*But, it's been almost a decade since a Bulldog team beat a top-ten opponent; that was an upset of #3 Florida back in 2000 at Scott Field. Since then State has lost 15-straight meetings with top-ten teams.
*This will be MSU's first appearance on the new SEC Network plan, part of the league's multiple network package that will have all State games on some sort of broadcast. Next week's home game with Tech has already been scheduled for CSS with a 6:30 timeslot.
*As of Wednesday afternoon a limited number of tickets were available for general public sale. These were unsold season tickets that are being offered now for single game purchase through 1-888-GODAWGS.
The Opponent: Not a few folk wanted to tab them for SEC West favorite, but held off for two obvious reasons: a known schedule and an unproven passing attack. Well, nothing can be done about hosting Florida next month or a November slate that takes the Tigers to Tuscaloosa and Oxford, which means LSU has the most uphill of routes to Atlanta. And three games in it's still a fair question just how well they can throw the ball under real pressure. But the catchers and runners are there to get things done fast, and few foes can count on coming back against a typical Tiger defense that doesn't just hit, it hurts. Which is why there's still the chance that come December those hesitant forecasters could well be saying ‘see, I almost told you so.'
Offense: So then, let's go right to the crucial position. It wasn't hard for fans to focus their fury on erratic quarterbacking last fall, when first-year triggermen Jarrett Lee and Jordan Jefferson—to use just one stat—combined for 17 interceptions and 16 touchdown passes. Lee accounted for 16 and 14 of those respectively, though it's not the only reason Jefferson has moved ahead of his classmate as the #1 guy. The 6-5 soph is hitting 64% through three games with five scores and a lone pick, and netting ten yards per completion. Of course that's not so hard to do when tossing to targets that can take any catch, any where, the proverbial distance. Dog defenders couldn't catch Z-man Brandon LaFell last year and he's already got three touchdowns this season on his 14 grabs. Terrance Toliver (14 catches, 2 TDs) lines up as the other regular wideout, and in three-receiver sets both R.J. Jackson and Chris Mitchell produce. Then there's the guy to really watch in clutch settings, though no matter the attention TE Richard Dickson still finds—or makes—open room for himself as needed. Even at 240 pounds though the tight end looks puny compared to whichever tackle he's lined up beside. Wanna see experience? Look at LT, because Ciron Black has 45 (!) career starts. That makes the right side look almost green by comparison, except of course G Lyle Hitt (29) and T Joseph Barksdale (16) are pretty seasoned senior citizens themselves. Even with a couple of sophs starting in the middle LSU has allowed only five sacks, same as Florida for example. It's kinda surprising not to see Charles Scott's name in the SEC top-ten rushers this week, given how he pounded the ground for 1,174 yards and 18 scores last year. But the senior is very much involved the offense and gets 4.4 per-carry this season. He's just having to share the ball with classmate Keiland Williams, who not only is netting identical per-game yards of 54.7 but has two TDs and a 6.1 normal gain. And there's always the mighty-mite Trindon Holliday ready to flash by defenders not ready for pure, unrepentant speed. This is not a finished offensive product, as the SEC stat sheet shows. But the Tigers take fair care of the ball, don't draw many flags, and move the chains on third downs. Everything else will come with time…if there's enough of that between now and the showdowns ahead.
