*Mississippi State has won consecutive Egg Bowls for the first time since 1998-99. Now these Bulldogs can become the first State squad in seven decades to score a three-peat in the rivalry. It was last done in 1940-41-42, under Coach Allyn McKeen.
*State has won the last three home games in the series.
*Only three Bulldog coaches have won their first three meetings with the arch-rival Rebels. McKeen actually took his first four, in 1939-42, after Major Ralphe Sasse won all three meetings in 1935-37. And in 1917-19 Sid Robinson won all his three games. Dan Mullen has already taken 41-27 and 31-23 Egg Bowl wins.
*In fact Mullen is so far one of nine MSU coaches, whether player-coaches or head coaches, to have a perfect record in the rivalry. But he is the first since Sasse.
*A win will make Mississippi State bowl eligible for the second year in Mullen’s tenure. MSU has not gone bowling back-to-back seasons since 1999-2000.
*Mullen is 2-12 in SEC West games, but both wins have come in this rivalry.
*State expects the 16th consecutive sellout at Davis Wade Stadium.
The Opponent: And to think, a couple of fall ago all was so very well in Oxford. Here is a useful lesson how absolutely, and unexpectedly, a regime and program can fade in today’s cutthroat college game. The stylish façade of 2008-09 has crumbled, revealing no foundation left by the departing Houston Nutt. Not necessarily a bad thing though as his successor can start almost entirely over. Say ‘almost’ as there are some interesting skill players on hand, enough in fact to make that double-digit line a foolish bet. And there’s no reason the Rebels shouldn’t swing for the fences this weekend with nothing left to lose. Just hit a few and, well, its Egg Bowl business as usual. Either way Nutt will walk away a wealthy man. The program left behind is poorer for it all though.
Offense: The most notable of those aforementioned skill folk work here. In fact most of Ole Miss’ league rivals would welcome these talents on their rosters, whether the power and poise of back Brandon Bolen or those big-catch threats spread all across the field. Yet they have just one rushing touchdown in the last 14 quarters. Even adversaries must feel for senior Bolden after soldiering through injuries and lack of help, as his 447 yards this year are just half his ’10 total. The suspension of faster back Jeff Scott (529, 6 TDs) eases side-to-side support…or does it? Not with a couple of receivers ready to race for the ends on handoffs or even direct snaps if OM wants to throw some unfamiliar curveballs here. Of course Nick Brassell (24, 336, 2 TDs) makes his offensive name catching passes, second-most on the squad. He’ll mix-and-match with listed starter Vince Sanders (7, 89) and alternate Tobias Singleton at one position; while the split ends are physical receiver Donte Moncrief (27, 434, 4 TD) and Ja-Mes Logan. The eldest of the bunch is a sophomore by the way. The trick for Ole Miss has been who handles the ball first, and eleven weeks after he was opening-day starter Barry Brunetti is back on top of a depth chart depleted by suspension of six-game starter Randall Mackey. Brunetti can move around and gain some ground, and has gotten crash-courses in throwing the ball. But he’s just 7-of-13 for the season. The less-mobile and stronger-armed Zach Stoudt (58-of-120, 2 TD, 8 int) expects to play as well. It couldn’t have been easy adapting to protections for three very differing quarterbacks. Even so, 31 sacks is a lot to allow for a line that returned five starters. This unit has been shuffled some as two of those veterans are listed second-team today. That doesn’t include the tackles, Bobby Massie and Bradley Sowell, each making a 29th-straight start.
