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Too Much Information: Mississippi State (Part II)

In life, as in sports, there are ups and downs, peaks and valleys, good days and bad days, which tend to combine to create some semblance of balance.

Last Saturday, for instance, Georgia lost to Vanderbilt (bad), but I got to spend the day with my son (good). My efforts to arrange a football game between Georgia and Texas drew support from various quarters (good), but not from Damon Evans or DeLoss Dodds (bad).

Pro: I was linked to Keith Olbermann. Con: I have now been blacklisted by grudge-holding E.S.P.N. pinheads.

Likewise, I recently learned that I had been cited in the 31st footnote of a biography of Keith Olbermann (who, incidentally, was born on the 174th anniversary of the day the University of Georgia was chartered by the General Assembly, and on whose 36th birthday I had my first date with my wife), which was cool . . . but, on the obverse of that same coin, I also learned that I had made a mistake in the first portion of my Mississippi State breakdown. Oops!

My error having been brought to my attention, I now resume the process of analyzing the Red and Black's upcoming opponent, only, this time, I shall endeavor to provide you not just Too Much Information, but entirely accurate information, as well.

Odds and Ends

Earl Weaver may have known what he was talking about when he said that momentum was tomorrow's starting pitcher, but I clearly didn't when I wrote that Omarr Conner was tomorrow's starting quarterback. In fact, Michael Henig has succeeded Conner under center for the second time in as many seasons. In the three games in which Henig has seen action in 2006, he has thrown 48 passes, of which 23 were caught . . . 20 by fellow Bulldogs and three by opposing defenders. Henig has thrown for 317 yards and one touchdown, compiling a 91.52 passer efficiency rating.

Mike Henig has recovered from his injuries but he has not yet overcome the perils of pixelation. (Photograph from Maroon & White Magazine.)

Almost by definition, fourth-down tries come in stressful situations, but Saturday should provide the most low-key attempts to convert fourth downs that you have ever seen . . . because Mississippi State is the worst team in the S.E.C. on fourth down, allowing their opponents to pick up the requisite yardage over 70 per cent of the time while gaining a fresh set of downs of their own just 20 per cent of the time.

Both teams should have their chances to go for it on fourth down, by the way. The Georgia offense converts just 34.6 per cent of its third downs, giving the Red and Black the S.E.C.'s fourth-worst conversion percentage, while the Bulldog defense allows the opposition to gain a new set of downs at the league's second-lowest rate (30.0%).

Mississippi State's Quinton Culberson is the leading tackler for his team and the fourth-leading tackler in the conference, which is pretty good, considering that he's a linebacker. M.S.U.'s Jeramie Johnson is the second-leading tackler for his team and the 12th-leading tackler in the conference, which is pretty bad, considering that he's a defensive back.

One area in which the Starkville squad excels (if you could call it that) is in the number of penalty yards assessed against its opponents. Teams playing M.S.U. have drawn 41 flags and been penalized an average of 57.9 yards per game, the second-most in the S.E.C. Unfortunately for the visiting team, the Magnolia State Bulldogs tend to give it right back, as the Maroon and White have been penalized 39 times for 53.7 yards per contest.

When your team averages 256.1 yards per game of total offense and your opponents are penalized 57.9 yards per contest, this qualifies as the best option in your playbook. (Photograph from S.O.S. Sports.)

I don't know whether this datum is more embarrassing for the offense or for the defense, but this fact is a fact: Georgia has given up 118 first downs . . . exactly as many as the Classic City Canines have gained.

Nevertheless, the 'Dawgs still average an extra yard or more per play on offense than they allow on defense, gaining 4.2 yards per rush and 6.9 yards per pass while conceding 3.0 yards per running play and 5.9 yards per pass attempt. The Red and Black will be going up against a visiting team averaging a league-low 4.2 yards per offensive play and allowing 5.7 yards per snap defensively.

No team in the league has lost more yards on sacks than the 158 yards surrendered by M.S.U. quarterbacks on tackles behind the line of scrimmage. As noted by MaconDawg, neither Charles Johnson nor Quentin Moses has recorded a sack in the last two weeks. That unfortunate streak should end in Sanford Stadium tomorrow. For the record, four of the top eight players in the conference in tackles for loss are Bulldogs: Georgia's Johnson and Moses and Mississippi State's Titus Brown and Deljuan Robinson.