Defense: Much like their counterparts across the line, this is not a unit off to a fast statistical start in most categories…until checking the one that matters. Allowing three touchdowns in three games signals that LSU is still to be taken very seriously on defense. And don't read too much into official ‘returning' starters and the like, either. LDE Rahim Alem might only have had one start before 2009, but he's a senior being promoted for all-star and playing that way with a couple of sacks and dozen tackles already. For that matter a pair of seniors are around at both tackles, and Al Woods and Charles Alexander (a familiar name for really old Dogs) crush the scales with a combined 610 or so pounds. Suddenly a mere 3.7 net gain on rush attempts makes more sense. Is Harry Coleman a linebacker, or a safety? And does it really matter where LSU places the senior because he is leading the team with 25 tackles. For that matter Kelvin Sheppard is listed as a backup at two LB slots yet he's second in stops at 19. And there's nothing weak about 245-pound WLB Perry Riley, one of seven seniors projected to start this weekend. None of those are safeties, though that doesn't bother Chad Jones. The junior FS has half his team's four interceptions and 62 yards' worth of returns on them. Both '08 starting corners are back for more and senior Chris Hawkins has got in on 15 tackles. His backup, Danny McCray, doubles as the nickel safety. There are some rough spots yet to be addressed as LSU is just 10th in allowing first downs as well as third-down conversions. Nor has this unit forced the turnovers typical of Tiger defenses, or at least not yet. Again, what matters is that LSU is among the league's stingiest squads in the red zone, and points of any sort are hard to come by. Because scores count for more than stats.
Specialists: Both are new, and soph Josh Jasper has settled into the PK job quite nicely. He's been good on all five field goals and even hit a 52-yarder last week. Junior P Derek Helton is taking a bit longer to come around with a 38.2 yard average, though over half his kicks have been fair-caught to keep net punting steady. And opponents don't usually dare boom the ball away and give Holliday even an extra tenth-of-a-tick's lead time; if he comes out of Saturday with just that 7.4 return average State will be satisfied. Holliday and Ron Brooks both return kickoffs.
The Series: This is State's second-oldest active series, dating back to the second year of football in Starkville, played annually (with the exception of 1943 of course) since 1926. LSU holds a 66-33-3 lead, that margin aided by the fact every game from 1934-57 was played in Baton Rouge. In fact the Tigers never had to visit Scott Field from 1934 up to 1982. They still hold a 11-6-1 lead in Starkville games where State last won in 1999 before the Tigers began the current nine-year winning streak.
The Last Time: September 27, 2008 Visiting Mississippi State gave the best performance in a mostly-dismal September but it wasn't enough as #5-ranked LSU eased out to a 34-24 decision in Tiger Stadium. The Bulldogs got on the board first with a 42-yard field goal by Adam Carlson before LSU tied it up on their own 38-yard kick just two minutes later. And before the opening quarter ended the Tigers had taken a 10-3 lead on Charles Scott's one-yard dive. Scott made it a two-touchdown lead at 10:10 of the second period with another one-yard run by Scott on fourth down. The Dogs got a gift before halftime though as LSU fumbled at midfield and after big gainers from Anthony Dixon and Tyson Lee it was Christian Ducre scoring from five yards out at 2:20. That was as close as the visitors could make things, though, as LSU scored on their opening two turns of the new half. It took a heads-up recover in the end zone by tight end Richard Dickson to finish a touchdown toss from Jarrett Lee to Brandon LaFell as the receiver fumbled at the goal line. A field goal stretched the margin to 27-10 through three periods. State was able to make the scoreboard look better in the last quarter as Dixon scored at 10:25 on a one-yard punch and Ducre pulled in a Lee toss at 2:40 for touchdown. But LSU kept in control as their Lee threw a 43-yard TD in-between. He was 18-of-27 for 261 yards while State's Lee was 17-of-26 for 175 yards. Scott carried 27 times for 141 yards, while Dog Dixon was held to 50 yards on 15 totes. And while LaFell didn't score, he caught seven balls for an even 100 yards.
Bulldog Notebook: RB Anthony Dixon has opened his last SEC season in fine style. After picking up 92 yards rushing at Auburn, along with a touchdown, he gained 123 more at Vanderbilt. It was his tenth 100-yard effort, tying him for third place on the MSU career list. The record is 13 by Jerious Norwood (2002-05).
*Dixon also moved a rung closer to Norwood on the career rushing chart. He ran past Michael Davis (1991-94) to take over third place with 2,818 yards, and needs just three more yards to surpass Walter Packer (1973-76) for second slot. Norwood's record is 3,212.
