Bulldog Football Scouting Report

The Game: Mississippi State (1-0) and Auburn (1-0) each open their SEC seasons with a 6:00 meeting at Jordan-Hare Stadium. The conference contest will be telecast on FSN, with the radio broadcast on XM 201 or Sirius 217.

*This game features a meeting of new head coaches, playing their first league game. The last time State and Auburn met when each was under a first-year coach was in 1930, as Chris Cagle's Maroons topped Chet Wynne's Tigers 7-6 in Birmingham.

*Mississippi State is 25-48-2 in all SEC season openers, and 11-25-1 when playing the first league game on the road.

*Jordan-Hare Stadium is the 10th-largest campus venue in the country with a capacity of 87,451. But, that is only the sixth-largest stadium in the Southeastern Conference.

The Opponent: It's still too early to claim he's won many hearts, as Tiger faithful will continue to debate bringing back former defensive coordinator Gene Chizik to succeed his old boss. But his first act as head coach should mute at least some of the background noise, with a thorough thrashing of Louisiana Tech. There's not much carry-over from the previous staff but Chizik did succeed in hiring assistants, field and office alike, who understand both Auburn and the league. This should smooth the transition after last fall's chaos. But then the true test comes in the last half of the year. Those four rivalry games between Oct. 24 and Nov. 27 will determine what sort of sounds come from the fan base.

Offense: It seemed like a good idea at the time, switching to the trendy spread approach. The result though was a 2008 offense only, well, Mississippi State could envy, ranking 11th in SEC touchdowns and 104th nationally in yardage. Ahhh, but perhaps the Tigers just made the move a year too early. Because under new management Auburn has already matched the peak points for 2008 (37) with 556 total yards against LaTech. A year and a new staff has clearly done Chris Todd good. The former Texas Tech triggerman had his issues last fall, not helped by a mid-year coordinator change, and ended up a 55% thrower with five touchdowns and six interceptions in seven games. Well, he opened this season with 255 yards and a pair of scores with no big mistakes, as new coordinator Guz Malzahn and Todd make a better team. Interestingly, Todd now has a hand in the longest offensive play ever at Auburn after a 93-yard pass last Saturday. Kodi Burns isn't out of the picture though; the former starter takes turns as a runner, receiver, and even triggerman and got to run for a TD in the debut. Spreading the offense, and thus the defenders, out makes RB Ben Tate even more dangerous as he got 117 yards on 20 totes. He's the power; freshman Onterior McCalebb is the speed having debuted with 148 yards and a TD on just 22 carries. The guy on the receiving end of that record pass play is starting WR Terrell Zachary; while his other two catches Saturday netted just five years, the big break showed why the spread has so much big-play potential. Junior Mario Fannin had 20 catches and two TDs last fall at receiver; now as an H-back he got eight grabs in this opener alone, for 82 yards. And while he didn't get a catch in game-one, one Tommy Tuberville legacy remains: a big tight end who can run routes in Tommy Trott. It's not hard to guess which side this offense tilts to, with veterans on the left side of the line. Junior LT Lee Ziemba has 26-straight starts to his credit, and C Ryan Pugh 16-straight. Former right guard Byron Isom has moved over to the left side, too, to make room for 313-pound junior Mike Berry. And while Andrew McCain just made his first college start, at RT, he's a senior and hardly green. The Tigers did get a little sloppy with the ball on opening day with three fumbles (two lost), and eight penalties were bound to annoy. Still it's apparent that year-two in the spread is going to receive better reviews than the first time around.

