Bulldog Football Scouting Report

The Game: Mississippi State (3-5, 1-3 SEC) meets its designated permanent inter-Division opponent with a Halloween Night appearance at Kentucky (4-3, 1-3 SEC). Game time is 6:00ct at Commonwealth Stadium for telecast on Fox Sports Net. The broadcast airs on the MSU Network as well as XM 200 and Sirius 217.

*The last time Mississippi State played on All Hallows Eve was in 1992…at Kentucky. The Bulldogs won a wild one, 37-36 by blocking a last-play field goal attempt from the Wildcats.

*Prior to that '92 game Bulldogs teams had lost six-straight on October 31, five of them to Alabama.

*Mississippi State has struggled on the home field with four-straight losses, but the Bulldogs have scored successes in their last two road trips with wins at Vanderbilt and Middle Tennessee. Kentucky is 2-2 in home games so far, while State is 2-1 in road trips.

*This is Homecoming weekend for the Wildcats, who have won 46 of 63 such games since WWII.

*On game-day, Commonwealth Stadium becomes the third-largest ‘city' in Kentucky. Though official capacity is 67,942, the venue record attendance is 71,024 set in the 2007 season.

The Opponent: Schemes and labels come and go. But Rich Brooks' approach to playing this game is pretty timeless and suitable to the setting: get physical at the line and find ways to let the skill guys show their stuff. If not flashy, this gameplan certainly works well for Kentucky and has produced three-straight bowl trips. Last time that happened some guy named Bryant was coaching in Lexington. Nor does steady translate to slow here as there are some Wildcats who'd fit into any system across the country. This is also a mature team with ten seniors booked for starting jobs this weekend. Motivation won't lack in this matchup as a look at the remaining schedule shows a great chance to go on a true tear and roll into a prime post-season berth. But this depends on taking care of business against what looks like a well-matching State squad, as well as limiting further harm from the injury bug.

Offense: The results this year might not be spectacular, as UK ranks 9th in both SEC yardage and scoring. Yet this unit is able to keep the Kats in contention with most every opponent. Especially as Kentucky takes good care of the ball with just four fumbles lost so far. This is the most productive running attack in Lexington since the mid-1990s at 186 yards per weekend, and it's not a plodding plan by any means. Not with Derrick Locke coming into his junior-year own, galloping for 71 yards each game and 4.5 per carry and three scores. Those numbers don't reflect Locke's track-and-field speed either as he's a threat to go the distance any touch. Alfonso Smith has also started three games with a 4.4 per-tote rate. But both are dinged with minor injuries, so look for the splendid Randall Cobb to add even more of the offensive load to his already-long list. Officially a wideout, and a fine one with a team-best 28 catches and 349 yards, the soph star is a natural ‘wild' back and is getting an even eight yards each run with four rushing scores; same as his catching TD tally. In the crunch it's Cobb taking over as quarterback too, directing the key drives against both South Carolina and Auburn. He's only thrown six balls this year, but as State found out last year Cobb can complete a pass as the SEC's—maybe the nation's—most versatile ballplayer. Look at Special Teams for more proof. Quarterbacking became a real concern when Mike Hartline sprained a knee at S.C.; to then he'd hit 61% of his throws for six score and six picks. Touted rookie Morgan Newton has started the last two games but junior Will Fidler (49%, 1 TD, 1 int) has had the bigger passing role. Juco WR Chris Mathews has been instant aid with 19 catches and a 11.2-yard average and soph Gene McCaskill has eight grabs and 96 yards, but most of the throws go to Cobb, Locke, or a couple of tight end options. Talk about experience, the returning offensive linemen can count 121 career starts amongst themselves. No less than four seniors are listed to start including scales-busters RT Justin Jeffries (320 pounds) and LG Christian Johnson (330). In seven games the group has allowed just seven sacks. Oh, and this is an attack that improves as the game plays out, doubling their opponents' scoring in the second and fourth quarters.

Defense: Here again is a squad better than statistical charts present, as the season numbers are distorted by a stretch of ranked opponents. What matters to Mississippi State is how well the Wildcat defense has played in their last two victories, particularly clamping down on an Auburn ground game that shredded the Dogs. Then again what worries Kentucky are some injury questions that include a pair of standouts. All-America CB Trevard Lindley has been out since the Alabama game with an ankle sprain. He is possible for the game; all-league LB Micah Johnson (knee) is more questionable. For that matter the unit had to replace seven graduated starters, all of whom signed pro deals. The lone starter back up-front is a good ‘un though; 295-pound DT Corey Peters has played a huge senior season with four sacks, four more hurries, and 7.5 tackles for losses. Junior Ricky Lumpkin has been promoted after two backup seasons and teams with Peters for nearly 600 pounds of muscle in the middle. The ends are new, as UK signed DeQuin Evans out of junior college to fill a void; three sacks and six TFLs show he was a good choice. Three Kats have alternated at the other end with 230-pound redshirt Taylor Windham getting this week's call. Kentucky is still hoping top-tackler Johnson (55 stops) is back at the middle linebacker slot; if not soph Ronnie Sneed will get the start. Senior SLB Sam Maxwell not only has 42 tackles but the 248-pounder has broken up seven passes with two interceptions. The surprise has been WLB Danny Trevathan stepping up as a soph with 47 tackles, despite playing lately with a cast on the right wrist. Senior SS Calvin Harrison had no less than 11 of his 42 season-tackles in the Florida game and he's picked a pair of passes this year, while soph FS Winston Guy can cover ground himself with four break-ups and 42 tackles of his own. If Lindley is still out, Paul Warford (5 PBUs) will again start at one corner with Randall Burden (7 PBUs) at the other. Kentucky hasn't scored a lot of sacks so far, and the third-down conversion rate of 43% by opponents is last in the league. But if the defense gets healthy they are more than capable of making it a long night's labor for the other team.