*Dixon didn't score at Vanderbilt but already holds the program records for both overall touchdowns (35) and rushing scores (31). He's scored four times on passes, though in twos games this year Dixon has yet to be thrown a ball.
*Dixon now has 210 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 is about to become the first Bulldog ever to tote the ball 700 times. He has 694 carries to date.
*And he ranks 7th in all-purpose yards with 3,144. Because Dixon doesn't return kicks, Packer's record of 4,169 is likely out of reach though.
*State has only scored three rushing touchdowns through three games and Dixon has just one of those. The other two were scored by quarterbacks, as Tyson Lee and Chris Relf have one each. In fact Relf is now second in team rushing at 178 yards, and his 6.4 gain-per-carry is well ahead of Dixon's 5.2.
*Call it quality over quantity. Lee has only thrown 38 balls through three starts and completed 23 of those, a 60.5%. And he has not been intercepted, which gives him a ‘interception rate' of just 1.67%. That is by far the best in available MSU records, though of course Lee has worked at QB less than a season-and-a-half. Still a career completion rate of 59.9%, also best in MSU records, is still impressive.
*Where Lee's average completion this year nets 9.4 yards, Relf is getting 11.9 yards on each caught ball.
*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.
*WR Leon Berry has climbed to the top of State's catching-list this week, with seven grabs in three games…actually the last two as he didn't get a catch in the opener. His 77 yards so far is also best on the squad.
*Berry can count on getting the ball in kicking situations, too, as the top return man of State's September. And one of the better in the league for that matter with a typical 25.6-yard net on kickoffs. A holding penalty negated a touchdown return to open the Vanderbilt game.
*Berry is fourth this week in SEC all-purpose gains.
*After a big opener, WR Chad Bumphis had to watch most of the Auburn game while addressing other aspects of his game. But the rookie is a fast learner and turned loose against Vanderbilt grabbed three balls. Bumphis has six catches this year and two of the team's four passing touchdowns.
*State has handed the ball to WR Brandon Heavens five times and he's netted 22 yards with a long gain of 16 yards. By contrast his three catches have gone for just seven yards.
*TE Marcus Green, who had one grab in an injury-shortened season, has five already this season with a touchdown and average gain of 13.2 yards. He's the only tight end with a catch so far this year.
*A week ago three Dogs shared the team tackle lead. But a big night in Nashville pushed SLB K.J. Wright into the lead with 21 stops. FS Zach Smith is second now at 17.
*Wright also leads in tackles for losses with three.
*But DE Pernell McPhee has taken the lead in sacks with a pair of baggings. McPhee and MLB Jamar Chaney each have three credited hurries.
*Chaney now has 214 career tackles in 40 games.
*The Bulldog defense had just eight interceptions last year. They have three through three games this season, all of them career-first picks for SS Charles Mitchell, CB Damein Anderson, and backup CB Corey Broomfield.
*Broomfield put State's first defensive points of '09 on the board with a 20-yard return against Jackson State.
*State's blocked punt (by FB Patrick Hanrahan) and touchdown return (RB Robert Elliot) in the Auburn game was the first by a Dog special squad since 2001.
*By his standards it was an ‘off' night but P Heath Hutchins still averaged over 40 yards at Nashville. His 43.1 season average is 4th-best in the SEC this month and 27th in the NCAA.
*State is 3rd in SEC net punting, but only five Hutchins kicks have even drawn a return attempt and those have gone for just six yards.
*PK Sean Brauchle has come back strong from the opening game struggles, hitting his last five field goals including a 49-yarder this past Saturday.
*That kick was the longest make by a Bulldog placekicker since Keith Andrews hit a 49-yarder at Florida in 2005. For a longer kick means going back to 2002 as Brent Smith was good from 52 yards against Tennessee.
*After drawing 22 penalties in the first two games, the Bulldogs were flagged only three times at Vanderbilt. But all were major fouls and one negated Berry's kickoff return.
*No more true scholarship freshmen were activated for the Vandy game. Seven 2009 freshmen signees have played to date: 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.