Defense: It's not just the scheme and style that is familiar here; so are a lot of the names, with six 2008 starters lining up for the first defensive snap of 2009. Yes, there were key losses, most notably in the middle of the line with a graduation and an early-NFL departure. For that matter a top corner also bolted for pro ball as a junior. Still there is no lack of proven personnel back to do what Auburn defenses always do: stuff the line, chase the ball, and hit anything that moves. Certainly having a pair of outstanding defensive ends is a fine staring point, and senior Antonio Coleman and junior Michael Groggans combined for nine stops against LaTech. But the interior isn't exactly unmanned; given his chance to start senior NG Jake Ricks made six tackles Saturday and soph DT Nick Fairly five more. And both tip the scales around 295 pounds. Rebuilding? No, not really. Veteran linebackers Craig Stevens and Josh Byrnes are already in a statistical race of their own, each having eight tackles credited in the opener, leaving poor new starter Adam Herring just two stops to make. The sophomore will probably find more action as the year develops of course. Depth, yes, they have it with freshmen Jonathan Evans and Harris Gaston. In two years FS Zach Etheridge has earned his place in SEC gameplans, and he led the Tigers in tackles last year with 75. He's joined by freshman S Daren Bates in this secondary. The all-star candidate is a senior, Walter McFadden, coming off a two-pick year. Just two because challenging him isn't the smartest play-call. And he can tackle, too. Despite lack of scoring support Auburn still ranked 29th in NCAA yardage defense and 14th in scoring defense last year. Now that the Tiger O is putting up more points, these standings should only improve. Oh, and here's something to think about: State hasn't thrown for 100 yards against an Auburn defense in the last three tries.

Specialists: Both are back. Clinton Durst was the SEC's 5th-best punter at 42.1 yards as a junior, while junior Wes Byrum is already off to a good start kicking this year after knocking through field goals of 25, 49, and 47 against Tech. He was 11-of-19 last season. In the first game, McCalebb and Fannin handled kickoff returns and either Fannin or Anthony Gulley fielded punts.

The Series: The a&m universities of these neighboring states first met in 1905 and have played 82 times, including annually since 1955. Auburn holds a 57-23-2 lead and has won seven of the last eight games, interrupted only by State's 19-14 victory at Auburn in 2007. Tiger teams hold a 25-6 lead on their home field anyway. Though, the programs have met more often at neutral sites (35 times) than at campus venues.

The Last Time: Do we really want to review the now legendary, for the wrong MSU reasons, 3-2 fiasco at Scott Field? Neither offense obviously scored a point of their own, unless one counts a Tiger safety when Auburn was called for holding on a pass play out of the end zone. That came at 7:05 of the fourth quarter and made the only impact on State's side of the scoreboard. It wasn't enough to match the 35-yard field goal by Auburn's Wes Byrum at 7:38 of the second period, though the Bulldogs had their chances. Most notably a 38-yard try by Adam Carlson that missed in the third quarter. Byrum also missed two other field goal kicks in an evening of futility for everyone but the respective defenses. Auburn did roll up 315 total yards but most of that came on three long pass completions, on identical post patterns; and none led to points anyway. Chris Todd was 14-of-26 passing for 154 yards, more than State's entire output of 116 yards as Wes Carroll was 10-of-25 for 78 yards. The remarkable score caught national attention, for all the wrong reasons of course.

Bulldog Notebook: After sitting out his senior-season opener under suspension, RB Anthony Dixon will be back in action for a 2009 debut this week. While still off-limits to media for the time being, Dixon surely hopes his fourth shot at Auburn goes more like his last trip to Jordan-Hare when he ran for 103 yards in the 2007 Bulldog win. Last year at Scott Field, hobbled by an ankle, he managed only five yards on seven carries in the loss. As a freshman he picked up 69 yards against the Tiger defense.

*Dixon is Mississippi State's all-time touchdown leader, both rushing (30) and overall (34). But he has never gotten into an end zone against Auburn.

*Dixon begins his delayed season 609 yards short of the career rushing record for State. He's chasing the 3,212 by Jerious Norwood (2002-05). But with one good game he'll bolt past the 2,721 of Michael Davis (1991-94) for third place. Walter Packer (1973-76) is third at 2,820.

*Dixon has nine 100-yard efforts in his 38 varsity games. Norwood holds that record with 13.

*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.

*Before missing the second half with shoulder spasms, QB Tyson Lee was having his most efficient afternoon as a passer completing 9-of-14 throws for 97 yards. None of his throws were intercepted. In fact only one of Lee's last 91 passes, over four games, have been picked off.

