October 30, 2006

Mississippi State in search of first SEC win

What: Mississippi State (2-7, 0-5 in SEC) at Alabama (6-3, 2-3 in SEC)
Where: Bryant-Denny Stadium (92,138), Tuscaloosa, Ala.
When: November 4, 2006
Time/TV: 11:34 a.m. CT/Lincoln Financial Sports
Series record: Alabama leads 71-16-3.
Last meeting: 2005: The Crimson Tide shutout State 17-0 in Starkville.

About Mississippi State
Head Coach: Tuscaloosa native Sylvester Croom, an all-america center for the Crimson Tide in 1974, has posted an 8-23 mark in two-plus seasons at MSU. He is 0-2 against his alma mater.
2006 by the numbers: Scoring offense: 18.4 ppg (11th in SEC); Pass offense: 199.3 ypg (7th in SEC); Rush offense: 78.3 ypg (12th in SEC); Total offense: 277.7 ypg (11th in SEC); Scoring defense: 27.2 ppg (11th in SEC); Pass defense: 223.8 ypg (11th in SEC); Rush defense: 122.0 ypg (6th in SEC); Total defense: 345.8 ypg (10th in SEC); Turnover margin: -3 (T-9th in SEC); Net punting: 33.3 ypp (11th in SEC).

How MSU's offense operates: With quarterback Michael Henig back from the broken collarbone he sustained in the season-opener against South Carolina, offensive coordinator Woody McCorvey will choose from a wide variety of formations. In the Bulldogs' first three snaps against Georgia two weeks ago, State went with the one-back (three wides), shotgun (two wides and a tight end) and I formations to start the game.

MSU's best offensive player: Wide receiver Tony Burks is averaging an eye-popping 26.4 yards per catch on 27 catches. The 6-foot-4 junior has four 100-yard receiving games to his credit, topping the mark in losses to Tulane (130), LSU (103), West Virginia (118), Georgia (106) and Kentucky (197). Burks had touchdown receptions of 75 and 36 yards in State's 34-31 loss to UK over the weekend.

Greatest area of strength for the Bulldogs' offense: With Henig back, it's the passing game. The sophomore threw for 384 yards and three touchdowns against Kentucky. He was intercepted twice. Henig, who has made three starts this season, has completed 56-of-120 passes (46.7 percent) for 935 yards and four touchdowns. The Montgomery native has thrown seven interceptions.

These are the guys Henig will look to throw to: Beyond Burks, wide receivers Lance Long and Jamayel Smith and halfback Arnil Stallworth are next in line. Long has pulled in 21 passes and Smith is averaging 16.8 yards per catch on 12 receptions. Smith had six catches for 93 yards and a touchdown (26 yards) in the Kentucky loss.

Where's the weakness on offense?: A Kentucky rush defense that went into Saturday's game ranked 115th out of 119 Division I-A teams held State's running game to 28 yards on 21 carries. Making matters worse were injuries sustained by Stallworth (knee), Brandon Thornton (knee) and Anthony Dixon (shoulder) in Saturday's game. Their respective statuses for this week's game at Alabama are uncertain.

How MSU's defense operates: Former UA assistant Ellis Johnson employs a base 4-3 defense.

MSU's best defensive player: Senior middle linebacker Quinton Culberson is the SEC's third-leading tackler with 8.7 stops per game. Culberson has made starts at inside linebacker, both outside linebacker positions and in the secondary during his career

Greatest area of strength for the Bulldogs' defense: Much like a year ago, State's front seven will give Alabama's offensive line and backs all they want. Defensive ends Michael Heard and Titus Brown, a Tuscaloosa native, have 6.5 and six sacks respectively. Brown has recorded 11.5 tackles for loss, while Heard has 10. Senior defensive tackle Deljuan Robinson has 9.5 TFLs on the season. Weakside linebacker Jamar Chaney had 2.5 tackles for loss and a sack against Kentucky.

Where's the weakness on defense?: Despite the impressive sack totals, State's secondary has struggled against the pass. Opponents have thrown for 15 touchdowns against the Bulldogs. Cornerback Derek Pegues leads the team in interceptions with four. The sophomore has returned two picks for scores. The other seven defensive backs on the MSU two-deep have a combined three picks. Free safety Jeramie Johnson leads the SEC in forced fumbles with five .

Kickin' it up a notch: His 38.7-yard punting average ranks last in the SEC, but Blake McAdams has killed 13 punts inside opponents' 20-yard line. Pegues ranks third among conference punt returners, averaging 14.8 yards per attempt. Pegues returned a punt 81 yards for a touchdown in State's 35-3 win over Jacksonville State on Oct. 14. He also handles kickoff returns and his 24.4-yard average ranks fifth in the league in that department. Placekicker Adam Carlson has connected on 4-of-7 field goal attempts with a long make of 47 yards. He's had one kick blocked.

Odds and ends: So, how do you go through three quarterbacks in a season? In surrendering a league-worst 26 sacks, the Bulldogs' offensive line provided an answer to that question…Opposing offenses have scored 24 touchdowns in 33 red zone trips against the MSU defense.

2006 Schedule
8/31 South Carolina (L, 0-15)
9/9 Auburn (L, 0-34)
9/16 Tulane (L, 29-32)
9/23 at UAB (W,16-10 OT)
9/30 at LSU (L, 17-48)
10/7 West Virginia (L, 14-42)
10/14 Jacksonville State (W, 35-3)
10/21 at Georgia (L, 24-27)
10/28 Kentucky (L, 31-35)
11/4 at Alabama 11:37 a.m. CT/LFS
11/18 Arkansas TBA
11/25 at Ole Miss TBA

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