CoogFans' Opponent Preview - Miss. State

CoogFans' Opponent Preview - Miss. State

The key to reaching six victories and reaching a bowl game could be the play of the defensive line. The defense ranked near the bottom of pretty much every major statistical category in the Southeastern Conference in 2009, but they have potential if the front four can get pressure on the opposing quarterback.

Mississippi State Bulldogs
Southeastern Conference

2009 Record: (5-7, 3-5)
2009 Bowl: none
Coach: Dan Mullen (5-7 at Mississippi State, 5-7 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Les Koenning
Defensive Coordinator: Manny Diaz

Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Chris Relf, QB 500 yards
Passing: Chris Relf, QB, 500 yards
Receiving: Chad Bumphis, WR, 375 yards
Tackles: K.J. Wright, LB, 82
Sacks: Pernell McPhee, DE, 5.0
Interceptions: Corey Broomfield, CB, 6

Other Key Returnees: S Johnthan Banks, C J.C. Brignone, DT Fletcher Cox, DE Sean Ferguson, TE Marcus Green, CB Maurice Langston, OT Addison Lawrence, S Charles Mitchell, G Quentin Saulsberry, OT Derek Sherrod, LB Chris White, WR O'Neal Wilder
Key Losses: LB Jamar Chaney, RB Anthony Dixon, RB Christian Ducre, G Craig Jenkins, QB Tyson Lee, DT Kyle Love, WR Brandon McRae, CB Marcus Washington.

This will almost certainly be a better team than they were in 2009, but the record may not show it. Tough road games at LSU, Houston, Florida, Alabama and Mississippi will certainly make reaching a bowl game quite difficult. However, the signs for the future are promising under second year head coach Dan Mullen and with a slew of starters returning, this is a team that could surprise a team or two…even on the road.

Strengths:
Even with the departure of linebacker Jamar Chaney, the defensive back seven should be the strength of this team. K.J. Wright and Chris White were second and third on the team in tackles in 2009 and the seniors will anchor the defense. Add emerging sophomore Cameron Lawrence to the linebacker corps and the Bulldogs have a nice looking group in the middle of the defense. The secondary returns three starters including junior strong safety Charles Mitchell and sophomore free safety Johnthan Banks. Maurice Langston is an experienced corner and Corey Broomfield had a superb freshman campaign and is more than ready to step into a starting role opposite Langston. The strength on the other side of the ball is the offensive line. They paved the way for a great rushing attack and return four starters. Left tackle Derek Sherrod and center J.C. Brignone are both very talented seniors who could be playing on Sundays in a year.

Weaknesses:
But can the offensive line get the job done without running back Anthony Dixon in the backfield? Dixon finished off his career at MSU by rushing for 1,391 yards and 12 touchdowns. Robert Elliott, who rushed 44 times for 221 yards last season, is the veteran of the group. Junior college transfer Vick Ballard will be in the mix as well and redshirt freshmen LaDarius Perkins and Montrell Conner will get their opportunities too. Nobody is going to replace Dixon, so expect a running back by committee approach at least early in the year. And this is a team that heavily relied on the ground game last season. Quarterback Tyson Lee threw four touchdown passes and 14 interceptions…and he was the starter most of the year due to lack of other options. Junior Chris Relf is more of a rushing threat than a passer. The other option is big 6-5 freshman Tyler Russell. Russell is a more traditional quarterback who could actually help balance out the offense with his arm. Whether or not he can be a leader as a redshirt freshman remains to be seen and he and Relf will battle it out for the starting job into the fall and probably into the season as well.

The Bottom Line:
The key to reaching six victories and reaching a bowl game could be the play of the defensive line. The defense ranked near the bottom of pretty much every major statistical category in the Southeastern Conference in 2009, but they have potential if the front four can get pressure on the opposing quarterback. The good news is senior Pernell McPhee is back after leading the team with 5.0 sacks in 2009. Sean Ferguson is also back at the other end spot, but his job is in jeopardy thanks to the size and strength of sophomore Nick Bell. If Bell or McPhee can have a breakout season and the young interior linemen can at least help stop the run, Mississippi State can win games with their defense and not have to rely on the inexperienced rushing attack quite as much.

2009 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 227.58 (9th in nation, 1st in conference)
Passing Offense: 144.33 (113, 11)
Total Offense: 371.92 (65, 7)
Scoring Offense: 25.58 (72, 9)
Rushing Defense: 146.00 (62, 7)
Pass Defense: 220.00 (64, 11)
Total Defense: 366.00 (58, 10)
Scoring Defense: 26.75 (71, 11)
Turnover Margin: -.42 (87, 10)
Sacks: 1.33 (104, 11)
Sacks Allowed: 1.67 (49, 7)

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