*September 5 marks the formal debut of the Dan Mullen era at Mississippi State. He is the 32nd head coach since 1895. If recent trends hold, it will be a successful opener for Mullen; the last three MSU head coaches all won their debuts; Rockey Felker in 1986, Jackie Sherrill in 1991, and Sylvester Croom in 2004. The last mentor to drop the opener was Emory Bellard in 1979, while Bob Tyler was tied in his first game in 1973.
*State is 74-33-2 in all lidlifters, and 50-15-1 when opening a season on the home field.
*Mississippi State fans have smashed all records for advance sales of season tickets this summer. As of today over 41,000 such ducats (both full-price, special packages, and student tickets) had been issued. Season tickets will remain on sale after this opener.
*State fans are familiar with JSU athletic director Bob Braddy, the longtime Tiger baseball coach who played many a game against Diamond Dog teams.
The Opponent: Jackson State is among the most respected names in college football, regardless of Division, having fielded some of the game's greatest players and hosts of future professionals. Tiger teams have won 16 SWAC championships since 1961 and been voted three Black College National Championships (1962, 1985, 1996). JSU is coming off consecutive East Division titles under Coach Rick Comegy (21-14) with the 2007 overall crown to his credit. And with a good collection of returning starters or top alternates back for more, the Tigers go into this year strong contenders to add to their title-total. This club is being tested early, not only daring to challenge a SEC program for opening week but taking on non-conference rival Tennessee State next Saturday. It's a concern because the Tigers have not been fast starters lately. But they do know how to finish a schedule strong.
Offense: The fact-sheet says they run a multiple offense, but during scouting State's staff has seen distinctly ‘spread' type tendencies from the Tigers. Which isn't surprising given the nature of their two triggermen. MSU fans also remember, at least briefly, quarterback Trae Rutland, though the last time he was seen in maroon-and-white it was also in pain after having a knee taken out by West Virginia. Since transferring Rutland has been up-and-down the JSU depth chart but he's the listed starter against his old school. He's also the leading returning rusher (497 net yards) from last fall with four running touchdowns to go with seven TD passes on 57% accuracy. But he also tossed ten picks. So redshirt freshman Dedric McDonald is very much in the pre-season picture now, and senior Michael Mosely (31%, 4 TDs, 3 picks) is still around. State is also having to scheme for a bunch of backs as JSU is four-deep here. Only a soph, Luther Edwards (445 yards, 7 TDs) is the leading veteran with classmate Darius Bolela (308 yards, 2 TDs, 7.0 per-carry) more likely to break longer runs. If the Tigers want to a true big body can line up as blocking back, either 240-pound Zarian Herring or 270-pound brute Stephen Capler. But this plan relies more on moves than muscle. Three of the leading five receivers return to either split or slot ends; X Keenan Tillman and Z Carlos Everett had 604 combined yards on their 39 catches together last season. Juco transfer Anthony Mayes is now expected to make an impact after redshirting a season. So is transfer tight end Spencer Spane. For that matter there are no less than 16 Tigers who came via the juco route on this roster, as well as a number of D-IA transfers. The offensive line is an interesting mix of old and new, and even some of the old is kind-of new. Such as senior center Antonio Colston, who didn't start a game last year but is listed to open now. In fact several of the '08 starters on the line are now backups going into game-one. What is consistent is the size, as the first Tiger line averages 311 pounds; the second unit…311 also!
Defense: It takes a healthy sense of self-confidence to call oneself the ‘Dark Side Defense.' To their credit though the Tigers allowed just 239 yards per-game last fall and were particularly stout on the ground yielding only 77 yards on average and nine running touchdowns in 12 games. The typical rush stopped after a mere 2.4 yards. With good reason given the strength JSU puts at the line of scrimmage with a four-man front that averages over 275 pounds. Left tackle Neal Pougue II started all dozen games as a sophomore and he gets to line up beside a pair of 290-pound seniors, right tackle Terrance Onyluke and end Terrence Banks who came from Temple. In fact all four starters come from out of state; way out with a pair from New Jersey and a Wisconsin native. And backup left end Charles Mustafaa began his college career at Kentucky. Jackson State will often come with a four-linebacker scheme, which keeps two 12-game starters of '08 both in the middle of everything. Senior ILB Marcus Jamison is the top returning tackler with 61 stops, while ILB partner Corderick Govan is a former Memphis Tiger. The varied set also allows senior Malcolm Palmer to play either as a true outside linebacker or drop into a safety position as needed. Kerry Hoskins got two starts at free safety in '08 and now moves up to the opening-game starter, ahead of true frosh Richard Hughes. The right corner has proven veteran Marcell Young, but the left side has been handed to juco transfer Jalil Johnson. Remember the strength JSU showed against the run last season? Teams tried their hand at throwing as a result and the Tiger secondary gave up 51% completions and 17 touchdowns. And with sack-specialist Marcus Benard gone, this is a side where things might not look so dark for opponents in 2009.
