Offense: Fans focus on runner and throwers and catchers; coaches look at the line of scrimmage first. And this is where it all begins with a veteran bunch of blockers—two seniors, three juniors—that make everything the Rebels run, or throw, practical. Already an all-star, Mike Oher opted to stay in college a senior season and improve his draft stock further…if that was possible for one of the game's top tackles. He takes care of the left side; the right end breaks the scales at almost 700 combined pounds between John Jerry and Maurice Miller, who list now at tackle and guard respectively though they've interchanged before. With all that bulk bulling ahead UM backs usually get a good head of steam up before reaching the line of scrimmage. Junior RB Cordera Eason has profited most directly with 605 yards and three touchdowns, and rookie Brandon Bolen has 401 yards and three scores of his own. And of course this gameplan often eliminates any middle-man in getting ball to runner; H-back Dexter McCluster thrives on the direct snap and taking off in whatever direction looks promising. He's averaging 5.7 yards per carry and has four TDs to-date. With the quarterback job at Texas locked up, Jevan Snead wisely looked for another school to show his stuff and landed in Oxford. He has thrived throwing to a trio of big-play targets and has 2,257 passing yards and 19 touchdowns against 11 picks. And Snead has the ability and attitude to gain ground on his own, having scored three times himself. Normally though his mobility allows extra time to look downfield…far downfield in the case of speedsters Shay Hodge (587 yards, 7 TDs) and Mike Wallace (599, 4). And McCluster has the most receptions of all at 37, for 535 yards and a touchdown. All those TDs add up to an offense that ranks 5th in SEC scoring, as well as third in yardage. This unit is mid-SEC-pack in turnover rate, and does commit a few more penalties than the norm. But points are all that matters and Ole Miss puts those on the board.
Defense: Big up front, fast in support. What else needs saying about a unit that makes this classic formula works very well? Well, the stats for example. This is the SEC's second-best defense on the ground, allowing only 98 yards for the game and under three yards per-attempt. And being able to squash the run is reason-one the Rebels are so efficient on third downs (3rd SEC). Just budging this four-man front is an accomplishment with nearly 600 pounds packed into the middle. Senior Peria Jerry is one of the league's most active and able DTs with no less than 13 tackles behind the line and four sacks. Ether Lawon Scott (322 pounds) or TedLaurent (303) will line up on the center, tying things up so ends Marcus Tillman and Kentrell Lockett can charge; between them they have 15 tackles for losses. Tony Fein is the biggest of the linebackers at 245 pounds and keeps the middle under control. Outside ‘backers Ashlee Palmer and Allen Walker aren't just safety-sized, they cover the same sort of ground against run or pass. And wherever the ball goes, sooner or later FS Kendrick Lewis and SS Jamarca Sanford will show up. Between them they have 154 tackles, and Lewis accounts for four of the squad's dozen interceptions. Cornerbacks Dustin Mouzon and Marshay Green also have a pick apiece. And they get plenty of chances because opponents wisely opt to go aerial more often against this defense. It shows in the stats because the Rebels are last in the league in pass yards allowed and completion percentage both. Then again, putting the ball up so often ultimately becomes an all-or-nothing tactic, and as the record shows UM has usually come out all right.
Specialists: Green does more than cover receivers. He is a first-class punt return man with a 9.9 average and touchdown on his '08 resume. Wideout Wallace handles kickoff with a net gain of 24.8 and a 98-yard scoring return. Junior PK Joshua Shene has been automatic on PATs, 40 of 40 this year, and good on 15 of 17 three-point tries with a long kick of 47 yards. P Rob Park's 39.5-yard average is adequate because coverage is excellent with 19 fair-catches and 14 kicks downed inside the 20-yard line.
The Series: It isn't the SEC's longest rivalry, having opened only in 1901. But is the state of Mississippi's most-played and most meaningful series. Ole Miss owns a 59-39-6 lead overall, and a 20-10-3 advantage in games played at Oxford and a four-game streak on the home field. State last won there in 1998, that game clinching the only SEC Western Division won by a Mississippi program to date. The longest winning streak belongs to MSU with 13-straight victories from 1911-25. Ole Miss' long win streak was 1930-35, though the Rebels were 15-0-3 from 1947-63. Sylvester Croom is 2-2 against Rebel teams as a coach; Houston Nutt is 9-1 against State, all as Arkansas head coach.
