*Floyd Stadium seats 30,788. The record attendance of 28,105 was set this September when the Blue Raiders beat Memphis 31-14.
*Mississippi State has just completed a three-game home stretch, losing all three games. Middle Tennessee on the other hand has played the last three times on the road with wins at Maryland and North Texas before losing last Tuesday at Troy.
*Veteran State folk should see a familiar face this weekend as former Dog guard Kermit Davis Jr. is the Raider head basketball coach.
The Opponent: Guess who has the winningest program in the admittedly brief history of Sun Belt Conference football? Yep, it's Middle Tennessee with a 32-25 record. And while last week's loss at Troy has left them a step behind in this year's conference race the Blue Raiders have the horses, so to speak, to make a late charge. As well as celebrate their first-ever SEC home game successfully. Former Florida State quarterback and fourth-year MT Coach Rick Stockstill has plenty experience of his own against SEC programs from his tours at Clemson and South Carolina. Plus the Raiders ought to be well-rested having not played since last Tuesday. However, that down-time produced a potential downer that could cost the club its top wideout and some emotional momentum. It's up to old hand Stockstill to refocus the club on their excellent opportunity to win a milestone meeting.
Offense: Let's address the week's burning Raider issue as best we can. As of this writing no official word had come on the status of leading receiver Patrick Honeycutt or a couple other players arrested on the bye-Saturday night. After catching a team-high 51 balls last year the 5-9 senior had 20 catches and 220 yards so far and was about to get his 100th career grab. For that matter his fellow ‘Y' receiver in the Raider spread Malcolm Beyah (six catches) is iffy with a thumb injury. Still there are plenty of proven people for-sure available this week that State has to chase. ‘X' Chris McGlover is a 6-4 tall target with 15 cathes, including seven against Maryland alone, and has more yards (227) than Honeycutt. Over at ‘Z' the 6-3 Garrett Andrews is getting 14 yards on every touch, and ‘H' Shane Blissard's average is even more impressive at 131 yards on eight grabs, though he missed both the Maryland and Troy games. And the eight passing touchdowns by this team have been divvied among, yes, eight different receivers, so practically everybody on the field is a threat. But no one more so than the utterly-aptly named Dwight Dasher. The junior quarterback has 1,273 yards already on 55% completions with all those eight TD tosses. And talk about hurrying the pace, Dasher has only once this year thrown less than 42 balls in a game, and that was in an efficient 18-of-26 execution of Memphis. But Dasher is much more dangerous afoot as the team's rushing leader, 304 yards and three scores. Oh, and at 5-10 he's pretty darn durable with no less than 16 totes in any game to date. His only issues are consistency, and backup Brent Burnette was working some first-team snaps this week. Phillip Tanner was supposed to be the top back but he was lost in the Memphis game, so D. D. Kyles has filled the gap since (185 yards) while frosh Benjamin Cummingham works his way in as well. The blocking has SEC-height, particularly in the middle with lone senior starter Mark Thompson at 6-5 tall and the other foursome 6-2 or better with an average 290 pounds. They don't have to stay on the block too long most of the time though, because Dasher's mobility and creativity makes this attack go…or not, since he can run hot and cold not just game to game but quarter to quarter. Hey, it's never going to be boring.
Defense: Admittedly the numbers aren't encouraging for fans of good old Southern football defense. What the Raider spread offense taketh, their counterparts have been giving up to the tune of 390 total yards per game. But yards aren't points and Middle Tennessee has found a knack for foiling drives via turnovers. This unit ranks 14th in the current NCAA standings for takeaways in fact, and is the Sun Belt's best in red zone stops. They nominally run a four-man front but last week for Troy went with three linemen and an extra safety, so Middle Tennessee is able to adapt. It's a scheme tilted more to movement than muscle anyway, which suits the skills of defensive ends Chris McCoy (25 tackles) and Jamari Lattimore (18). Both came up big at Maryland as Lattimore had three sacks, a school game record, and McCoy four TFLs with a blocked field goal. WLB Cam Robinson tops the team in total stops with 59 but MLB Danny Carmichael is the first Raider with 200 tackles since 2000, and more notable is his rate of making stops behind the line with 24 TFLs. He's also forced four fumbles in five games. MT has been able to start the same base four Florida natives in the secondary, built around Kevin Brown. The junior strong safety gets his hits with 45 tackles but can cover equally well and has three of the team's six interceptions. Two of those came in the North Texas win. FS Jeremy Kellem has a pick of his own this year, but was a real ball-hawk last fall with two picks, two fumbles recovered and three forced, and a blocked punt. A mobile defense has obvious advantages but is also prone to power-running games, and Troy ground out 264 rushing yards last week. At the same time the Blue Raiders are allowing over 215 passing yards each game, and the last four foes have all accumulated 450 or so total yards. But again, Middle Tennessee isn't too worried about how far the other teams advance as long as the drive stops short of producing points.
