Bulldog Football Scouting Report

The Game: Mississippi State (2-2, 1-2 SEC) continues a three-game homestand by hosting Georgia Tech (4-1, 2-1 ACC). Kickoff for the inter-conference contest at Scott Field is 6:30 for telecast by CSS. The radio broadcast is available on the Mississippi State network, as well as world-wide on XM channel 242 and Sirius channel 211.

*This will be Georgia Tech's first-ever trip to Starkville.

*Georgia Tech and Mississippi State feature the two oldest active campus fields in Division I-A football. Tech's Grant Field opened in 1913, while Scott Field debuted in 1914.

*The Yellow Jackets are back in the national polls, ranked 25th by Associated Press this week. State is 0-1 against ranked teams this season after losing to then-#7 LSU last week. MSU's most recent win over a ranked foe was in 2008 at home against then-13 Vanderbilt.

The Opponent: Any doubters still left out there? You know, those who said sure, Paul Johnson's ideas would work great at the 1-AA level, and were acceptable in special settings like Navy; but wouldn't fly in B.C.S. league competition. The critics are much fewer and quieter now after a 9-4 debut season in Atlanta, ACC Coach of the Year honors, and a strong start this year with the Yellow Jackets a clear contender. True, his timing was excellent, joining a conference that is in-flux and finding a roster with plenty ability on both sides of the ball. And a bowl game blowout—or for that matter this year's loss to Miami--reminded that any scheme can still be overcome by enough superior athletes. But don't downplay the difference Johnson has made already…or what his program is capable of with more successful seasonings. Because, there are only six scholarship seniors on this roster.

Offense: Well, somebody had to bring true option football back to the big leagues someday. But this isn't exactly the wishbone as invented and altered by Emory Bellard. It's a development of the ‘inverted' bone that flowered briefly in the mid-80s before the option was consigned to history almost everywhere but Georgia Southern. A quarter-century later and incorporating spread principles here it is again tormenting coordinators who have a handful of days to prep their defense for assignments and angles. This attack exposes uncertain defenses immediately as Tech is outscoring foes 48-7 in first quarters. And they do it literally on the run, with the NCAA's fourth-best rushing attack getting 262 yards per game. The first option, so to speak, is having QB Josh Nesbitt just keep and carry for a typical four-yard gain and 78 per contest. State only got to see him briefly last year before early injury, with Jaybo Shaw (see below) directing the rout. Shaw is expected to make his '09 debut this week after a summer collarbone injury. But it's the second and third options that give defenses nightmares. Jonathan Dwyer only has 49 totes (to Nesbitt's 78) but has 326 yards on them with a pair of touchdowns. The junior Heisman/Walker awards nominee is averaging 6.7 yards every touch for his career and is already up to 9th in school rushing. If that weren't enough, A-back Anthony Allen gets 11.4 yards and has busted a 82-yarder already this season. The blocking suits the scheme well, more notable for typical 6-3 height than the 281-pound average weight. It's all the mobility and ‘reach' of those long arms that makes this spread-out option really run. Passing, that's another matter. Tech has thrown just 53 balls in four games, compared to 207 rushes; and Nesbitt is a 43% thrower so far with two scores and two picks. Yet when these guys connect the results are impressive because the typical completion gets 20 yards! Of the 24 completions 16 belong to Demaryius Thomas (362 yards, two TDs) so it's easy to see who Nesbitt looks for first. Thomas has a catch in the last 20-straight games, too. Tech seems to have solved early-September fumbling issues and penalties have not been a big problem either. More impressive is their average possession time and third-down conversion rate, further indication of how effective a well-executed option can be. Or frustrating to those trying to get the ball back.

