*Mississippi State is seeking the first 3-0 start to a season since 1999. The Bulldogs already have scored a SEC-season victory in the opener for the first time since that same year.
*Counting last season, the Bulldogs are on a four-game win streak, longest since the 2010 team won six-straight.
*Coach Dan Mullen has won 12-straight games against non-conference opponents including a pair of bowl victories.
*State puts the Mullen streak of never losing to a unranked team that was not receiving poll votes on the line this weekend, too.
*This is Mississippi State’s first trip to Troy. The Bulldogs have faced the Trojans just twice; losing in the infamous 2001 ‘tornado warning’ game 21-9, then escaping 11-8 the next year to even the score. MSU is the only SEC team the Trojans have defeated.
*VMS seats 30,000 with the largest crowd to date 2,6574 for a 2004 game against Missouri. They have scheduled a record six home games for this season.
*The Dogs get to play on one of two college fields named for the home team’s head coach. Only Kansas State has a similar status.
*Troy coach Larry Blakeney was an assistant at Auburn from 1977-90, with a 12-3 record against MSU teams in that stretch.
The Opponent: With the splendid track record of success in the 2000s, the new decade began with a most unusual change of program pace. The five-time defending Sun Belt champs stumbled to 3-9. It was a nigh-unthinkable outcome for old dog Blakeney, who plans a return to old form in his 22nd season. So does a team using Unfinished Business as a 2012 theme. The offensive power is there in abundance, more than enough to support a defense that ought to develop over the coming weeks. That’s good because once the Bulldogs leave town Troy attention turns to five-straight conference games…a stretch where they intend to reclaim big dog status in the Sun Belt.
Offense: Talk about balance, its been two games and two gameplans. Week-one it was an impressive ground-pounding of UAB, led by senior RB Shawn Southward with 204 yards and three touchdowns. He’s bidding to be the first Trojan ever to lead team rushing four-straight seasons, and just passed 2,000 career with 26 touchdowns. Week-two turned it around entirely…or maybe more back to plan. Because quarterback Corey Robinson put on a show against Louisiana-Lafayette, setting five school game records including passes and yardage. Surely some though the 46-of-70 line had to be a mistake, but then Robinson would happily do the same any week. He’s 63% through two games, four scores and just one interception, and his average completion nets 11 yards. Just a junior he is already near 7,800 career yards after 1,103 throws. It takes a lot of targets to catch all those balls, not to mention get off over 100 snaps in a game. Troy has them with a three- or four- or what the heck five-receivers set, since Southward also leads in catches. Burner Chip Reeves (10, 162 yards, 1 TD) and Eric Thomas (10, 59, 1) top the wideouts list while Chandler Worthy nets 17.1 yards each grab. Robinson has only been sacked once so far even though just a pair of ’11 regular starters are back. There’s no hiding which way their field tilts, too; where the leftmost two starters are 281 and 268 pounds, the right side bulges at 320 and 306 with 299-pound former tackle Kyle Wilborn at center. Note the ‘magic’ number here: Troy is 67-4 when scoring 35 or more points under Blakeney.
Defense: Sure their counterparts put up points and run plays. They just don’t burn much clock in the process, so Troy’s defense does get on the field a lot too. Like 70 snaps per game, so far. There are more worrisome numbers here though, such as allowing six yards per-hike and 424 per-game. This likely reflects some veteran personnel getting comfortable within their new for ’12 3-4 scheme. That three-man front features a pair of true tackles and is centered literally on 279-pound Shermane Teart, though he hasn’t been credited with a stop so far. But he and 274-pound fellow tackle Kyle Lucas must be attracting attention because DE Tony Davis has been active getting around the ball and backup Marty Stadom has two sacks. Middle LB Brannon Bryan is setting the early pace with 19 stops with weak-side man Dimiti Miles not far behind at 15. The scheme uses redshirt freshman Tyler Roberts as the extra ‘backer specializing in pressuring passers. The real leader, on and off field, is seniors safety Brynden Trawick, the SBC-leading tackler of 2011 with 123 after transferring from Michigan State. He began this year with 11 stops at UAB. The secondary has two seniors and as many juniors so lack of age is no issue on this side of the ball. Nor is speed, which offsets some size mismatches.
Specialists: Will Scott was signed out of Mississippi Gulf Coast C.C. to kick and he is certainly getting his chances, handling the punting (39.7 yards), kickoffs (61.7 yards) and all placekicks. He’s hit both field goals with a long of 44 yards and is 7-of-8 on PATs. Worthy returns kickoffs, and well at 26.2 yards, with Justin Albert fielding the punts.
Bulldog Notebook: The Bulldog defense has allowed one offensive touchdown in two games, out of 120 total plays. And counting last year’s Egg Bowl victory, State has not allowed a touchdown in the last two SEC games.
*CB Johnthan Banks now stands alone in second place on the career interceptions list. His two picks against Auburn give the senior 14, breaking the tie for second with Derek Pegues and Izell McGill. Banks needs two more interceptions to tie Walt Harris’ career record of 16.