Specialists: If the p.r. staff is gonna call someone ‘Ice Man' he'd best deliver. Soph kicker Alan Gendreau has with 16 field goals in 20 attempts including the 19-yarder at Maryland as the clock ran out. P David DeFatta has a decent 38.4 average though MT is yet to out-punt an opponent. What they do, or rather wideout/back Desmond Gee does, is return kicks well. Gee handles both punts and kickoffs and already holds the program record in the latter category for returns and yardage. Oh, and Raider teams have scored five touchdowns off special teams in these last four seasons.
The Series: Very short. Counting last season these programs have played just thrice before, previously in 1999 and 2000, with all meetings in Starkville. State dominated the first game 40-7 but had to just outscore the Blue Raiders in a wild 61-35 show the next year.
The Last Time: October 25, 2008 Visiting Middle Tennessee put a Homecoming scare into Mississippi State by grabbing a narrow lead midway of the third period. But the Bulldogs salvaged their annual event by scoring 17-straight points on the way to a 31-22 victory at Scott Field. Three of State's four touchdowns were provided by Anthony Dixon, including the fourth-quarter score that sealed the outcome as the junior halfback ran off 126 yards. It was Dixon that put up the first points too, with a four-yard jaunt on the opening possession, and after a Blue Raider field goal Dixon came back with a 62-yard touchdown dash. But the second period belonged to the visitors with a second field goal by Alan Gendreu and a 14-yard touchdown throw from Joe Craddock. When Gendreau knocked throw a short three-pointer in the third quarter the scoreboard favored Middle Tennessee 16-14. Challenged, State answered as Tyson Lee led the go-ahead drive and capped it himself on a five-yard keeper at 4:30. Adam Carlson made the margin 24-16 with his 37-yard field goal before the quarter turned, and at 9:45 of the fourth Dixon bulled over from a yard out to set the program rushing-TD record of 29. The Raiders made the margin respectable with a touchdown at 2:45, but the two-point try failed. Lee ran for 46 yards and threw for 197 more. Craddock had a big game of 23-of-40 passing for 235 yards, and backup Dwight Dasher was 2-of-3 throwing for 33 yards. The game's most remarkable feature was that neither team turned the ball over or even fumbled it to themselves.
Bulldog Notebook: Through six games Mississippi State has scored 165 points. The 2008 Bulldogs scored 183 points in a full twelve-game season.
*An improved offensive line, and quarterback mobility, has resulted in just six sacks allowed by State in as many games. That's fourth-best in the SEC this week, but the three ahead have all given up five baggings so it is close enough to the top.
*State collected 22 penalties in just the first two games. In the last four contests they have garnered 18 total flags.
*But these Bulldogs are also 11th in the SEC's turnover chart, with 18 balls lost to either fumble (10) and interception (8). And 13 of these giveaways have come in just the last three games. Only Georgia is worse so far this season with a minus-11 margin.
*Mississippi State does not have a receiver ranked in the SEC's top ten for either receptions or yards per game.
*RB Anthony Dixon is on the verge of becoming the program's all-time rushing champion. The senior enters this game with 3,164 career yards rushing, 48 short of Jerious Norwood's 3,212 set from 2002-05.
*Dixon currently is 20th in SEC career rushing, with Norwood 19th. If Dixon were to have just another 100-yard outing, he would climb to 16th in league history.
