteran of this backfield and makes plays all over the place. Arkansas' big defensive problem has been third downs, where they allow conversions almost 42% of chances. Sacks are down this year, too. But much like the offense, look at the ages of this unit—ten underclassmen are listed to start—and recognize that they are learning on the job. And learning fast.
Specialists: Alex Tejada won the PK job as a 2007 freshman and hit 17 of 23 field goal chances. He's not getting as many opportunities this time around, just 3-of-6 with a long make from 30 yards. Senior Jeremy Davis is having a much better year, ranking 18th-NCAA in punting at 42.7 yards with excellent coverage in support. Several ‘Backs have had chances to return punts, and Smith does it best at a 8.8 clip, while Dennis Johnson is getting 24 yards fielding kickoffs.
The Series: Arkansas holds a 12-5-1 advantage and brings a nine-year win streak into this year's rematch. This series pre-dates the SEC, and Mississippi State won meetings—in Memphis—in 1919 and '36. But since conference expansion in '92 it's been almost all-Arkansas, with State's last success in 1998 at Scott Field. The Razorbacks still own a 5-3 lead in Starkville games. This is Bobby Petrino's first game against a MSU team, while Sylvester Croom is 0-4 against Arkansas.
The Last Time (November 17, 2007): It was all-offense, all day in Little Rock's War Memorial Stadium, and the home team put up the bigger and better numbers in a 45-31 victory. Mississippi State did get on the board first as Wes Carroll threw a four-yard touchdown to Jamayel Smith. But Arkansas responded with a 24-point outburst in the decisive second quarter, beginning five ticks into the period with a field goal. Casey Dick threw touchdowns of 30 and 35 yards, then after State had to punt it away before intermission the UA triggerman had time to manufacture a short drive and 19-yard touchdown throw at 0:45. After State shaved three points off the third-quarter deficit with a 25-yard field goal from Adam Carlson, Dick flipped to Darren McFadden for what turned into a 57-yard touchdown play. Later the running back would throw his own touchdown, of 24 yards. Carroll put it up just about every snap afterwards and did combine with Tony Burks for a 35-yard score, hit Smith in-stride for a 80-yard touchdown, and found tight end Jason Husband from 19-yards out. But another of his passes was picked and returned 30 yards to assure Arkansas of their win. Carroll's 421 passing yards (29-of-51) were the fourth-most in MSU history, while Smith had the second-biggest day ever by a Dog receiver with 208 yards, on ten catches. State actually out-gained Arkansas 501 yards to 429, but managed just 80 rushing yards—40 by Anthony Dixon—with four picked passes. Dick was an efficient 14-of-17 for 199 yards to get his four touchdown tosses.
Bulldog Player Notes: Mississippi State's scoring problems extend to all areas of the lineup. State is the only SEC team without a non-offensive touchdown in 2008. Last year's Bulldogs scored six touchdowns on defensive plays and one more on a punt return.
*State did not force a turnover at Alabama, the fourth game this year without either recovering a fumble or picking a pass. The Dog defense has six interceptions through 10 games; they had 18 last season.
*P Blake McAdams has been the most-used punter in MSU history, and the only one with 10,000 career yards, as he has booted 276 balls for 10,907 yards. That's 6.2 miles. But with his next punt the senior will tie Vanderbilt's Jim Arnold (1979-82) for the most punts in SEC history. McAdams is fourth in SEC yardage.
*MLB Dominic Douglas has been on a November tackling tear. After notching a career-best 15 stops against Kentucky, the senior was credited with 11 tackles at Alabama. In the process Douglas has reached 84 tackles for this season; he had 78 in 13 junior-year games playing at weak-side ‘backer.
*With two games left Douglas has just about wrapped up the team tackle-title for 2008. SLB K.J. Wright is well-back in second place at 55. But soph Wright is holding on to the tackle-for-loss lead at 6.5 to Douglas' 4.0.
*Douglas now ranks 2nd in SEC tackles per-game at 8.4, trailing Georgia's Ronnie Curran at 8.9.
*Senior DT Jessie Bowman was having a good night at Alabama with six tackles, until his season—and career—ended on a torn quadriceps ligament. Bowman had surgery Sunday, and finishes with 27 tackles, 4.5 for losses, and four passes blocked at the line.
*Senior DT Cortez McCraney is tied with Vanderbilt's Ryan Hamilton for the SEC lead in recovered fumbles with three in 10 games.
*A late-game collision of teammates making the tackle left senior S Derek Pegues with a concussion, which cost him a day's practice but shouldn't keep him out this last home game. In his final appearance at Scott Field, Pegues will try to add to his career interception total of 11. He's tied for 3rd on the MSU list, and needs one more to tie for 2nd with Izel McGill (12, 1994-97). But the record of 16 (Walt Harris, 1992-95) will take a lot of late-year work. Pegues has just one pick this senior season.
