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Friday, September 24, 2010

Behind enemy lines: Mississippi State edition

Yes, faithful readers, it’s time for a return to one of the blog’s favorite segments: An interview with a beat writer for the opposing team. It only took us until the fourth game to get to it.

My apologies for that, but there was a good reason each week:

- First it was just Louisiana-Lafayette, and I mean, really.
- Then came South Carolina, which I just left, so I just interviewed myself. (Very awkward, if I may say. I didn’t ask good questions, and wasn’t satisfied with my answers. I’m never interviewing that guy again.)
- Then last week, for Arkansas, well I just forgot.

Well this week we speak to longtime Mississippi State beat writer Brandon Marcello, who joined the beat for The Clarion Ledger this month. Brandon was kind enough to answer my questions, and I was kind enough to answer his.

You can find my answers about Georgia and the game on Brandon’s blog here.

And here's what Brandon had to say about the Bulldogs. The other ones, I mean.

First off, you just moved to Starkville. Is it everything you thought it would be and more? Have you had a hard time avoiding all the distractions, the glitz, glamor and cow-tipping?

No cow-tipping for me yet. In fact, I think if I did that I would be considered an enemy of the State. (insert rim shot here).

Kidding aside, I'm loving my time in Starkville. It's a small college town, which I love, and the people are very nice. When you hear about southern hospitality, one only has to come to Starkville to find out exactly what they mean by when they hear the often-repeated phrase. Downtown is great and the Cotton District has quickly become a favorite hot spot of mine. And the food! Good stuff.

People around here are familiar with Dan Mullen from his Florida days. Just in how he carries himself, how similar to Urban Meyer does he seem, and how different?

Well, I've never covered Urban Meyer so I may not be the best person to break down their idiosyncrasies and tendencies on the football field or inside the coaches' offices. What I will say is that those two are very similar in their coaching styles and, more importantly, what they expect from each player. Every person is held accountable and every player expects to be a key cog in a championship-level team. I don't know if that was the case at MSU in recent years and I think, just with that belief system in place and Mullen's pedigree (no pun intended), that's why the Bulldogs have been in so many close games over the last 15 games.

Really, it's all about just breaking through and getting over the hump. They do that, then winning may just start becoming a common occurrence in Starkville.

What about Mullen's offense? How similar is it to Florida?

You just have to look at the two-quarterback system to see the Florida flavor at Scott Field. He's going to spread you out, mix in a little option and attempt the long ball when you're least expecting it. What MSU needs now, though, is a quarterback to step up and be consistent. The offensive line has struggled but so have Chris Relf and Tyler Russell. If one of those guys can pull off a big throw or two, and the running game keeps improving the way it has in recent weeks, then this could be a potent attack.

The Mississippi State defense, under new coordinator Manny Diaz, is 27th nationally so far. Just a product of who they've played, or does it seem genuinely improved?

Genuinely improved. Diaz is one of the best young coaches out there, in my opinion. When I was elsewhere covering another team in the SEC, and I heard Diaz was headed to MSU, I immediately thought the Bulldogs could contend for another win or two just based off this guy's defensive coaching prowess.

Diaz loves to attack teams and he's really been helped by an improved secondary and the emergence of freshman free safety Nickoe Whitley. Now, if the defensive line could just perform amazingly off the edge, this could be a top 3 defense in the SEC.

And that takes me to your next question...

Mississippi State has four sacks through three games. Is that an indication that Aaron Murray can expect some time to throw, or at least more than he had against Arkansas?

Nope. MSU has faced back-to-back teams with running quarterbacks who loved to roll out and throw, and create positive yardage on broken plays. Murray, while he is mobile, is definitely not a Cameron Newton or Jordan Jefferson with his feet. I'd expect MSU to take its shots at Murray off the edge, just as Arkansas did this past weekend with its amazing six sacks.

This may just be the game defensive end Pernell McPhee needs to show off, because he's been relatively quiet this season.

How do you see the game developing, and if you're comfortable making a prediction, fire away.

This game will be won in the trenches. Sure, you hear that all the time but the difference here will be which team's offensive line can hold up against two improved defensive fronts. State, while it has only allowed five sacks, has had communication issues during drives and breakdowns with protections. If I'm a defensive lineman for Georgia or Mississippi State, I'm champing at the bit because they will have a huge say in who wins this game.

As for a prediction, how 'bout this: Bulldogs 28, Bulldogs 17.

How's that for sparking discussion?


Anonymous said...

Assuming that was the joke, which bulldogs...?

Willb said...

I just read the comments under the blog from the miss state guy. Wow other teams fans are a starting to really not fear us! The miss st fans were assuming they had just as much talent as us! While we haven't played great the first three weeks and lost to two really good teams I think we should hands down have more talent on the field than miss state! I don't know if it will show in a blowout though but I do think we have far superior talent at uga.

Anonymous said...

Willb I couldn't agree more on the talen - if we show up I see a good win.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Mullin has brought in a bunch of JUCO's the last two years and they are playing well.

Augusta RE said...

I'm thinking it going to be a close game, of course UGA will win 21-17.

HunkerDown said...

Yeah I agree with Willb, this guy seems pretty confident in Miss State. We are going to roll this team. Should have beaten Arkansas and we'd be ranked right now. Oh well. About to win a lot of games starting with tomorrow night. BIG.

DieHardDawg said...

Good honest analysis from Brandon, and kudos to him for one of the rare proper uses of champing at the bit (instead of the oft mistakenly-used chomping).

I hope that our O-line has taken note of their prior issues and the pressure that Diaz is sure to send their way. If they hold the line, this could be a big game for Murray.

CooperDawg said...

Got news for you guys... State DOES have a lot of talent on the squad. More or less than Georgia, I couldn't say, but we've seen the flashes of brilliance on the field in the Mullen era, and it's very, very close to congealing. Heck, many State fans thought we had a shot down in Baton Rouge last week, and LSU is State's kryptonite. That's why we're not afraid of you, but there again, we're not really afraid of anyone....

...ok, except for Bama. =) You got me there. =)

Anyway, good luck today. Hope no one gets hurt.