Specialists: Do we really want to recall past disasters Dog teams have suffered from Kentucky return men? Locke has a couple of 100-yard kickoff returns to his career credit and is netting 32 yards per chance this season, while—him again—Cobb gets 13.6 yards on punt returns. PK Lones Sieber already holds the school season and career records for kicking points, and is 5-of-8 on field goals with a long make of 49. Ryan Tydlacka is the new punter with a 3.95 average. Rookie Craig McIntosh took over mid-year kicking off, and Brooks' teams have been the SEC's stingiest in kickoff coverage the last two years. Oh, and WR Matt Roark has applied his 6-6 length to block four kicks including one State folk remember too well from last season.

The Series: The series began way back in 1914 but has only been played 36 times, with Kentucky owning a 21-15 lead. It's been an annual rivalry since 1990. The Bulldogs had cut into the deficit with eight wins in a 11-season span from 1991-2001, but the Wildcats have regained control with five wins in the last seven meetings. And Kentucky is 13-5 playing State on their Lexington home field, though the Bulldogs did win on the last trip to Commonwealth Stadium in 2007.

The Last Time: November 1, 2005 It was the clank that rattled through the remainder of Mississippi State's season. A field goal kicked from just 27-yards out by Adam Carlson smacked an upright and caromed the wrong way, keeping the Bulldogs behind by the same 14-13 score that would last the rest of the fourth quarter and give Kentucky the road victory. As for the Bulldogs the loss doomed realistic hope for a winning year or bowl bid and ultimately factored into the coaching change. Yet the afternoon began well enough for the home team as Tyson Lee threw a 29-yard touchdown to Brandon McRae midway of the first period. That was all the first-half scoring though, as Kentucky missed a routine field goal try of their own just before intermission. The Wildcats changed the game in the third period, sparked by a strong kickoff return and short touchdown drive with Randall Cobb covering the last five yards at 11:08 to tie the score. Their next turn with the ball produced a better drive, of 82 yards and a dozen plays. At 2:42 Maurice Ginter made it a 14-7 UK lead on a short toss from Cobb. State got a gift and chance when tackle Cortez McCraney fell on a Wildcat fumble at the 31-yard line, and back Arnil Stallworth pulled in a ten-yard Lee throw to get his team within a point two minutes into the last quarter. But the PAT was blocked. An interception let State make the short drive that put Carlson in easy range and he got this kick off high and long enough, only to hit the left upright. The other two Bulldog possessions ended on downs and an interception. State's ground game was stifled as Anthony Dixon got just 48 yards, so Lee threw 42 times with 26 completed for 261 yards. UK's Hartline was 9-of-17 for 90 yards and Cobb 7-of-13 for 56 more, along with his 31 rushing yards.

Bulldog Notebook: After scoring just 183 points in all 2008, the '09 Bulldogs have put 211 points on the board this season already. The average scoring of 26.4 points compares to the 15.3-point rate of last season.

*If State can maintain the current rate of 371 yards offense per-game, it would be the 8th-best annual average ever and the best rate since 2000.

*Florida rattled the Bulldog offensive line like no other squad this season with four sacks; in the previous seven games State had allowed eight total sacks. But even at a dozen sackings this line is leagues-ahead of the 2008 unit that gave up 36 sacks.

*State still struggles with total turnovers, having lost the ball 21 times this season. Yet while fumbling away ten balls, the Dogs haven't lost a fumble in the past two games.

*Better ball protection would be key because the Dog defense is doing its best to turn the tables. They have intercepted 11 passes this season, seven in just the last two games. MSU had eight picks all of 2008.

*And four of those interceptions have been returned for touchdowns, the most by a Dog defense since 1994 (six). Including scores off special teams plays, one blocked punt return and a kickoff return, MSU now has six non-offensive touchdowns for the season. That is most in the SEC this season and is two shy of the 1998 program record of eight.

*Despite a tough night against Florida's great ground defense, MSU remains one of four SEC offenses rushing for over 200 yards per game. In fact the 203.1 rate as of this week is double the 101.7 average rushing of 2008.

*Having claimed all the program rushing and scoring records that matter, RB Anthony Dixon will keep climbing the Southeastern Conference career lists the rest of this senior season. With 3,352 ground yards to his credit Dixon now stands 14th on the league chart; he jumped four slots on the list despite just 53 yards against Florida. He needs 68 yards this week to tie for 13th, and will have to reach 3,831 to crack the SEC top-ten runner's club.

