*This is the tenth-straight year of a non-conference opponent for MSU Homecoming.
*State has a record of 84-61-3 against teams that now make up CUSA. Houston is 19-45-1 against SEC programs over the years, including when Arkansas was a fellow member of the old Southwest Conference.
*It has been 40 years and one week since Houston posted the largest margin of defeat on a Bulldog team, winning 74-0 on October 4, 1969.
The Opponent: Yes, you've seen this before, especially those who've followed the college game for a few decades or longer. It's another Houston ball squad shooting onto the national stage, piling up points and yards and generally giving all foes fits. This latest edition comes courtesy of Kevin Sumlin, who made a remarkable debut both at UH and as a head coach last year with a 8-5 finish and bowl victory. Now in '09 his squad has produced the program's first top-25 ranking since 1991 and a pair of wins over BCS foes. Last week's loss at UTEP was a bit unexpected but still respectable, and further such entertaining shootouts loom against SMU and at Tulsa. Yet the Cougars have more than sufficient firepower to win their way to the CUSA title game and finish Sumlin's second season with a poll number in front of their name.
Offense: The city of Houston hasn't seen numbers like this since Enron's books were opened. Certainly the effect on defensive coordinators is comparable given Cougar proficiency in advancing a football this fall; first in NCAA overall offense and passing offense this week, first in first downs, and third in scoring. The p.r. staff doesn't downplay their key cog in this machine either, giving QB Case Keenum four complete pages in the game notes of his own not counting myriad other references. He's worth it, having completed more passes last year (397) than a lot of D-I programs threw. We won't try to run down all his digits here, but will just note two overriding '09 facts: he's thrown 13 touchdowns against two picks so far…and he's only a junior, thus given second-row regard in this year's Quarterback Class to upperclassmen Tebow, McCoy, Bradford. Well, let's see who has the best numbers come December and the higher draft stature. There are lots of balls to be caught and Keenum keeps lots of catchers happy, starting with Y-end James Cleveland. The former Iowa wideout and juco transfer is 11th in NCAA grabs-per-game at 7.5 this week, with 312 yards and three scores so far. He caught no less than 14 throws against Texas Tech. H-back Tyron Carrier has one less catch but 354 yards and two TDs of his own and eight 100-yard games on his resume. Houston finds good receivers in unlikely ways, too, with a former quarterback (X-end L.J. Castile) and walk-on (Z-end Chad Rodriguez) fitting into the rotations too. The Cougars do have a few running plays and soph Bryce Beall has rushed for three scores in '09. He was last fall's CUSA Frosh of the Year with 17 touchdowns and 1,000-total yards; and now true freshman Charles Sims looks like a good repeat candidate after huge outputs against Texas Tech and NW State. Don't feel bad for an o-line that doesn't get to catch passes; they're getting respect of their own with senior OC Carl Barnett on the Lombardi and Rimmington watch lists, and a couple of all-CUSA guards in Jordan Shoemaker and Chris Thompson. Oh, and Houston can also put up some smaller numbers if necessary; only four sacks have been allowed in as many games, with just 19 penalties to account for.
Defense: Those aforementioned game notes? It's not until page 22 that an in-depth reference to the defense can be found…though one can argue that the Cougar offense does a mighty fine job ‘defending' its counterparts. It's also a bit risky to read too much into the average 32 points UH is allowing this year based on who they've played. Still it's no secret this unit has issues holding down the opposition, particularly on the ground where foes net 205 yards-per. Youth is one reason as at times true frosh have started at both end slots, though now former Arkansas linebacker Tyrell Graham has moved into the starting lineup at ‘rush' end. There's size in the middle with 295-pound nose Isaiah Thompson lining up over the ball and 285-pound David Hunter at tackle. Both their backups are freshmen, too, so this is a unit still developing. Youth also dominates at linebacker but these kids are proving they can handle themselves quite well. MLB Marcus McGraw was a frosh All-CUSA last year leading the team in tackles and is a team captain already averaging 11.3 stops this season. WLB C.J. Caveness earned a starting job due to injury in '08 and has kept it, making 14 tackles in the Tech win with nine more this past weekend. The strong-side ‘backer, Kris Johnston, has stepped in for injured teammate too. He's a converted defensive back, in fact the whole group is of secondary size with starters at 220, 218, and 210 pounds. The most aged area here is the backfield with senior LCB Brandon Brinkley (4 picks in 2008) and junior RCB Jamal Robinson who had an int-return touchdown in beating Oklahoma State. And FS Nich Saenz had a hand in 25 tackles in just the last two games. But Houston has only intercepted one pass all season and allows 61% completions. Fortunately foes do tend to give the ball away to the Cougars via fumbles and have drawn an amazing 36 penalties.