Defense: Been a tough year over here. In SEC-only play, the Rebels rank last in rushing, in total, and most painfully in scoring defense. Worse, they are also 12th in all-season stats meaning everybody has moved the ball on this group. Hard to figure how the run defense has been pushed around so because there is size here and a fair measure of experience. Not all good as far as sixth-year senior DE Kentrell Lockett is concerned, but give him credit for battling back from bad injuries. After a look at linebacker frosh C.J. Johnson has found his home at end, replacing lost starter and sacks leader Wayne Dorsey, with 22 stops and a sack. They flank just under 600 pounds of beef in tackles Justin Smith and Byron Bennett. Putting soph Mike Marry in the middle (linebacker) has paid off handsomely with a team-best 77 tackles and two sacks. Damien Jackson has most his starts as a safety and now fills a ‘spur’ linebacker position with 62 tackles and a pick. The playmaker though is true safety Charles Sawyer, among the SEC’s most impressive underclassmen with 64 tackles and four interceptions. He’s broken up seven other throws as well, showing his prior cornerback experience. Frosh Senquez Golson could be a millionaire minor leaguer right now; instead he chose football and has made the starting lineup these last four games now at Sawyer’s old spot. Juco Wesley Pendleton holds down the other corner. Interceptions have been hard to come by, and the Rebels rank 11th in turnover rate overall, same as third-down defense. As said, a tough year here.
Specialists: After leading the NCAA in punting last year with a 46.4 average Tyler Campbell has slipped to third SEC with a still-sound 43.2 rate, making him arguably team MVP. Bryson Rose has only tried ten field goals but made eight with a 43-yarder in the books. Philander Moore is listed for both kickoffs and punts, but you know State has prepped for flyers like Singleton and Brassell just in case. Nor should gimmick plays surprise because there’s tape of those to scout already.
Bulldog Notebook: In State’s wins, 14 of the 25 offensive touchdowns have come on drives of six or fewer plays. But 11 of those still covered 50-plus yards.
*The Bulldog defense is at their best in third quarters with 39 points allowed in eleven of those periods. And only once has State allowed more than a touchdown in a third quarter; last week Arkansas scored ten points.
*State began the season with a seven-game stretch of at least one interception. They now have an even dozen picks for the season. That’s one less than the 2010 team had in 13 games.
*But the 67% passing allowed by State is the highest in the SEC this week. And despite playing many run-oriented opponents there have been more passes thrown against MSU’s defense, 364, than any other league team.
*Even without any huge games since early September, TB Vick Ballard is not far off his 2010 pace gaining ground. He goes into the regular-season finale with 865 yard in 11 games, after gaining 968 in 12 games as a junior. So the 1,000-yard senior season remains in reach.
*But he’s netted just 83 yards in the last two losses as defenses have shut down the ground game.
*Ballard has 1,833 yards in two seasons, 14th-best all time at State so far. He is trying to become just the 11th Bulldog ever with 2,000 rushing yards.
*Ballard has two rushing touchdowns in November so far, both against UTM. Last year he had seven of his 19 scores in November and post-season play.
*His next rushing touchdown will tie Michael Davis for 2nd on the career list with 27, though Ballard has done it in just two seasons to Davis’ four.
*Ballard is 8th in career points at 162 and will jump two places with a single touchdown more.
*Ballard has eight 100-yard games in two years, tying for 9th on the career chart with three others.
*TB LaDarius Perkins is looking for his first rushing touchdown since opening night at Memphis.
*All three Bulldog quarterbacks have rushed for a touchdown.
*Perkins and WR Jameon Lewis are the only Dogs so far with a touchdown both rushing and receiving.
*WR Chad Bumphis is about to become just the 8th Bulldog ever with 100 career catches. He has 99 in three seasons and has caught a pass in every career game but one, in 2010 against UAB.
*And one more big gainer, or a few smaller ones combined, will push the junior into the career top-ten for yardage. He has 1,351 yards in three seasons, just 40 yards out of 10th place.
*Bumphis’ 12 touchdown catches tie him for 6th all-time. But he is looking for his first SEC touchdown since the 2010 Alabama game.
*It will shock many to know QB Chris Relf’s current 59.5% completion rate this season is the best such year in MSU history. His career rate of 57.7% is second-best only to Tyson Lee.
*Relf’s record against Ole Miss is a sure talking-point of today. Off the bench in 2009 and as a starter last year, Relf is 16-of-25 for 331 yards and five touchdowns in a pair of victories. And he rushed for 131 and 66 yards in those games with a score in ’09.