The Feel Good Stat of the Week

There are few statistical bright spots for Mississippi State. Only one Southeastern Conference team has scored fewer touchdowns than the 15 managed by the Starkville Bulldogs. Only one Southeastern Conference team has given up more touchdowns than the 24 scored against the Maroon and White. No Southeastern Conference team has scored as few offensive touchdowns as the 11 managed by M.S.U., which ranks last in the league in total offense.

Good guy. Bad team.

Where M.S.U. is particularly weak, though, is in the red zone. The visitors rank 11th in the league in red zone offense, having made the S.E.C.'s fewest trips inside the 20 yard line (14) and come away with the conference's fewest scores (9). More of the Bulldogs' long drives have ended in interceptions (2) than in touchdown passes (1).

On the other side of the ball, the 'Dogs are even worse, as they are tied for last place in the league in red zone defense. Mississippi State has allowed the conference's third-most red zone drives (23), second-most red zone scores (also 23), second-most red zone touchdowns (18), and most red zone rushing touchdowns (12). A Georgia offense that, despite its woes, has gone on the S.E.C.'s third-most red zone drives (25) ought to be able to punch it in once they get into the shadow of M.S.U.'s goalposts.

The Bottom Line

It really comes down to the question of which Georgia team shows up between the hedges tomorrow. In four S.E.C. games this season, the 'Dawgs have outscored the opposition 87-84, winning one by 18 and winning another close one while losing one by 18 and losing another close one. In five games against B.C.S. conference opponents, the Red and Black have edged the competition by a cumulative 101-97 margin.

Which Bulldog team will we get? Will it be the offense that averaged 14.0 points per game against Colorado and Ole Miss or the one that averaged 27.5 points per game against Tennessee and Vanderbilt? Will it be the defense that allowed 11.0 points per game against the Buffaloes and the Rebels or the one that gave up 37.5 points per game to the Volunteers and the Commodores?

The Georgia faithful are hoping to see a team that's ready to hunker down rather than a team that's ready to throw in the towel. (Photograph from Football Fanatics.)

Fortunately, we have a pretty fair idea of the Mississippi State team we are going to get. The Western Division Bulldogs haven't scored more than 17 points against any B.C.S. conference opponent this season and they have exceeded that meager point production tally just once in their last 13 outings against competition from one of the six major college football leagues.

The Maroon and White have been shut out twice this season and they will be going up against a Red and Black defense that has shut out two opponents this season. The last time Mississippi State played in Athens, the hometown Bulldogs held the visiting Bulldogs scoreless for 60 minutes.

M.S.U. has given up 34 or more points to each of the last three B.C.S. conference teams Sylvester Croom's squad has faced and the 'Dogs lost at home by a 15-0 final margin to a South Carolina team that was beaten by Georgia in Columbia by an 18-0 score.

Over the course of the 2006 campaign, the Classic City Canines have scored 93 points in the first half and 90 points in the second half. During that same span, the Starkville squad has surrendered 93 points in the first half and 91 points in the second half.

Mississippi State, which ranks 11th in the S.E.C. in scoring offense, has scored almost exactly the same number of points per game (15.9) that Georgia, which ranks fifth in the league in scoring defense, has allowed (15.6). The Maroon and White, who rank 11th in the S.E.C. in scoring defense, have surrendered almost exactly the same number of points per game (26.3) that the Red and Black, who rank fifth in the league in scoring offense, have scored (26.1). In road outings this season, the Western Division Bulldogs have given up 29.0 points per contest and scored 16.5 points per game.

Mark Richt's team may strive for consistency, but Sylvester Croom's team has achieved consistency . . . and not in a good way. The visiting team is quite reliable in its shortcomings and, unless this Georgia squad is ready to pack it in this season, the 'Dawgs should be able to exploit M.S.U.'s less salutary tendencies.

My Prediction: Georgia 27, Mississippi State 16.

Go 'Dawgs!