Defense: A great offense naturally gives Tech's defense all sorts of advantages. For that matter it clearly helps the Jackets in some key preparation aspects because this unit ranks 2nd in the ACC and 30th nationally in stopping the run. Maybe Miami went against the trend with a productive ground game, but GT came right back and squelched North Carolina with only 17 yards allowed afoot. They did it with an altered lineup, too, giving first career starts to soph DT Logan Walls and junior DE Anthony Egbuniwe; the latter after three-game starter Robert Hall suffered a knee injury. But junior DE Derrick Morgan is full-health and playing just like a Lombardi Award candidate should. Of his 19 tackles, seven have been behind the line of scrimmage and 5.5 are credited as sacks. Morgan leads the ACC in both categories of course. The nominal 4-3 set is just a bare base for Tech to toss various combinations of linemen and ‘backers together depending on desired matchups. ILB Brad Jefferson (19 tackles) is a constant in the middle of things, accompanied by OLB Sedric Griffin (18 tackles). The Jacket that always has to be accounted for, though, is rover safety Morgan Burnett. Not only does he have 20 tackles but three of his team's five interceptions, and his 13 career picks are tops among active ACC defenders. Safety/LB Dominique Reese is questionable after missing the UNC game; if he can't go either LB Julian Burnett or S Rashan Reid will fill the assigned slot(s). Jerrard Tarrant and Mario Butler are cornerbacks that know how to tackle with 37 stops between them. Not surprisingly teams have preferred attacking Tech in the air, with more completed passes than the Jackets have thrown as well as nine scores this route. A lot of this comes after halftime tweaking with GT outscored in third quarters 30-7. And opponents have not been flagged very often, giving away just 38 yards per-game via penalty. But as always, they'd best get their points when possible. Tech's defense doesn't have to stop you outright, just limit the damage long enough to let their offensive teammates do their thing.

Specialists: Soph Chandler Anderson has taken over sole punting duty and is getting it down with a 42.8-yard average. If coverage isn't great so far at 13.0-yards of returns, that's nothing compared to what CB Tarrant does when he fields a punt. As in 26.7 yards with two touchdowns and a long runback of 85 yards. Orwin Smith handles kickoffs with a 24.2-yard return. PK Scott Blair has hit six of his ten field goal attempts, nothing longer than 36 yards yet, but Clemson found out the junior can score other ways as in a 34-yard TD pass.

The Series: There have only been three meetings of these teams, all won by Georgia Tech and all in Atlanta including last year's contest. Oddly, the programs never met as SEC opponents. They played in 1908 with Tech winning 23-0, then in 1929 with a 27-13 outcome when the schools were part of the old SIAA; predecessor to the SEC formed in 1932.

The Last Time: September 22, 2008 A single week wasn't nearly enough preparation for a triple-option attack, as Georgia Tech wrecked the Dog defense with 438 rushing yards in a 38-7 rout. In fact the Yellow Jackets scored all their points before Mississippi State managed a meaningless touchdown at eight minutes of the afternoon affair. Making the blowout all the more painful was most of the damage came with a backup quarterback after State literally knocked the starter out on the first series. Jaybo Shaw stepped in and didn't miss a wishbone-beat, though most any competent QB could have thrived pitching to Jonathan Dwyer. He produced 141 rushing yards on just nine totes, scoring a touchdown on a 88-yard blast down the right sideline. GT's first points came on a seven-yard scamper by Embry Peeples on the opening possession, and after a high State snap was recovered Shaw got off a tough throw into the end zone 20 yards away for touchdown at 6:06. MSU's best chance to get into the contest came on a 79-yard burst by Anthony Dixon to the nine-yard line. But three snaps failed to reach the goal and Adam Carlson's field goal was blocked. Shaw made it 21-0 at halftime with his 25-yard running score, then early in the third period Dwyer turned the right corner and was gone. Tech added a field goal in the third period and 45-yard touchdown run from Smith in the fourth. MSU's only points came on a six-yard run by Robert Elliot against the mop-up defense. The home team finished with exactly 500 yards of offense on 58 plays. State did get some stats in the passing game, as Tyson Lee was 17-of-29 for 179 yards and Wes Carroll 14-of-22 for 120 yards. But take away Dixon's one big blast and the Dogs had only 29 other rushing yards.

Bulldog Notebook: The 110 points State scored their first four games of 2009 were the most in any four September games since the 2000 season.

*After piling up 22 penalties in the first two games, the Bulldogs have paid better attention to such details and drawn just five flags in the last two games.

*Also in the last two SEC games State has held the ball 38:09 and 33:52 minutes.

*RB Anthony Dixon has posted three outstanding SEC games to begin his senior season, with consecutive 100-yard outputs. After gaining 123 yards at Vanderbilt, Dixon produced 106 against LSU (a foe that had held him to just 100 total yards in three previous games). This gives him 11 100-yard games in his career, fourth-most ever for a Bulldog. Jerious Norwood (2002-05) had 13 for the record.

