Skip to content

Bulldogs Could Post First Nine-Win Season In A Decade

Coach Dan Mullen

Bulldogs Could Post First Nine-Win Season In A Decade

By Reid Bankston
Sports Reporter

    After wrapping up their most successful regular season since 2000, the Mississippi State Bulldogs will now turn their attention to a bowl date with one of the most storied programs in all of college football.             

    Mississippi State (8-4 overall, 4-4 SEC) will meet the Michigan Wolverines (7-5 overall, 3-5 Big Ten) in the Progressive Gator Bowl on New Year’s Day in Jacksonville, Florida.  While Mississippi State has been one of the surprises in all of college football this season under second year head coach Dan Mullen, the Wolverines have again been one of the biggest disappointments, leading many Michigan faithfuls calling for head coach Rich Rodriguez’s resignation.  

    While Mississippi State started their season off slowly with losses in their first two conference games against LSU and Auburn, Michigan bolted out of the gate, as quarterback Denard Robinson single-handedly led the Wolverines to a 5-0 start.  However, Robinson battled injuries through their next seven games, while the Michigan defense struggled to keep opponents under 35, as the wheels fell off for Rodriguez’s bunch.  

    Unlike Michigan, Missis-sippi State finished strong, only stumbling at Alabama and in overtime to Arkansas on their way to a 6-2 finish, including a 31-23 Egg Bowl victory over Ole Miss.  With the matchup set, it’s time to take a position by position look at each team before I give my prediction on the 2011 Gator Bowl.

Quarterback

  With the exception of Heisman Trophy Winner Cam Newton, there isn’t a more explosive player at the quarterback position than Denard Robinson.  The Florida native led Michigan in both passing with 2,316 yard and 16 touchdowns and in rushing, with 1,643 and 14 touchdowns.  Simply put, if Robinson gets going, there isn’t much you can do to stop him.  If the Bulldogs don’t tackle Robinson will add to his personal highlight real that is as impressive as any. 

    For Mississippi State, Chris Relf has been rock solid this season.  Unorthodox in the passing game, but strong in the run game, Relf has grown into the Mississippi State offense as the season as progressed, throwing for 1,508 yards and rushing for 683 more.  Mullen has again worked his quarterback wonders on Relf, turning him into a solid SEC quarterback, but Robinson is truly special at the position, and he can break the big play at anytime, as seen in Michigan’s 34.3 points per game average.

Advantage- Michigan

Running Backs

    Mississippi State’s ground attack has been workman like all year, led by junior Vick Ballard.  Very much an unknown coming out of high school, Ballard spent two years at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College before finding his way to Starkville.  In his first year at Mississippi State, Ballard has tallied a record number of rushing touchdowns (16), while averaging 5.4 yards per carry en route to an 892 yard season.  LaDarious Perkins has come on strong towards the end of his redshirt freshman year, becoming a solid backup to Ballard and a big play threat out of the backfield.  

    Perkins has rushed for three touchdowns on the ground and caught three more.  Michigan is lea by the diminutive Vincent Smith, who rushed for 588 yards and five touchdowns this season.  Michael Shaw has also been a productive ball carrier for the Wolverines, tallying 383 yards and nine touchdowns.  Smith and Shaw are serviceable, but Ballard just has a knack for finding the end zone.

Advantage- Mississippi State

Wide Receiver

With the absence of leading receiver Chad Bumphis, Michigan will have a significant advantage at the wide receiver position.  Roy Roundtree, Darryl Stonum, and Junior Hemingway all have touchdown receptions of over 65 yards this season for the Wolverines and the talented trio has combined for 14 touchdowns and 2000 through the air this season.  Without Bumphis, Mississippi State will rely heavily on Chris Smith, Arceto Clark, and Brandon Heavens to carry the load in Jacksonville.  The Bulldog trio is dwarfed by Michigan in production, only accounting for 839 yards and five touchdowns

Advantage- Michigan

Offensive Line

    Led by potential first round pick and All-SEC performer Derek Sherrod, Mississippi State’s offensive line has come on leaps and bounds in the 2010 season.  With Relf still showing inconsistencies in the passing game at times, Mullen has had to lean heavily on the rushing attack for points this season and the offensive line has allowed that to happen, paving the way for 2,589 yards and 23 rushing touchdowns.  

  Michigan’s offensive line dominated against lesser competition, but allowed Robinson to take a beating in several games this season, in-cluding three losses to Michigan State, Iowa, and Ohio State.   