*Despite playing basically two seasons, Relf ranks 8th in career passing yards with 3,098. And he is 9th in touchdowns-responsible with 34.
*QB Tyler Russell is completing 53.5% of his throws this season, but 48.6% as a starter.
*Russell had a five-game streak of throwing a touchdown pass end at Arkansas.
*But Russell has just one interception in his last 70 passes.
*TE Malcolm Johnson has caught eight passes in the last five games, for 137 yards and three touchdowns.
*In the second half of the season Johnson and TE Marcus Green have four touchdowns between them, after MSU tight ends had zero all of 2010.
*WR Arceto Clark has a catch every game this season. In a five-game stretch the junior had 18 catches, though in the last two outings he’s managed three balls and 26 total yards.
*WR Chris Smith has a nine-game receiving streak going, and in the last two weeks has eight catches for 67 yards.
*State’s 16 touchdown passes this season are spread among nine receivers.
*After a series of injuries in the first half of the season State has started the same offensive line for six-straight games. But left tackle remains tba between senior James Carmon and frosh Blaine Clausell.
*Senior OG Quentin Saulsberry has started 47-straight games.
*Of the 24 sacks allowed this season 22 have been in SEC games.
*DT Fletcher Cox has had a tackle-for-loss in four of the last five games. Though, he hasn’t had a sack in three weeks. Nor for that matter has any defensive lineman.
*Cox was named the SEC’s defensive lineman of the week in three-straight games, spread over four weekends, when he had 20 tackles and four sacks.
*His 4.0 sacks are also more than the first two years combined and lead the team, as does his 10.5 tackles for losses.
*But classmate and DT cohort Josh Boyd has picked up his own pace and now has 3.5 sacks and 7.0 TFLs. Boyd now leads Cox in total tackles 48 to 44.
*The surprise sack-man now is CB Johnthan Banks, using corner-blitzes for 3.0 this season.
*Banks makes his name more often defending, and picking, passes. He has five interceptions this season and needs one more to tie the season record, shared by six others.
*His 12 career picks ties him for 2nd on the all-time MSU list. The record is 16.
*Banks and CB Corey Broomfield both have three career pick-sixes, tying for the MSU record.
*State has two pick-sixes on the season, none since October 1 though.
*Broomfield, with nine career picks, has not intercepted a ball since the 2010 Egg Bowl.
*The six regular Dog defensive backs now have 33 interceptions among them.
*LB Cameron Lawrence has two picks, the only non-DB on this team with an interception.
*But the junior is making his name for tackles, a team-best 100 of them. He has had double-digit tackles five times this season, his first as full-time starter.
*Lawrence has averaged 10.0 tackles over the last five games. He ranks #3 in SEC tackles average for the whole season.
*Meanwhile LB Brandon Wilson is right behind with a 8.1 tackles average overall for 4th in the SEC. With 89 stops, Wilson will try to join Lawrence in the 100-tackle club. State has not had two linebackers with 100 tackles since the 1997 season.
*Senior S Charles Mitchell has 22 tackles the last two games, and 274 for his Bulldog career.
*State had one defensive touchdown all last year; they have two so far this season on interception returns.
*And now the Dogs have doubled last year’s kick-return touchdown total. Bumphis and Banks have each returned a punt for a score.
*That gives State four non-offensive touchdowns this season, compared to two in 2010. But they had seven in 2009.
*P Baker Swedenburg has arguably been State’s defensive MVP with his consistent kicking. His 47.4 yard average last week at Arkansas was the season-best so far.
*PK Derek DePasquale made good on a 35-yard field goal last week, hopefully ending a slump where he’d missed five of six tries. In the process he became just the sixth Dog with 30 or more field goals.
*His 30-of-40 career percentage, 75%, is still second-best ever at State.
*And DePasquale remains perfect on 82 career PATs, the only Dog kicker on the top-ten to have never missed. The record of 89 makes is shared by Adam Carlson and Brian Hazelwood.
*DE Preston Smith, DT P.J. Jones, and S Dee Arrington are the only true freshmen to play so far this season. That matches the total for true frosh activated in 2010.