Specialists: He doesn't have to kick it away a whole lot so Chase Turner makes the most of his chances, averaging 42.3 yards this year. That's actually down from his 45.5 rate of last year that set the program record. Soph Jordan Mannisto is a second-year starter and has hit six of nine field goals this season, three of them against Tech. Wideout Carrier handles both kickoff (23.3 yards) and punt (13.0) return duties and is getting almost 170 all-purpose yards each week.
The Series: These programs have met 14 times, with Houston holding a 8-6 lead. This was once a somewhat-regular rivalry with a dozen meetings from 1956-72 and split results. The Cougars took their lead by winning a 2003 game at Houston, then defeating the Dogs in 2005 in Starkville. Houston has a 4-3 record at Scott Field.
The Last Time: October 22, 2005 A record-setting day for Jerious Norwood wasn't enough to overcome a better-balanced Houston attack as the visiting Cougars won 28-16 at Scott Field. The host Bulldogs staked a 6-0 initial lead as Keith Andrews knocked through field goals of 35 and 44 yards in the first two quarters. And after Houston got on the board with a three-yard touchdown run by Jackie Battle, it was a 66-yard dash for touchdown by Norwood that had State in seeming control. But the Cougars spoiled Homecoming Day, beginning with a 56-yard punt return touchdown to take a 14-13 intermission lead. Kevin Kolb made it 21-13 with his 11yard touchdown toss five minutes into the third quarter. Adam Carlson replaced an injured Andrews to hit a 20-yard field goal and pull State within 21-16 before that period ended, but Houston sealed their win at 5:36 of the fourth with Battle's second short TD dash. Kolb had an efficient day, completing 20 of 29 passes for 218 yards with no interceptions. State relied on Norwood, who ran 24 times for 257 total yards to smash J.J. Johnson's old mark of 237 in 1998.
Bulldog Notebook: Through five games Mississippi State has scored 141 points. The 2008 Bulldogs scored 183 points all season.
*As of this week the Bulldogs are second in the SEC in time-of-possession.
*But, they are also 11th in turnover margin with nine (five fumbles lost, four intercepted passes) in just the last two losses.
*After collecting 22 penalties in the first two games, the Bulldogs have cleaned up their act and drawn just ten flags in the last three games.
*The MSU offensive line has allowed just four sacks in five games; that's second-best in the conference to date.
*RB Anthony Dixon has strung together the first three-game stretch of 100-yard efforts; 123 at Vanderbilt, 106 against LSU, and 105 against Georgia Tech. This gives him a dozen 100-yard games, tying for second with Walter Packer (1973-76) and James Johnson (1997-98). He needs another ‘century' game to tie Jerious Norwood's career record of 13.
*Dixon is also closing in on Norwood's rushing record of 3,212 yards set in 2002-05. Dixon has 3,030 now in 41 career games. Dixon needs 65 yards this week to move into the SEC's career top-20 and catch Eddie Price of Tulane (1946-49). Norwood ranks 19th on the league chart.