*And Dixon has topped the century mark in the last four games, the longest such streak since Dicenzo Miller had six consecutive 100-yard productions in 2000. Dixon is now tied with Norwood for the MSU mark, with 13 100-yard games.
*With two more touchdowns in the Houston game, Dixon extended his MSU record for scoring to 234 points. He also increased his school standard for rushing touchdowns (35) and total touchdowns (39). He ranks 13th and 12th in those SEC career categories respectively.
*Only seven SEC players have carried a football more often than Dixon's 760 rushes.
*Dixon's 3,494 all-purpose yards is 5th most by a Bulldog, and the most of any player who didn't return kicks.
*RB Christian Ducre has 235 rushing yards this season, more than he gained in all of 2008. His average gain of 6.0 yards leads all Bulldog runners.
*Despite having six passes picked off in the last three games, QB Tyson Lee is still holding down top-spot as the most reliable thrower in MSU history. He is first in career-completion rate at 58.1%, and first in interception-ratio at just 2.83%. The best four-year averages in those categories belong to Sleepy Robinson (1989-92, 55.7% completions) and Derrick Taite (1993-96, 3.41%).
*Lee's ‘efficiency rating' after six games is 108.8. That's not enough to make the SEC's top-ten this week. But teammate Chris Relf is 4th-best in the current standings at 149.2 despite missing last week's game and only throwing one pass in the previous two games.
*Lee is one of just 11 Bulldog quarterbacks ever to complete 200 passes. He's now ninth on that list with 226 completions having just surpassed Rockey Felker (207) and Matt Wyatt (222). Next up is Omarr Conner at 269.
*The team receptions race has proven productive for everyone this fall. WR Chad Bumphis has edged ahead of TE Marcus Green in terms of total catches, 19 to 17. But Green's 228 yards are only seven behind his younger cohort, and the tight end is a full yard ahead in average gain, 13.4 to 12.4. Between these two they have five of the squad's six passing touchowns.
*Save for the Auburn game, where in limited snaps he only caught one ball, Bumphis has had two or more grabs per contest.
*Meanwhile Green has caught 12 balls in the last three games, which are more receptions in just that stretch than all State tight ends had the whole 2008 season (10).
*WR Leon Berry not only is third in team catches, he's 5th in SEC kickoff return rate at 27.6 yards. Berry's touchdown return against Georgia Tech was the first by a Bulldog since 2003. He is 8th in SEC all-purpose yards this week.
*State not having to punt in the Tech game, a first for the program since 1998, did not impact P Heath Hutchins' average. But there might have been some rust as on two kicks against Houston he averaged 30 yards. That cut his season rate to 41.5 yards and dropped Hutchins from second to sixth in the SEC standings.
*After hitting six-straight field goals, PK Sean Brauchle missed his one try against Georgia Tech and was sidelined for the Houston game by a leg injury. He has tied for the longest make at State since 2002 with a 49-yarder at Vanderbilt.
*PK Derek DePasquale made good on one field goal against Tech but missed a tough 51-yard try into a breeze last week.
*But between them Brauchle and DePasquale are 19-of-19 on PATs.
*State is the only SEC squad credited with attempting an on-sides kick so far this season; two of them in fact, neither recovered.
*The Bulldog defense has just five interceptions in six games. But two of them have gone for touchdowns. CB Corey Broomfield ran a pick back 43 yards against Jackson State, the first defensive points for MSU since 2007. And this past week SS Charles Mitchell converted an interception into a 71-yard scoring return.
*Mitchell now has two picks for the season.
*Senior LB Jamar Chaney collected his first career interception with an end-zone pick against Houston, in his 43rd game as a Bulldog.
*Chaney has 232 career tackles. And he just caught up with LB K.J. Wright for the team lead this season at 43. Wright still has more tackles for losses at 3.5.
*Meanwhile DE Pernell McPhee has the most tackles for losses overall at 5.0, which includes 2.5 sacks; also the team-high.
*Review showed Wright gets credit for the blocked field goal in the Houston game, the first block of any sort in his three State seasons. It was the second kick-block for this squad as at Auburn FB Patrick Hanrahan stuffed a Tiger punt that was returned for a touchdown by RB Robert Elliot.
*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.