*Pegues holds the career record for interception touchdowns with three scores.
*Pegues will leave his name all over the kick-return record lists, too. He has fielded 74 punts (3rd) and 110 kickoffs (1st) in four seasons; and ranks 4th for punt yards (767) and 1st in kickoff return yards (2,455).
*Those kickoff totals, yards and returns, are both the most by any SEC specialist ever. And his combined 3,222 yards have just set the MSU record, surpassing Tony James (3,194, 1989-92); as well as moved Pegues up to 3rd-most combined yards in SEC history. He has two games left to reach the league mark of 3,357 by Kentucky's Derek Abney.
*It's been a tough November for junior HB Anthony Dixon, held to 48 yards by Kentucky and just 26 more by Alabama. So he's still awaiting arrival in the career top-five rushing list, at 2,407 in three seasons. #5 place belongs to James Johnson (2,452, 1997-98). The career record of 3,212 by Jerious Norwood (2002-05) is certainly within senior-season range.
*He likely won't get to 1,000 yards like last season. But at 673 yards for ten junior year games Dixon has topped the 668 of his freshman year in 12 games.
*Dixon already holds the program rushing touchdown mark with 29, having surpassed a 13-year record two weeks ago. And Dixon has a lot of games left to push that record into SEC top-ten status before he's through.
*Counting two TD catches, Dixon has accounted for 31 scores, the most of any Bulldog ever. He needs 41 to crack the SEC top-ten.
*Dixon is now fourth in MSU career scoring with 186 points, and the remaining three Dogs ahead of him got all their points by kicking.
*Dixon also holds the record for career carries with 622.
*QB Tyson Lee has been to extremes this last month on the schedule. After tossing for 261 yards against Kentucky, he had to literally scramble for 132 yards at Alabama on 11-of-28 accuracy, his lowest percentage of the season. In his first five starts Lee was a 60.9% thrower, 84-of-138.
*Considering the pressure Lee did well to only be sacked twice at Tuscaloosa, one of those running out of bounds. He has been bagged 22 times in his first college season. All last season State gave up 21 sacks, of three quarterbacks, in 13 games.
*Yet Lee's average gain per-catch actually improved in the last game, and is now at 10.0 yards even.
*His 31-yard touchdown toss to WR Jamayel Smith wasn't Lee's longest completion of the night. That came when RB Arnil Stallworth turned a ‘hot' flip into 32 yards of gain.
*In fact Lee has specialized in throwing to his backs, on purpose or under pressure. Dixon's four catches Saturday were most on the team with 32 yards gained.
*Lee did not have a pass picked at Alabama, and for the year he's in positive territory with 5 touchdown throws and four interceptions.
*Stallworth has emerged as a favorite target in all circumstances. In the last three games the junior fullback/halfback has caught 13 balls for 163 yards. All of Stallworth's 18 catches this year have been in the last five games, and he's averaged 12.4 yards each touch. Coming into the year Stallworth had 14 catches and 163 yards over two seasons.
*Junior WR Brandon McRae had a quiet night against Alabama, two grabs and 15 yards. Still he's having the best season by a Bulldog wideout in years with 45 receptions and 449 yards.
*After making just two grabs as a sophomore, McRae has had at least two catches every game this junior season.
*Senior WR Aubrey Bell has doubled his catch-total of last year, from 14 to 29. But his average gain is down, from 13.3 as a junior to 8.8 this season.
*The net-gain for State's offense as a whole is down. Where in 2007 Bulldog receivers—all positions—averaged 12.9 yards per catch, this year the total is just over 10.0 yards. But, this team will end up with more completions at their current pace, too.
*PK Adam Carlson is tied for 6th in MSU career made field goals at 24, in a three-way deadlock. He needs 30 makes to crack the career top-five. Carlson is currently tied for 7th in career attempts with Kinney Jordan (1975-76), both with 40.
*But Carlson needs a lot of help with two games left to make the program PAT record. He now has second place all to himself with 85, having broken the tie with Joel Logan (1987-90). The record is 94 by Brian Hazelwood (1995-98).
*Eight true freshmen have played so far this season and two—DE Sean Ferguson and TE Nelson Hurst—have started games. Other activated rookies are S Charles Mitchell, WR Delmon Robinson, LB Bo Walters, DT Josh Jackson, TE Kendrick Cook, and WR Arceto Clark.
*First-year frosh who have not played are: 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 (46).
*S Keith Fitzhugh, P Blake McAdams, LB Anthony Littlejohn, and S De'Mon Glanton all share the games-played lead with 46 apiece.