*The Bulldogs have won their only home game so far, beating Alcorn State two weeks ago 51-7.
*That victory was Coach Dan Mullen’s 30th at State, in five seasons. He has reached 30 wins faster than any Bulldog boss before him, and already ranks fourth on the MSU list.
*Mullen’s teams have won their last eight non-conference home games, going back to 2009, and are 9-2 at Scott Field overall.
*In his five seasons Mississippi State is 17-3 outside of SEC play, and 15-1 against teams which (at the time) were not part of ‘AQ’ conferences.
*The tentative Bulldog starting lineup for this rematch with Troy shows just nine of the same names as in 2012; five on offense and four on defense. Both of the specialists have returned though.
*State is 2-1 against Trojan teams having won last year at Troy and at home in 2002. But in ’01 the Trojans pulled off a 21-9 victory at Scott Field, playing around a mid-game storm that temporarily forced the stadium to be vacated.
*MSU is 25-3-2 against the current Sun Belt Conference lineup, with 15 of the wins against Arkansas State…the lone team to defeat Troy so far this year.
The Opponent: Coaches are supposed to be the ‘face’ of a program. It’s just plain fact to say Larry Blakeney is Troy football. He didn’t found this program but even long-timers are pressed to recall any of the 19 coaches who preceded his arrival in 1991. One of just two active coaches working on fields named for himself, Blakeney is 171-99-1 in 23 seasons with five Sun Belt championships. The last title came in 2010 and since then his teams are 10-17. But anyone figuring this coach has run his course, beware. This old dog has a lot of bite left.
Offense: He certainly has an offense that can compare with anyone, any league. Just for one example, ten Trojans have already scored a touchdown this season. Or 547 yards per-game which ranks 14th nationally. Or, the nearly-45 points-per Troy is scoring so far. Never mind the Bulldogs have seen this show before from a ’12 Troy team that finished 11th in NCAA offense, this is an attack to keep defensive coordinators working overtime. And while passing plays get the attention things actually balance out just 51%/49% to throwing. It only seems that Corey Robinson is chunking it every snap…and completing it too, at a 76.4% success rate. He set a NCAA record on opening day going 30-of-32 against UAB, and is en route to become just the fourth college quarterback to throw for four 3,000-yard seasons. He has been picked off 42 times but only nine came last season as Robinson is increasingly precise. Plus, the Trojans don’t depend entirely on passes to score. Alternate quarterback Deon Anthony will take over to run option and net 6.5 yards per keeper; or pitch to a variety of backs who can take it on in themselves. Receptions are nicely distributed as four Trojans are in double-digits already. The one to watch closest is X-man Eric Thomas with a 18.6-yard net each grab this year and five touchdowns, giving him 22 career scores. Blocking is led by preseason All-SBC tackle Terrence Jones, a 320-pounder who certainly stands out on the right end; and while center Evan McKissack isn’t a behemoth at 5-10, 255 he has had four seasons of snapping to Robinson and knows both their jobs completely.
Defense: After ten seasons in three other jobs, former coordinator Wayne Bolt returns to Troy to improve a defense which couldn’t protect enough of those ’12 leads. He’s helped by getting some personnel back healthy, most of all middle of the four-man line. 295-pound senior and former Kansas State tackle Antonio Gillespie returns after taking a year off, alongside tackle Shermane Teart who missed seven games with a shoulder problem. And there’s restored depth with senior John Clark eligible again. With that muscle in the middle end Tyler Roberts has been freed to make 14 tackles and 2.5 sacks. There’s good experience at linebackers led by middle-man Mark Wilson with 13 tackles, 2.5 for losses. And Troy tends to run with a five-man secondary built around strong safety Camren Hudson, the team’s tackles leader. Junior cornerback Ethan Davis is tough to beat in coverage with four deflections, and the entire unit practices stripping the ball from runners. That’s an excellent way to neutralize giving up yards and completions, too.
Specialists: Senior placekicker Will Scott, a Lucedale, Miss. native, draws tripled duty. He’s made 3-of-5 field goal including the overtime game-winner on opening night against UAB, averages 40.7 yards punting and takes care of half the kickoffs though Jed Solomon has a longer average and four touchbacks. Either Wilson Van Hooser or Chandler Worthy will be returning the kicks, and Worthy is a career top-tenner for Troy in both punt and kickoff yardage.
Bulldog Notebook: The Bulldog offense has produced 49 plays that went for ten or more yards. That’s 22% of all State snaps from scrimmage going for double-digit gains.
*Eleven of the dozen State trips to the red zone have resulted in points this season, nine times with touchdowns.
*Five Dogs have scored a touchdown this season. Two, WR Jameon Lewis and RB Derrick Milton, have scored on both a rush and a reception. Lewis did it last week on a 14-yard end around against Auburn for his second career TD tote.
*Lewis is the only Bulldog to have scored in his career rushing, receiving, and returning after his 100-yard runback in the Egg Bowl last year.
*Lewis has already equaled his entire ’12 total for passes caught, with ten through three games.