 Although Mich-igan rushed for more yards and touchdowns than Mississippi State, nearly half of that can be attributed to the scrambling ability of Robinson.  Michigan’s offensive line is good, but Mississippi State has proved to be more consistent against better competition.

Advantage- Mississippi State

Defensive Line

    Neither the Wolverines nor the Bulldogs boast an intimidating front four, but while Mississippi State’s defensive line has been serviceable this season, Michigan’s has been horrible.  Michigan defensive lineman Mike Martin is probably the best defensive player for either team, but his teammates have done little to help the big defensive tackle.  A once proud and dominant unit, the Michigan defensive line has been all kind of bad since Rodriguez took over, and it hasn’t gotten any better this season.         

    The Wolverines rank 93rd in the country against the run, having given up 2,252 yards and 30 rushing touchdowns, only nine teams have given up more touchdowns on the ground.  Mississippi State’s defensive line has depth issues at the end spots with the departure of Jonathon McKenzie and the death of Nick Bell, but the Bulldogs have been exceptional against the run this season.  

    Mississippi State has given up only 1,460 yards on the ground, which is 18th best in the country, while only giving up 11 rushing touchdowns, which is 17th best in the country.  Although Mississippi State has held its own up front all year long with 26 sacks, Robinson is unlike any test the Bulldogs have faced this year.  However, with Pernell McPhee and Fletcher Cox leading the way, Mississippi State should win the battle in the trenches.

Advantage- Mississippi State

Linebackers

  Like the Michigan defensive front, the Wolverines are undersized and undermanned at the linebacker positions.  Jonas Mouton and Obi Ezeh have the experience and talent to make plays, but with Mouton being a converted safety, the Wolverines are weak against the run.  

    Mouton is second on the team with 111 tackles, while Ezeh only has 56, an extremely disappointing total for a guy that should be leading the Michigan defense. Unlike Michigan, the strength of the Mississippi State defense is their linebackers, specifically the duo of K.J. Wright and the Connerly Award winner, an award given to Mississippi’s best collegiate football player, Chris White.     

    White led the Bulldogs with 105 tackles, while Wright was second with 93 tackles.  Both Mississippi State linebackers are also adequate in coverage, as well as blitzing the quarterback, as seen by their 9 combined sacks on the season.          Like the rest of the Michigan defense, there isn’t much to write home about when it comes to the Wolverine linebackers.  White and Wright will be in charge of making sure Robinson doesn’t beat the Bulldogs by himself.

Advantage- Mississippi State

Secondary

  Easily the weakest link on the Michigan team is the defensive secondary.  The Wolverines were absolutely destroyed by injuries at the cornerback position during the offseason, and boy has it shown this season.              Michigan ranks 106th in the nation in yards through the air, giving up 3,123 yards and 18 touchdowns.  J.T. Floyd, Cameron Gordon, and Jordan Kovacs were all viewed as prospects for the future for Michigan, but they’ve had a trial by fire in 2010.  Mississippi State has also struggled at times in the secondary, but much of that has been due to poor tackling as opposed to broken coverage.

    The Bulldogs have given up 2,837 yards through the air, which is 82nd in the country, and 17 touchdowns.  Corners Jonathon Banks and Corey Broomfield have been hit or miss early on in their Mississippi State careers, but both are capable of intercepting anything thrown their way.  Nickoe Whitley has emerged as a potential star for the Bulldogs at safety, but the freshman has been caught taking bad angles from time to time.  

    Junior leader Charles Mitchell has been the calming influence in the Mississippi State secondary, and the Clarksdale native is excellent in run support.  The Bulldogs will have their hands full with the Michigan receivers, but Michigan’s secondary would have had their hands full with just about anybody.

Advantage- Mississippi State

Prediction

    Although on paper Mississippi State has the advantage at several key positions and is overall the stronger team from the stronger conference, this game is tough to call because of Denard Robinson.  When Robinson is on, he can put up 500 yards of offense by himself, which is a threat for any defense.  

    However, Mississippi State’s defense is the only defense to contain Cam Newton, although the Bulldogs did catch Auburn early in the season.  With nearly a month and a half to prepare, I expect Mississippi State defensive coordinator Manny Diaz to dial something up to stop Robinson, which leads me to believe the Bulldogs have the edge in this one.  On the other hand, time can’t fix a lack of talent, and that’s the challenge facing Greg Robinson’s Michigan defense.

    If Mississippi State can control the ball and keep Robinson off the field, the Bulldogs could walk away with their first nine-win season in over a decade.

Prediction

Mississippi State 31

Michigan 28

Leave a Comment