*Dixon last posted back-to-back 100-yard games in October 2007, against UAB and Tennessee.

*With 321 yards so far this season Dixon is now second in SEC rushing average and 16th nationally.

*By scoring two touchdowns in the LSU game, Dixon now is the record-holder for Bulldog points with 222. He surpassed the 218 of kicker Brian Hazelwood (1995-98) Saturday. For comparison, the most points previously scored by a non-kicker at State was 166 by Michael Davis (1991-94).

*His 37 career touchdowns, and 33 via rushing, are both MSU records already.

*And now Dixon is chasing Norwood's program record of 3,212 career yards. Dixon moved into second place on Saturday and has 2,924 yards through 40 career games.

*Dixon is still 7th in career all-purpose yards, with 3,429. But everyone ahead of him also returned kicks or caught passes, where Dixon has just 325 receiving yards and no returns.

*QB Tyson Lee had gone three games and 38 passes without an interception and was completing 60.5%. Then his first attempt of the LSU game was picked off, for a touchdown return no less. Lee had two more passes intercepted as well, matching the three picks at Tennessee last season. In the process his career ‘interception percentage' took a big hit, from 1.67% of his throws to 2.38%. But that is still the best on-record rate for a Bulldog passer. Second is Omarr Conner's (2003-06) 2.96%.

*Lee is also tied now for best career completion rate; both he and Dave Marler (1977-78) are at 56.8%. And Lee has 191 completions to Marler's 168. He needs 207 completions to catch Rockey Felker (1971-74) for 10th spot on the MSU list.

*Lee's average gain per completion is 10.2 yards, aided by a 50-yard hookup last Saturday with TE Marcus Green. That catch produced Lee's ninth touchdown pass as a Bulldog.

*By contrast QB Chris Relf's caught balls are gaining 14.2 yards. But Relf has thrown fewer passes, 26, than Lee has completed, 38.

*Relf's 6.1 yards-per-rush average is best on the Bulldog squad.

*The 50-yard scoring play against LSU gave Green his second touchdown of the season, and career. After catching one ball for 50 yards in an injury-shortened '08, Green how has ten catches and 166 yards. In perspective, that is as many catches as MSU tight ends had all last season combined.

*Green is even with WR Leon Berry and WR Chad Bumphis with ten catches both for the team lead. Bumphis also has two touchdown grabs, both in the season-opener against Jackson State.

*Bumphis has also thrown two passes this year, completing one for five yards. He has yet to rush the ball from scrimmage, though.

*Adding in his work fielding kickoffs and punts, Berry now has 527 all-purpose yards or 131 per-game.

*Teams are kicking away from Berry as a result, and S Wade Bonner is not as productive with a 14.3-yard return average compared to Berry's 23.3.

*The team-tackle leader race is tight again after a big Saturday effort from MLB Jamar Chaney. His eight stops in the LSU game pulled the senior within two tackles of SLB K.J. Wright, with the margin now 26 to 24. And FS Zach Smith is a close third with 22 tackles.

*Add in 19 tackles for WLB Chris White and the three starting linebackers are among the top-four tacklers one month into the season.

*Six Dogs have a credited sack or at least half-of-one. DE Pernell McPhee is the only defender with more than one, though, at 1.5 sacks officially. *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.

*P Heath Hutchins has averaged over 40 yards every game this season so-far. He goes into October with a 42.6-yard rate. Nine of his 21 punts have been fair-caught and two have been touchbacks.

*Until the LSU game State had allowed a total of six yards in returned punts. Then the Tigers busted a 93-yarder for what proved the winning points.

*PK Sean Brauchle has come back strong from the opening game struggles, hitting his last six field goals including a 49-yarder at Vanderbilt. That was the longest made three-pointer at State since another 49-yarder in 2005. The longest field goal by a Bulldog this decade belongs to Brent Smith with a 52-yarder in 2002 against Tennessee.

*CB Maurice Langston is off suspension and cleared for college action, making his debut this past weekend on special teams duty. He is the sixth junior college transfer playing this season, joining Berry, Brauchle, Hutchins, McPhee, and Smith.

*Seven 2009 freshmen signees have played to date: 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.

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