Over the final six games of last year, MSU won two, lost to Georgia,
Kentucky and Ole Miss by three points each, and lost to Arkansas (no
shame there). The Bulldogs displayed an improved but inconsistent
offense, thanks to the emergence of Michael Henig and the passing game,
and a defense that did the best it could when the offense bogged down.
While that’s all well and good, MSU is still a million miles from being
within sniffing distance of SEC West contention, and still has a long
way to go before going to a bowl game. Even though the offense got a few
big performances from Henig and has the potential for a strong 1-2
rushing punch with Anthony Dixon and new recruit Robert Elliott, it’s
asking a lot for a major jump in production after averaging around 280
yards and 16 points per game over the last two seasons.
Making matters worse, the defense, which has carried the team lately,
has to replace far too many key contributors, especially on the
defensive front, including heart-and-soul linebacker Quinton Culberson.
In other words, the defense is going to slip a wee bit and the offense
isn’t going to make enough of a jump to pick up the slack.
Fortunately for the Bulldogs, everyone will take them lightly. It’ll be
a shock if anyone picks them to finish any higher than last in the West,
so they could jump up and surprise a team or two if everything breaks
the right way. No matter what happens, MSU needs more production, more
wins, and more hope for the future, or there will be a new head man
trying to rebuild with Croom’s decent recruits.
What to watch for on offense: A steadier dose of running. The
weapons just aren’t there to get the passing yards MSU needs to compete
in the SEC, and the more the offense can control the ball and keep its
defense off the field, the better. In Dixon and Elliott, the Bulldogs
have two talented backs with the potential to make MSU look like
Arkansas when it comes to hitting home runs. With four starters
returning up front, averaging 150 rushing yards a game might be a must.
What to watch for on defense: Bending, but not a whole bunch of
breaking. This isn’t going to be a defense that brings players from a
variety of angles to generate pressure. The hope is for the front four
to get into the backfield, and the back seven to get the job done. With
several big personnel losses, this defense won’t gamble too much, but it
should be decent at limiting the big plays.
The team will be far better if … there’s more production from the
punting game. The last thing a struggling offense and a tired defense
needs is bad field position, and while punt returns aren’t a problem
thanks to Derek Pegues, punter Blake McAdams has to get more boom on his
kicks. MSU finished last in the SEC, averaging 31.7 net punting yards
per game, and once in a while, there must be a game-changing type of
kick that bails the team out of a jam.
only six home games, an interesting mix of nasty games (but chances to
make a statement) against LSU, Tennessee and Alabama and three must-wins
against Jacksonville State, UAB and Ole Miss. Beating Tulane on the road
is a must, given the tough away games (including a non-conference date
at West Virginia). On the plus side, MSU misses Florida and Georgia from
the East, but it has to deal with Tennessee, Kentucky and South
Best Offensive Player: Sophomore RB Anthony Dixon. With 240-pound
size, breakaway speed, and decent moves, he can be the type of workhorse
running back to carry the offense and add more pop to the ground game.
He came on at the end of last year, and now should be a 100-yard runner
waiting to happen early on.
Best Defensive Player:
Derek Pegues. One of the team’s most dangerous players with the ball in
his hands, Pegues has scored two career touchdowns off interceptions and
will be the team’s lock-down corner on everyone’s number one. He’s also
a tremendous kickoff returner.
Key player to a
Junior QB Michael Henig.
He’s not accurate, he’s not a winner quite yet, and he doesn’t have much
in the way of skills, but he’s the quarterback the coaching staff will
go with, hoping he can do just enough to give the Bulldogs some
semblance of a passing game. If he’s awful, the MSU offense will be,
The season will be a
... MSU wins five games. That might not sound like much, but considering
the program hasn’t won more than three games since 2000, getting five
would be a nice step forward. It’s an attainable goal, with likely wins
over Tulane, Jacksonville State and UAB to count on, to go along with
the Egg Bowl against Ole Miss at home. An upset along the way against a
possible bowl-bound team is also a must.
Nov. 10 vs. Alabama. By
mid-November, MSU’s young team needs to be fully jelled on both sides of
the ball, and after pulling the upset over the Tide last year, could use
a win at home to show that things are still improving and involving in
the Croom era.
2006 Fun Stats:
- First quarter scoring: Opponents 90; Mississippi State 28
- Average yards per rush: Opponents 3.4; Mississippi State 2.9
- Penalties: Opponents 75 for 657 yards; Mississippi State 66 for 623