*Dixon did not get into the end zone against Georgia Tech, so he remains at 37 career touchdowns and 33 rushing scores. Both are MSU records, and he now stands tied for 17th in SEC rushing touchdowns. And Dixon has just set the program record for points with 222 in four seasons.
*Dixon has 3,355 all-purpose yards, 5th-most by a Bulldog and without benefit of returning a kick.
*His percentages have taken a hit the last two games, but QB Tyson Lee is still the most efficient passer in MSU history. He is completing 57.7% of his throws, nine points better than another two-year triggerman Dave Marler (1977-78) at 56.8%. The best four-year average belongs to Sleepy Robinson (1989-92) at 55.7%.
*Lee also leads in career interception percentage at 2.45% of his passes picked. Omarr Conner is second at 2.96%.
*Lee just became only the 11th Bulldog to complete 200 passes. In fact he dashed past Rockey Felker (207, 1971-74) at #10 to take that slot with 211 completions to-date. Next up is Matt Wyatt (1996-99) at 222.
*Lee's completions this season are producing an average of 11.6 yards, aided by a career-long completion of 69 yards this past weekend. He has thrown ten touchdowns in his two seasons.
*QB Chris Relf's 6.0 yards per-rush are best among the regular Bulldog backs. And he has lost ground just once on a tote this season.
*The team receiving lead just changed again, as freshman WR Chad Bumphis took a big step forward with six catches for 123 yards against Georgia Tech. Over half that came on the 69-yard combination with Lee, and resulted in Bumphis' third touchdown catch of the year. Bumphis had more yardage in this one game than the previous four combined.
*Bumphis only has a 1-yard lead over TE Marcus Green in total gains, 192 yards to 191.
*Bumphis' first true rush of the season produced a ten-yard touchdown this past weekend.
*Green has 13 catches and a 14.7-yard average gain with two touchdowns. He has more receptions this season than all four MSU tight ends had in 2008, ten.
*This time, no flag flew. So WR Leon Berry's 89-yard return for touchdown against Tech stood, his first score of the season and the first kickoff run all the way back by a Bulldog since 2003. It raised Berry's average return to 27.5 yards, fourth-best in the SEC this week.
*Berry, who has 136 receiving yards and 58 more on punts, is fourth in SEC all-purpose gains.
*For the first time since 1998, the Bulldogs went an entire game without punting. Thus P Heath Hutchins remained at a 42.6-yard average, which is second-best in the SEC this week. Nine of his 21 punts have been fair-caught.
*PK Sean Brauchle had a six-make string snapped when he missed a 42-yard field goal against Tech. And a muscle strain kept him from kicking more than one PAT in the game. He is 6-of-9 on the three-pointers this season, and his 49-yarder at Vanderbilt ties for the longest MSU make since 2002.
*PK Derek DePasquale stepped in for Brauchle and made three PATs as well as his first college field goal, a 31-yarder.
*Mississippi State hasn't intercepted a ball the last two games, and has just three picks for the season. One did produce defensive points as CB Corey Broomfield ran back a pick 43 yards against Jackson State.
*All three intercepts (SS Charles Mitchell, CB Damein Anderson, Broomfield) are career-firsts.
*LB K.J. Wright holds the team tackle lead with 38 total stops; four more than LB Jamar Chaney. But Wright's 21 ‘unassisted' tackles are only one ahead of FS Zach Smith.
*DE Pernell McPhee is the leading lineman on the tackle chart at 23. More impressive is that five of these are for losses (22 total yards). Wright is second at 3.5 TFLs.
*McPhee also has 2.5 of the team's 8.0 official sacks. No teammate has more than 1.0 sacks so far.
*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.
*Six junior college transfers, have played for State so far this season, the latest being ST/CB Maurice Langston. He joined LB Chris White, McPhee, Berry, Brauchle, Hutchins.
*Seven 2009 freshmen signees have played to date: Bumphis, WR Brandon Heavens, ST Cameron Lawrence, DB/ST Jonathan Banks, WR Chris Smith, 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.