*Banks scored his third two-interception game last week. Though the previous pair came on consecutive weekends back in 2009.
*If not for putting a foot out of bounds on one of last week’s interceptions, Banks would have notched a fourth career pick-six and taken the program record. He is tied, at three each, with teammate S Corey Broomfield and Pegues.
*Broomfield owns nine career interceptions to tie for 11th on the MSU chart, but didn’t intercept a ball all of 2011.
*CB Darius Slay has a pair of pick-sixes himself, against Georgia 2011 and Jackson State 2012.
*Bulldog starting defensive backs between them now have 29 interceptions, eight for touchdowns. Add in linebackers and this unit has 33 total picks.
*In four seasons, Mullen teams have scored 15 non-offense sourced touchdowns on turnovers or blocks.
*LB Cameron Lawrence had a short night’s work in the opener. But he put in a full day of SEC play against Auburn with ten total tackles including a sack. Lawrence averaged double-digit tackles in November and December of 2011.
*He now has 184 career tackles with 9.5 for losses.
*In two starts, new OLB Matt Wells has four tackles each game as well as a pass broken up both contests.
*The defensive line has two sacks so far, by ends Denico Autry and Preston Smith.
*The Dog defense has intercepted five passes and recovered three fumbles already.
*Meanwhile the offense has only one turnover to date, a fumble. State has yet to throw an interception in 57 passes.
*RB LaDarius Perkins had his third-best rushing output of the career with 85 yards against Auburn. It was his second-best SEC showing after a 98-yard night at Ole Miss in 2010.
*Perkins is up to 1,129 career rushing yards in 28 games with eight touchdowns. He already has as many touchdowns this season in two games as in all his freshman year’s 13 games.
*Adding in receiving stats, Perkins now has 13 career touchdowns.
*The surprise newcomer is redshirt RB Derrick Milton. He is averaging 6.8 yards per rush, with a touchdown, compared to Perkins’ 6.1 rate.
*QB Tyler Russell was a 60% passer as backup the last two seasons and 49% as a starter. In his first two starts of this season he 35-of-63, 66.0%.
*Russell already has thrown five touchdowns in two games, with no turnovers. He has 18 career touchdown passes, in just 19 games.
*Those 18 scores tie Russell for 9th on the MSU career list with John Bond. He needs 23 to tie Rockey Felker for 8th.
*Allowing that it is still early in his career, Russell currently ranks 3rd all-time in completion rate at 57.4%, behind his predecessors Tyson Lee 58.8% and Chris Relf 58.0%.
*But in the Passing Efficiency calculations Russell already ranks first all-time.
*WR Chad Bumphis is off to a fast senior start with a touchdown catch in both games. Bumphis has vaulted into a tie for third on the MSU career list with Bill Buckley at 14 career touchdown grabs.
*His 13-yard scoring grab last week was Bumphis’ first SEC touchdown catch since November 2010, and his third career.
*Bumphis now has 105 career catches in 39 games to rank 7th all-time. His 1,404 career yards rank 10th as he just passed Willie Harris for that spot. Bumphis has caught at least one pass in all but one of his career games (UAB, 2010).
*Bumphis has one of the two touchdowns scored by State wideouts under Mullen on receiver carries, against Georgia Tech in 2009. WR Jameon Lewis (Memphis 2011) has the other. All-told Bumphis owns 2,475 career yards for catching, running, and returning.
*Lewis had seven catches as a freshman and a touchdown in The Opening game at Memphis. He has four grabs this year.
*WR Chris Smith is setting the early pace with seven catches in two games. He led the team with 35 grabs as a junior.
*After having his 18-game catch streak snapped in the Egg Bowl, WR Areceto Clark has started another one with nine balls in his last three games.
*A sixth season’s eligibility is letting TE Marcus Green thrive. He already has six catches this year after just eleven as a junior.
*And half his grabs this year have gone for touchdowns. The three total matches his scores in 2009 when Green grabbed 27 balls.
*After only needing boot the ball once in the opener, P Baker Swedenburg was more busy against Auburn. His five punts went for exactly 200 yards, a 40.0 average. Swedenburg averaged 41.9 yards in his first season of kicking and was not blocked.
*PK Devon Bell is perfect on his PATs so far, 8-of-8. But he is 0-of-3 on freshman field goals. PK Charlie Grandfield shared PAT duty in the opener and made all three tries.
*State kicking produced seven touchbacks in all 2011. With a more generous starting point Bell and KO Brian Egan have combined for four this year. And the kickoff Auburn returned for a touchdown last week did go a yard-deep into the end zone.
*Six Bulldogs have played in all 40 games under Mullen: Banks, DT Josh Boyd, Broomfield, FB Sylvester Hemphill, and WR Brandon Heavens. None have started every game. Banks has the most Mullen-era starts with 34.
*OG Gabe Jackson has the active consecutive start streak, 28 games and counting.
*Five true freshmen have played: PK Bell, DT Nick James, DT Quay Evans, DE Ryan Brown, and CB Cedric Jiles. Only three true freshmen played in both 2010 and ’11.