The Last Time (November 23, 2007): Mississippi State's hopes of a winning season and bowl berth were dimming fast on a Friday afternoon at Scott Field. For three-plus quarters the visiting Rebels were in near-complete control, leading 14-0 with eight minutes left. That was enough time though for the Bulldogs to pull off a comeback as improbable as it was emotional. Of course Ole Miss' domination to that point had seemed just as improbable, not to mention frustrating for the home-field folk. Yet the visitors belied their winless SEC record by putting up a touchdown on their first turn, with Benjarvus Green-Ellis scoring from 14 yards out at 10:18 of the opening quarter. And in the third period quarterback Brent Schaeffer found Shay Hodge for a 13-yard score at 7:26. Meanwhile State's offense was completely shut-down, managing just a couple of first-half first downs and no points. And had another Schaffer toss in the third period been caught, instead of dropped, the Rebels would have likely taken an uncatchable lead into the fourth quarter. As it was Ole Miss had a 4th-and-1 at their 49-yard line midway of the last period…and tried to win the game there with a run. State stuffed Green-Ellis for a loss and six plays later QB Wesley Carroll flipped the ball to HB Anthony Dixon for a four-yard touchdown pass at 7:51. State's next turn seemed sure to tie the tally before Reb Ashlee Palmer intercepted Carroll at the ten-yard line. But Ole Miss had to punt, and S Derek Pegues made MSU history by evading the first waves and breaking free on a 75-yard touchdown return at 2:38. Ole Miss used up not quite two minutes of the ensuing possession, with a couple of good passes knocked loose from receivers. The Bulldogs got the ball back on their 35-yard line with 36 ticks remaining. It was sufficient time for Carroll to complete three throws of 40 net yards around his own 11-yard keeper, and get in range for PK Adam Carlson to knock through a career-long, 48-yard field goal at 0:12 for the 17-14 margin of MSU victory. Ole Miss won the stat sheet with 319 yards to State's 273, but the Bulldogs got all the gains and points they needed in a frantic half-quarter to win back the Golden Egg.
Bulldog Player Notes: MLB Dominic Douglas is playing his very best here in the last month of his college tenure. In his three November games the senior has tallied 15, 11, and a career-best 16 tackles. That output in the Arkansas game gives Douglas an even 100 stops for the season, the first Bulldog defender with triple-digit tackles since 102 by Quentin Culberson in 2005. Douglas had 78 tackles as a junior.
*Douglas goes into this final weekend of the regular season leading the SEC in tackles-per-game, at 9.1.
*SLB K.J. Wright will end up second on the team tackle chart; he has 64 going into the finale. But the sophomore is tops in tackles for losses at 8.5. That includes a team-best 4.0 sacks, and Wright collected both baggings in the Arkansas game. The last Dog defender with two sacks in one game was Avery Hannibal at Kentucky in 2007; the last linebacker to do it was Clarence McDougal against Ole Miss in 2005.
*The Bulldog defense picked off one Razorback pass, bringing the season interception total to seven in 11 games. Last year's team had 18 intercepts in 13 games. 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.
*In the first four games of the season Mississippi State fumbled the ball eight times and lost possession on six of them. In the last seven games the Bulldogs have only lost two of seven fumbles…but the most recent of these was a technicality. When Arkansas recovered an on-sides kick it had to be ruled a ‘fumble' by the receiving team.
*S Derek Pegues' third-quarter interception in the Arkansas game was the second of this senior season and gave him 12 career picks. This ties him for 2nd on the MSU list with Izell MCGill (1994-97). The record is 16 by Walt Harris (1992-95).
*Pegues has not taken either of this year's intercepts into an end zone, but he already held the career record of three touchdown returns coming into the season.
*He also owns the career marks for kickoffs returned (111) and yardage (2,484). Both are Southeastern Conference records.
*Pegues fielded five punts in his last home appearance, giving him 79 returns for his career; that is third-most ever by a Bulldog. His gains on those punt runbacks, 792 yards, is also 3rd on the MSU chart and just behind #2 Tom McWilliams (795, 1944, 46-48).
