Although I provided a preview of Mississippi State before the season started, it is time to augment that qualitative evaluation with a quantitative breakdown, now that the 'Dawg-eat-'Dog contest is on the horizon.
As always, my efforts at breaking down the Classic City Canines' upcoming opponent do not entail the analysis of a minute amount of data, nor do they involve the review of a fair amount of detail. Instead, they require . . . Too Much Information.
The Passing Game
Of the three quarterbacks who have started for the Bulldogs this season, Matthew Stafford has the lowest passer efficiency rating (98.05), the most interceptions (4), the fewest touchdown passes (1), and the lowest completion percentage (50.5%) . . . but also the most pass attempts (93), the most completions (47), and the most passing yards (582).
The future begins on Saturday.
Despite the drops by the receivers that have hampered severely Stafford's numbers, nine Bulldogs have at least seven catches and five Georgia players average at least 19 receiving yards per game. At the end of the day, though, the 'Dawgs still rank eighth in the conference in aerial offense, averaging just 175.7 yards per game, yet the Bulldogs on the field displaying the least aptitude for the forward pass will not be the home team.
Mississippi State has thrown the league's fewest touchdown passes (3), hurled the most interceptions (8), and completed the lowest percentage of passes (48.7%). Only Ole Miss averages fewer yards per pass (6.0) and the Magnolia State Bulldogs' 168.0 passing yards per game are the fourth-fewest in the S.E.C. Five M.S.U. players have hauled in more than five receptions, of whom one is now the starting quarterback.
Omarr Conner, the visiting team's signal-caller, has thrown just two touchdown passes this season. He will be going up against a supremely talented yet underachieving Georgia secondary which ranks sixth in the Southeastern Conference against the pass, surrendering 160.7 yards per game through the air. The 'Dawgs have permitted more first downs on pass plays (60) than the Red and Black offense has gained (59).
Willie B. would make a better defensive coordinator than Willie Martinez, and he's an ape.
Fortunately, Georgia should have the opportunity to get the passing game going against Saturday's opponent. Mississippi State's defense has allowed the league's most yards per pass (8.7), second-most passing yards per game (209.0), second-highest completion percentage (60.7%), and second-most touchdown passes (10). The Western Division squad also has allowed more first downs to be gained against it on forward passes (55) than it has attained through the air offensively (54).
The Running Game
Thomas Brown has been lost for the season, but Kregg Lumpkin and Danny Ware---each of whom has a pair of touchdown runs and is averaging over five yards per carry---remain in the Georgia backfield, where they hope to improve upon a Bulldog ground game that ranks eighth in the league and gains only 135.4 rushing yards per contest.
The 'Dawgs will face a challenge from the Mississippi State D, which ranks a respectable fifth in the S.E.C. against the run and surrenders 127.0 rushing yards per game . . . essentially the same number of yards given up on the ground by Auburn (127.3) and Tennessee (129.8). However, the visiting Bulldogs have given up 13 rushing touchdowns this season, the most conceded by any conference squad.
Sylvester Croom's team should have extremely limited success running the ball against the Red and Black. Georgia allows just 102.3 rushing yards per game---the third-fewest in the league---and the Bulldog front will be going up against an M.S.U. attack ranked 11th in the S.E.C. in rushing yards per game (88.1) and last in the conference in yards per rush (2.6). The 'Dawgs should and must shut down the Mississippi State running game.
Willie Nelson would make a better defensive coordinator than Willie Martinez, and he's high.
The Kicking Game
The visiting team ought to be good at punting, since the Western Division Bulldogs have done so 41 times this season, more than any other team in the conference. Although Georgia's average punt (39.4 yards) has only gone about seven inches farther than M.S.U.'s (39.2 yards), the Red and Black have allowed significantly fewer return yards in 2006 (44) than have the 'Dogs (193). This is why the home team ranks fifth in the league in punting, while the visitors rank 11th.
The two teams are comparable at returning kickoffs, with the average Red and Black runback going slightly longer (22.0 yards) than that of the opposing squad (21.1 yards), and Georgia boasts the conference's best punt return game, accounting for 18.3 yards per return and three touchdowns. Mississippi State ranks third in that category, averaging 12.9 yards per return, with one punt brought back for a T.D. The Maroon and White are the S.E.C.'s second-worst kickoff coverage team.
Free Willy would make a better defensive coordinator than Willie Martinez, and he's a whale who can't find his way to the ocean.
Just as the goal of the Georgia offense must be to throw the ball away from Mississippi State interceptions leader Derek Pegues (who has returned two picks for touchdowns), the goal of the Bulldog special teams must be to keep the ball away from punt return leader Derek Pegues (who averages 14.2 yards per return and has taken a punt back for a T.D.) and kickoff return leader Derek Pegues (who averages 27.4 yards per return).
Andy Bailey has split the uprights on five of his six field goal attempts, but his longest successful three-point try was from 34 yards out and, last week, he missed what would have been the game-winner from 38 yards away. On the plus side, Bailey has accounted for a trio of touchbacks on kickoffs, so the Georgia special teams finally are putting kicks into the end zone.
Mississippi State's Adam Carlson has been erratic on field goal attempts, connecting on 32-yard and 47-yard tries but failing to convert three-pointers of 37, 38, and 48 yards.
To be continued. . . .