Specialists: Both are proven hands, or feet rather. Eric Perri is back for a senior season placekicking, after making good on 13 of 16 field goals and 22 of 26 PATs last year. And Brett Bennet averaged 39.3 yards punting as a junior with nine touchbacks and eight fair-catches. Receiver Everett produced 21.5 yards running back kickoffs; now he adds punt return to his resume, though QB Simpson took care of that job last fall.
The Series: This is the first meeting.
Bulldog Notebook: His status for the season-opener had yet to be stated by the coach. Still there's no denying that RB Anthony Dixon is the biggest name on the roster for now, and the one most evident in the updated record book. H egos into the senior season ranking 4th in career rushing yards with 2,603. That leaves him just 609 yards away from the career record of 3,212 by Jerious Norwood (2002-05).
*In fact Dixon needs just one good game to surpass Michael Davis (1991-94) at 2,721 for third place. Walter Packer (1973-76) is in second place at 2,820 yards.
*Dixon has nine 100-yard efforts in his 38 varsity games. Norwood holds that record with 13.
*Dixon already holds the MSU record for rushing touchdowns with 30; and counting the four receiving TDs he has reached the end zone more often than any Dog ever with 34 career scores.
*He has 204 career points, most by a non-kicker. The record belongs to Brian Hazelwood (1995-98) at 218, a mark that ought not last much longer.
*Dixon's 653 rushes are also a MSU record.
*Dixon has 2,929 all-purpose yards as a Bulldog, 9th on that list which counts rushing, returning, and receiving gains. Packer's 4,169 is the record.
*But there are not many other Bulldogs who have any offensive resumes worth noting, whether season or career. WR Brandon McRae has 53 career receptions but of that 51 came last season when he had almost one-quarter of the club's catches. In fact there is not another MSU wideout that had a single catch last season.
*Returning backs and tight ends returning combined for 68 catches last season and six touchdowns.
*RB Christian Ducre goes into his senior year with 709 rushing yards in three seasons. His 4.2-yard average gain is better than Dixon's 4.0 rate. Ducre has 1,006 all-purpose yards.
*QB Tyson Lee started eight of his 11 games last season as a transfer. He posted a positive TD-to-INT rate of seven to five, and had 1,519 passing yards. But his 58.85% completion rate is actually the best of any Bulldog quarterback on-record, as far as career accuracy. Second is Dave Marler (1977-78) at 56.8%. The best four-year rate belongs to Sleepy Robinson (1989-92) at 55.7%.
*Lee also has the best ‘interception percentage' recorded at State. Only five of his 260 passes last year were picked off, or 1.9%. The best four-year rate on record is Derrick Taite (1993-96) at 3.4% interceptions.
*He's not listed as a starter this week, but OG Craig Jenkins has both the most starts (30) and games (36) of any Bulldog blocker. Center J. C. Brignone is second at 12 and 20.
*Only three of the listed starters on defense for game-one were starters in the 2008 Egg Bowl: SLB K.J. Wright, RCB Marcus Washington, DT Kyle Love. But there are five other Dog defenders who opened at least one game last year back.
*Senior MLB Jamar Chaney will join the 200-tackle club this weekend. He has 198 in 37 career games. Chaney would have gotten there last September if not for breaking an ankle at the end of the opening game.
*Wright is the top returning tackler from 2008, having made 72 stops as a sophomore to finish second on that squad. He led the team in sacks with 4.0.
*The starting secondary has one career interception among them: by RC Washington in 2007.
*LB Karlin Brown is the only returning '08 defender who intercepted a pass; two, out of the team's eight total picks.
*No Dog who returned a punt last fall returned.
*State will also have brand-new specialists making their first college punts and placekicks.
*Twenty seven Bulldogs on this roster have at least one start to their credit. Dixon trails Jenkins in total starts by one, 30 to 29; but he has 19 consecutive starts. CB Washington is next with 13.
*The tentative two-deep shows six junior college transfers listed to start both the team's 2009 debut as well as their first college game. One, RT Phillip Freeman, redshirted last season. The other five—WR Leon Berry, DT Pernell McPhee, WLB Chris White, P Heath Hutchins, and PK Sean Brauchle—are new for '09 though all also took part in spring training as mid-year transfers.
*Scholarship freshmen who redshirted in 2008 and now have their first chances for varsity action are: CB Louis Watson, CB Corey Broomfield, DE Nick Bell, LB Michael Hunt, DE Trevor Stigers, DL Devin Jones, OG Tobias Smith, OG Templeton Hardy, WR O'Neal Wilder, WR Charles Bailey, DE Shane McCardell.