It was another night spent at the Heartbreak Hotel after the Georgia Bulldogs lost to the Arkansas Razorbacks in the waning seconds of Saturday’s match-up in Athens.
The team fell to a worrisome 0-2 record in the SEC (1-2 overall) and the chorus of “Mark Richt Must Go” saw a sudden surge amongst opinionated bloggers and online media types looking for a surge in site traffic.
If you are a Georgia Bulldog die-hard, the win over the Louisiana Cajuns, on September 4th, has long since dissipated, and the truth you are left with is this: Georgia still has some growing up to do.
That said, it’s time to shake off the heavy coat of disappointment and put on your best red and black face as the Bulldogs head to Starkville to face that other SEC Bulldog team from the west. They too are still seeking their first big time conference win and Georgia has to look ripe for the picking to a team that has played better than the final scores of their last two games would suggest.
So, what do Georgia fans need to know about the Mississippi State Bulldogs?
1. They still haven’t truly settled on a quarterback.
Tyler Russell has solid potential, but he’s not ready to carry the team. He struggles with the pass rush and he isn’t nearly as mobile Chris Relf. That said, Georgia still hasn’t shown a propensity for getting to the quarterback on a consistent basis so it would not surprise to see Russell getting a few more snaps this week.
2. Chris Relf can be dangerous.
Relf may not dazzle you with his arm, but he is more than capable of picking up key yards with his feet. He is the most dangerous to a defense once the play begins break down. His ability to use his legs to buy time for his receivers to get open has served him well, for the most part, this season. He’s a lot more instinctual and focused on the run than simply standing in the pocket—that’s something to take note of.
3. Vick Ballard is one to watch.
The Bulldogs are still searching for their run game this season, but they hope to see Vick Ballard become the man who can offer them their most legitimate compliment to the passing game. He hasn’t been able to bust out of his shell just yet, but he has been dangerous at home (averaging 6.08 ypc) where he’s already scored three touchdowns.
4. They have a couple of talented receivers in Chad Bumphis and Brandon Heavens.
If the quarterback play is able to find its groove, there is definitely room to be encouraged about the Bulldogs ability to move the football vertically. Chad Bumphis’ skills aren’t a mystery. He’s every bit the physical, talented, and speedy receiver you remember him to be, and he’s only in his sophomore year. Heavens offers a nice No. 2 option—he is every bit as capable of stretching the field and challenging the secondary.
5. The offensive line is better this season than the last.
If you consider the fact that Chris Relf has scrambled a bit more than Dan Mullen might like, it’s impressive that, through three games, the offensive line has only allowed five sacks. By contrast, Georgia’s line has allowed nine. Derek Sherrod continues to shine at the left tackle position—giving coach Mullen hope that better days are on the horizon for both the passing and the running game once everything really starts clicking.
6. They have a solid group of linebackers.
Starting with senior linebacker, and leader, K.J. Wright, the Bulldogs boast an impressive set of linebackers who are more than capable of making the life of the quarterback, and the accompanying running game, quite miserable. Wright is an all-around beast—both on the field as a playmaker and off the field as a leader—and Chris White doesn’t get nearly enough credit for being the athletic, smart, and instinctive player he’s been over the last year or so.
7. Beware of Charles Mitchell.
The secondary of Mississippi State is an opportunistic one. There are a lot of guys playing a very aggressive brand of football in this unit, and Charles Mitchell sets the tone for their approach. He’s tough, he’s hard to fool, and he brings the heat on every play. His veteran presence has been a steady, influential, force on a very underrated unit.
The Bulldogs are currently fourth in the SEC in pass defense.
8. They are more dangerous on third down than they are on first and second.
The offense, as mentioned earlier, is still attempting to find an identity—both at the quarterback and the running back spots. That said, the Bulldogs have still proved to be adept at pulling out the big third down play when necessary. So far this season, they are converting 45 percent of their third downs—fifth in the conference (by way of comparison, the Crimson Tide convert close to 47 percent of their third downs).
9. They convert in the redzone.
The Bulldogs haven’t made many trips to the redzone this season (five), but they have made every one count—scoring a touchdown each time.
10. Kickoffs have been a sore spot.
Special teams coverage on kickoffs has been a problem for Mississippi State. They rank nearly dead last in the conference in kickoff coverage, allowing close to 27 yards per return.