Around The SEC; Mississippi State Preview

FOOTBALL – AROUND THE SEC

GEORGIA – Sophomore running back Richard Samuel seems to have taken control of the starting running back position for the Bulldogs. Most thought Caleb King would be the primary back. While both will likely play quite a bit, Samuel looks to be the #1 replacement for Knowshon Moreno at this point.

ARKANSAS – Arkansas cornerback Isaac Madison, who started 11 games last year, tore his MCL and is out for the season.

TENNESSEE – Star freshman running back Bryce Brown is being investigated by the NCAA regarding his status as an amateur. This goes back to his former trainer/handler Brian Butler and money that Butler raised to send Brown on trips, etc.

MISSISSIPPI STATE – Star running back Anthony Dixon was arrested in July for DUI. However, no punishment has been issued to Dixon as of yet.

VANDERBILT – Starting defensive end will miss six weeks with a broken right foot. He won’t be available for Vandy’s game against LSU.

MISSISSIPPI STATE PREVIEW

Mississippi State appeared to be making progress under former head coach Sylvester Croom. In Croom’s third year, the Bulldogs went to the Liberty Bowl and finished with a 8-5 record. However, the wheels came off last year. Rather than building upon their success in 2007, Mississippi State regressed and struggled to a 4-8 record that included a loss to Louisiana Tech. That sealed the fate of Croom, and Mississippi State hired Florida offensive coordinator Dan Mullen to lead the program. Mullen will ty to bring a spread offense to Starkville, but it will take him some time before he has the talent in place to be effective.

OFFENSE

Sophomore Tyson Lee is the favorite to be State’s starting quarterback to begin the season. Lee was decent at times as a freshman in 2008 and finished the year with a 58.8% completion rate with 7 TDs and 5 INTs. Lee is very small in stature at just 5’11″ 200 pounds, and he’s not physically equipped to consistently run the ball from the QB position. Mullen’s offense is at its best when the QB is a threat to run. As a passer, Lee will likely be asked to make shorter, higher percentage throws. True freshman Tyler Russell is a great fit for Mullen’s offense, and he’ll likely see some action this year. He may even take over the starting job at some point. Chris Relf, a mobile 6’3″ 230 pounder, is making his case to earn some playing time as well.

State returns senior All-SEC running back Anthony Dixon (pictured). In his first three years, Dixon has been consistently very good for the Bulldogs. His success is even more impressive when you consider that he’s been their only real offensive threat and has had to run behind ill-equipped offensive lines. He’s facing a similar situation in 2009. Dixon’s status for the beginning of the year is a bit uncertain due to a DUI arrest in July. The team hasn’t handed out any disciplinary action or suspensions as of yet. Backing up Dixon is Christian Ducre, who has had some success in the SEC and is quite capable.

Brandon McRae returns to lead the Bulldogs’ receiving corps and he is a good one. He caught 51 passes in 2008. Delmon Robinson and O’Neal Wilder are expected to see lots of playing time as well though neither have much experience.

State really lacks talent on the offensive line, and that may be their undoing again this season. Mississippi State finished 11th in the SEC in rushing yards, and they allowed 37 sacks, good for tenth in the league. They don’t have anyone who will compete for All-SEC honors, but they do return a lot of starting experience. Dan Mullen has also gotten creative in attempts to add more athleticism to the line. He has moved starting right tackle Quentin Saulsberry to offensive guard and moved defensive tackle Templeton Hardy to offense.

DEFENSE

Mississippi State was quite poor on the defensive line in 2008. They had the fewest sacks in the SEC and ranked just 11th in rushing defense. They also lacked any real play makers on the line. They have high hopes for sophomore Seth Ferguson who notched four sacks in the spring game. Junior college transfer Pernell McPhee hopes to make an instant impact at defensive tackle.

The Bulldogs do return a very solid group of linebackers. Senior Jamar Chaney and junior KJ Wright (right) lead the way. Wright was the sole play maker on the defense in 2008, leading the team with four sacks and five tackles for loss.

The secondary will have to compensate for the loss of Derek Pegues, who was a mainstay in the backfield for the Bulldogs’ defense since 2005. Cornerback Marcus Washington is the lone returning starter. Sophomore Charles Mitchell is very talented, and he’ll try to make his mark a a starter this year.

All-SEC candidates:
RB Anthony Dixon
LB KJ Wright
LB Jamar Chaney
WR Brandon McRae

Schedule:

vs. Jackson St. (W)
@ Auburn (L)
@ Vanderbilt (L)
vs. LSU (L)
vs. Georgia Tech
vs. Houston (W)
@ Middle Tennessee St. (W)
vs. Florida (L)
@ Kentucky (L)
vs. Alabama (L)
@ Arkansas (L)
vs. Ole Miss (L)

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