*Through Mullen’s first four seasons Dog defenses scored ten touchdowns on interceptions or fumble returns, and three times on safeties.
*But State has yet to score on a defensive play or blocked kick since the ’12 opener against Jackson State.
*This State team is one of four nationally, so far, with both a blocked field goal and blocked punt. S Nickoe Whitley got the placekick on opening day, and DT Nelson Adams deflected an Alcorn State punt.
*Senior Whitley came away with a pair of deflected passes at Auburn for interceptions, his first two-pick game in college. He now has 12 career interceptions which ties him for second in program history; four behind John Banks (2009-12) and Walt Harris (1992-95). Whitley is tied among active NCAA leaders too.
*They’re not exactly running wild but four Dog defenders have been credited with a sack, all the first of their respective careers. State had just 19 total sacks all last season to rank #100 nationally.
*OLB Deontae Skinner got that initial career sack last week at Auburn. It followed up his first career interception when he caught an Alcorn State pass.
*The team tackles race is on, and even after three games. Skinner and MLB Benardrick McKinney are tied at 19 each.
*And new starting SS Kendrick Market is a surprising third with 14 tackles, having taken over after the game-one injury to SS Jay Hughes.
*No Dog defender has more than 2.0 tackles for loss, but 17 of them have scored at least one such stop.
*Whitley has 185 career tackles in his 37 games, with 33 starts. He missed the Alcorn State game with injury and has been listed questionable for this week as well.
*RB LaDarius Perkins returned to action with eight carries, for 36 yards. He did get a pair of passes, giving him 50 total yards, and now ranks 5th in career all-purpose yards at 3,599. But his pace has been slow this senior season and the record of 4,443 (Anthony Dixon 2006-09) will require some faster footwork.
*A year ago Perkins produced 179 rushing yards and one TD against Troy, with 85 yards on four kickoff returns.
*Perkins’ last rushing touchdown was October 20 of last season. He has 20 career scores running or receiving.
*A week after making his college debut with a 98-yard output against Alcorn State, freshman RB Ashton Shumpert had just one touch for two yards at Auburn. And he’s still second in team rushing on the early season at 100 yards.
*First place belongs to QB Dak Prescott with 162 yards on 32 keepers or scrambles, a 5.1-average. Prescott played the entire offensive game at Auburn.
*In his two starts, playing six quarters, Prescott is 27-of-47 passing for 387 yards with two touchdowns and no turnovers. He’s been 53% in all action this season with one turnover.
*Prescott’s three-game stats this year exceed his entire ’12 output off the bench; 476 passing yards to 194 and 162 rushing yards to 118.
*But playing spot-duty last year Prescott was put in positions to score more quickly and did with four rushing and four passing touchdowns. The result is in his 157 career plays, throwing or running, Prescott has produced 13 touchdowns, or a score every 13 hikes.
*Senior QB Tyler Russell hasn’t played since suffering a concussion late in the third quarter on opening day. So he’s still one touchdown pass short of tying the MSU record of 37 (Derrick Taite 1993-96).
*Russell remains tied for 4th in career completions at 349 with Tony Shell (1988-90), and fifth in career yardage.
*Russell’s average yards gained per-pass thrown is fourth-best in Bulldog history.
*As a SEC starter, Russell has completed 58.6% of his passes compared to 54.4% in non-conference game starts. But the average completion in league play is good for 12.6 yards to 13.9 in non-SEC catches.
*QB Damian Williams is the first true freshman to take a quarterback snap for Mullen at Mississippi State, having worked most of the second half against Alcorn State. He did not play at Auburn.
*P Baker Swedenburg averaged 46.6 yards on seven punts last week, the third-best rate of his college career.
*Swedenburg is now 9th all-time at State in both punts (142) and yards (5,941). And his 41.84 average these three seasons is 5th-best by a Bulldog.
*PK Devon Bell is 2-of-4 on field goals after missing from 35 yards last week. But he began his freshman year 1-of-4 and went on to make 13 of the next 17 attempts.
*He is 16 makes in 25 tries in two seasons. For perspective he’ll need just 40 field goals to crack MSU’s career top-ten.
*Bulldog punt coverage has taken a turn for the worse this season. After ranking 2nd nationally with just six net return yards allowed, this team has already given up 51 yards on five returns.
*In three games TE Malcolm Johnson is over half-way to his entire 2012 output. Johnson has six grabs for 84 yards already.
*Each completed Bulldog pass has netted 13.7 yards.
*OG Gabe Jackson has started all the 42 games played as a collegian. Meaning the senior is on track to earn the most starts by a Mullen Bulldog. John Banks set the mark at 44.
*Seven true freshmen have played so far: CB Kivon Coman, CB Tolando Cleveland, DT Chris Jones, WR Fred Ross, RB Ashton Shumpert, QB Damian Williams, and WR De’Runnya Wilson.
*Only three scholarship redshirts from 2012 have yet to play: CB Will Redmond, TE Gus Walley (inj), and DT Jordan Washington.