*Pegues' combined return yards, 3,276 on both kickoffs and punts, ranks him 3rd all-time in SEC history and only a couple of big-breakers from passing LSU's Domanick Davis (3,294) and Kentucky's Derek Abney (3,357) to graduate as the league's all-time return leader.
*HB Anthony Dixon had been held in-check his first two November games, with 74 yards combined rushing against Kentucky and Alabama. The junior more than made up for lost time, and ground, against Arkansas. In the last home game of '08 Dixon exploded for a career-high 179 running yards, on 23 carries.
*It was Dixon's ninth 100-yard output as a Bulldog. State is 7-2 when Dixon gets triple-digit gains, and 10-3 when he carries the ball 20 or more times.
*Dixon just rushed into the MSU career top-five for ground-gains, now ranking 4th with 2,586 yards in three seasons. On the same day he passed James Johnson (2,452) and Michael Haddix (2,558) to climb two notches on the list. Next up is the 2,721 of Michael Davis for third place, and the career record of 3,212 by Jerious Norwood (2002-05) is certainly within senior-season range.
*It will take a big day at Oxford, though, for Dixon to post consecutive 1,000-yard years. He has 852 going into the Egg Bowl, after rushing for 1,066 as a sophomore.
*Dixon's 63-yard touchdown jaunt Saturday gave him 30 rushing scores in three years, extending his own MSU career record. But he added a pair of touchdowns on catches, giving him a total of 34 touchdowns…also a Bulldog record.
*In the process Dixon became just the third MSU player to top 200 points; he has 204 now, behind only kickers Brian Hazelwood (218, 1995-98) and Artie Cosby (211, 1983-86).
*Combo-back Arnil Stallworth had only carried the ball nine times this season. But he has garnered 49 yards on those chances and scored his first rushing touchdown since the 2006 Tulane game. Stallworth has been more productive catching short throws for good gains, with 260 yards on 22 receptions and a touchdown in the Kentucky game. All of his catches have come since the LSU game.
*Stallworth is netting a tick under ten yards every time he gets the ball.
*QB Tyson Lee bounced back from a tough night in Tuscaloosa, where he was 11-of-28 throwing, to connect on 23 of 40 throws against Arkansas for 219 yards. That was the second-highest output of his still-young State career, after getting 261 yards in the Kentucky game.
*As a starting quarterback, Lee is 107-of-178 for 60.1%. He was 30-of-48, 62.5%, as a backup the first month of the season.
*With his touchdown tosses, both to Dixon, last game Lee has now thrown for seven scores against four interceptions. And his average gain on completed throws is 9.9 yards.
*Lee was sacked once in the latest game, and has been bagged 23 times in 10 contests. All of 2007 the Bulldog passers were bagged 21 total times in 13 games.
*WR Jamayel Smith hasn't had the complete season he hoped for. But the senior has come on strong in the last month of his career, with a dozen catches in the last three games and 135 yards. Half of those receptions came against Arkansas, the foe he torched for a career-day of ten grabs and 201 yards as a junior. Smith now has 21 grabs all year and 279 yards.
*Junior WR Brandon McRae is the first Bulldog with 50 catches in a season since Justin Jenkins (62, 2003), and only the second since 1995.
*McRae has 510 yards so far, after netting 50 yards on two catches all last season. In fact McRae has had two or more catches every game this year.
*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.
*Senior Blake McAdams was already the most-utilized punter in Mississippi State history, and the only kicker with 10,000 punting yards on the resume. But now he owns the SEC career record for punts, having kicked it away 281 times in four seasons. And his 11,118 yards is fifth-most in league annals, covering 6.3 miles.
*PK Adam Carlson is 6th in MSU career made field goals at 25. He needs 30 makes to crack the career top-five. Carlson is 7th in career attempts with 42.
*And Carlson is second in career PATs made at 89. The record is 94 by Brian Hazelwood (1995-98). Carlson is also 7th in career scoring with 164 points.
*Eight true freshmen have played so far this season and three—DE Sean Ferguson, TE Nelson Hurst, LB Bo Walters—have started games. Other activated rookies are S Charles Mitchell, WR Delmon Robinson, 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 (47).
*S Keith Fitzhugh, P Blake McAdams, LB Anthony Littlejohn, and S De'Mon Glanton all share the games-played lead with 47 apiece.