*Dixon remains tied for 10th in SEC rushing touchdowns (37) and 11th in total touchdowns (41).

*Only five SEC backs have carried the ball more than Dixon's 802 attempts.

*Dixon's string of five 100-yard games was snapped by Florida, one shy of tying the school standard. He still has the career mark of 14 ‘century' games.

*Dixon keeps shoving his school scoring record farther out of future reach. He now has 246 points, all on touchdowns.

*At 749 yards this year Dixon is also running to become just the third Bulldog back to gain 1,000 yards in a season, joining James Johnson (1997 and '98) and Jerious Norwood (2004 and '05). There have been only nine 1,000-yard rushing seasons at State.

*But Dixon's 4.2 yard average gain is lowest of any Dog on the career top-ten rushing list.

*QB Tyson Lee is bidding to end his two-year career with the best completion rate ever for a State quarterback. His 59.0% average is well ahead of both #2 Dave Marler's 56.8% rate over two years also, and Sleepy Robinson's four-year average of 55.7% in third place.

*In the last four games Lee has completed 64 of 96 passes, or 67%.

*With 255 completions Lee is ninth on the MSU career list. And he needs 295 yards to move into the school top-ten for passing yardage.

*But the three interceptions by Florida, and nine picks for the season overall, have cost Lee first place in the career-interception rate. At 3.24% he's slipped behind the 2.96% of Omarr Conner.

*After running for 106 yards in the Houston and Middle Tennessee games, Lee lost five yards total on nine rushes with four sackings.

*It's been three games since Lee threw a touchdown pass.

*WR Chad Bumphis was the hottest target on the team for four weeks with 17 catches and 222 yards. But he was absent against Florida with one late-game catch for three yards as other wideouts got more snaps. The true frosh should be back in the gameplan this week and he remains the leading receiver with 24 catches and 270 yards this year.

*TE Marcus Green gained some ground on Bumphis this week with three catches against the Gators, giving him 21 for the year and 258 yards. Those two receivers have five of the team's six touchdown receptions.

*Green has more than twice as many catches this season than all four tight ends combined did in 2008 (10).

*WR Leon Berry is still third in team receptions but has not caught a pass in the last three games.

*But WR O'Neal Wilder is getting more involved with five grabs in the last two contests. And his 14.0 average gain is best of the full-time receivers.

*RB Christian Ducre's 54-yard catch-and-dash against Florida was the second-longest pass play of this season.

*Ducre and Bumphis have both caught a touchdown pass this year and run for another touchdown.

*Mississippi State still does not have a receiver ranked in the SEC's top ten for either receptions or yards per game.

*Berry has 737 kickoff return yards this season, which breaks the MSU record of 708 yards set just last year by Derek Pegues in 11 games. His 89-yard touchdown return against Georgia Tech was the first such score by a Bulldog since 2003.

*RB Robert Elliot's touchdown on a blocked (by FB Patrick Hanrahan) punt at Auburn was MSU's first such score since 2001.

*PK Derek DePasquale is 6-of-7 on field goals, with a long make of 43 yards, since taking over for injured PK Sean Brauchle in the Georgia Tech game. Brauchle was 6-of-9 kicking with a long make of 49 yards prior to his injury.

*Between them the two placekickers are perfect on 23 PATs.

*State has twice tried two-point conversions and failed each; a pass against Auburn and a called pass for a run against Florida.

*Mississippi State and Arkansas are the only SEC schools without a kickoff –touchback this season.

*It took half-a-season for S Johnanthan Banks to become a starter, and just one game to write his name in the MSU record book. The true freshman turned a pair of interceptions against Florida into interceptions, with returns of 100 (official) and 20 yards. He became the first Bulldog ever to score twice on interceptions in the same game.

*And in that single game Banks tied the MSU SEASON record for pick-sixes. He matched the pair of TD returns by five predecessors in full seasons.

*Banks was coming off a two-pick game at Middle Tennessee, giving him four for this rookie season. That's one shy of making the season top-ten.

*The Dog defense has two more pick-sixes this season so far. CB Corey Broomfield returned an interception 43 yards against Jackson State, and SS Charles Mitchell took one back 71 yards against Houston.

*State's 11 total interceptions this year surpasses the eight in a dozen games last year. All but one has come from a first-year starter or player getting their first college pick(s) this season. The only veteran starter getting a pick so far is MLB Jamar Chaney (vs. Houston), and it was also his first career interception.

*Chaney got in on a dozen tackles against Florida and jumped ahead of SLB K.J. Wright for the team tackles lead, which is now 58 to 55. Wright still has the edge on his elder teammate in both tackles for losses and sacks.

*But nobody is getting to opponents behind the line better than DE Pernell McPhee, with 7.5 credited TFLs. His 4.0 sacks also top the squad.

*S/CB Marcus Washington had a career night against Florida with 15 total tackles, including one for a loss.

*Re-review gave DT Fletcher Cox credit for the field goal blocked in the Houston game. It was the freshman's first big special teams play, and the second stuffing by State this season.

*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.


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