*This gives Lee a career (12 games) ‘interception percentage' of .0182, which is best of any Bulldog passer ever so far. #2 on the list is .0296 by Omarr Conner (2003-06).

*Lee's career completion rate also ranks first in MSU annals at 59.1%, again in just a dozen games.

*As a redshirt freshman QB Chris Relf got into just two games (Southeastern Louisiana, Ole Miss) and completed two of nine passes for 13 yards. His first completion of this season not only went for 15 yards but scored a touchdown, to WR Chad Bumphis.

*Relf not only threw for three touchdowns in the opener, but he ran for another. It was the first such four-TD day by a Bulldog quarterback since Kevin Fant against Oregon in 2003.

*And talk about efficient, Relf only needed to complete seven balls to get three TD passes.

*WR Brandon McRae began his senior season with two catches in the opener, giving him a streak of 13-straight games with at least one reception. He had a team-best 53 catches in 2008.

*Other than McRae, not a single veteran State wideout had a catch to their credit last year. But after two seasons as a defensive back, Tay Bowser celebrated a return to offense with two catches and 25 yards. As a 2006 freshman wideout he caught one ball all year, for 21 yards, before moving to cornerback.

*RB Robert Elliot did his own celebrating in the opener. A year after his September injury at LSU, the soph scored a rushing touchdown in this year's debut. He had one rushing TD in 2008 before the season-ending knee injury.

*Three true freshmen receivers combined for four catches in the opening game.

*RB Christian Ducre rushed for 24 yards and caught a pass for 12 more, giving the senior 1,042 career all-purpose yards.

*Senior MLB Jamar Chaney collected five tackles in this opener, and joined the 200-tackle club in the process. He now has 203 credited stops in 38 career games.

*Junior SLB K.J. Wright, the team's sack-leader last year at 4.0, got off to a good start this season with one sack against Jackson State.

*The Bulldog secondary roster had one total interception among them coming into the season. Against Jackson State Dog DBs picked off a pair of throws, both career-first interceptions for soph SS Charles Mitchell and redshirt freshman CB Corey Broomfield. And Broomfield returned his pick 43 yards for a touchdown. It was the first defensive score by a Bulldog since Anthony Johnson's intercept return in the 2007 Alabama game.

*WR Leon Berry, making his senior college debut, returned the game's opening kickoff 38 yards. But he lost a yard on his only try at returning a JSU punt. No Bulldog who returned any punts in '08 is back this year.

*Both kicking specialists were playing for the first time as well. P Heath Hutchins made it count by averaging 49 yards even on his two punts, with one downed inside the 20-yard line and the other covered for a one-yard loss. But PK Sean Brauchle got off to a rougher start, missing his first two field goal tries (38, 37 yards) before knocking a 25-yarder through in the second half.

*Because he returned the game's opening kickoff, WR Berry did not get to be on the field for the first offensive snap. Thus only four of the five spring juco transfers were credited as starters: the two specialists along with DE Pernell McPhee and WLB Chris White.

*Scholarship true freshmen who got to play in the opener were: WR Chad Bumphis, WR Brandon Heavens, ST Cameron Lawrence, DB/ST Jonathan Banks, WR Chris White, DT Fletcher Cox, DT Josh Boyd.

*True frosh yet to play are: RB Montrel Conner, WR Dennis Thames, WR Ricco Sanders, QB Tyler Russell, RB LaDarius Perkins, DB Nickoe Whitley, RB Williams Shumpert, LB Deonte Skinner, OL Gabriel Jackson, DL Johnathan McKenzie, OL Sam Watts.

*Redshirted 2008 scholarship freshmen who got their chance to play at last were: CB Louis Watson, CB Corey Broomfield, DE Nick Bell, LB Michael Hunt, DE Trevor Stigers, DL Devin Jones, OG Templeton Hardy, WR O'Neal Wilder, WR Charles Bailey, DE Shane McCardell.

*Redshirts yet to play are OG Tobias Smith.


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