Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
2012 SEASON IN REVIEW: While Mississippi State hasn't been a major threat to
overtake any of the SEC powerhouses during Dan Mullen's four-year reign as
head coach, it continues to put forth solid effort in the nation's most
The 2012 season started off outstanding for the Bulldogs as they won their
first seven contests, highlighted by conference triumphs over Auburn (28-10),
Kentucky (27-14) and Tennessee (41-31). The hot start allowed the team to
climb all the way to No. 13 in the AP poll.
MSU hit a rough patch in late October, however, dropping three straight bouts
to ranked foes Alabama (38-7), Texas A&M (38-13) and LSU (37-17). After
snapping its losing streak with a 45-14 win versus Arkansas on Nov. 17, the
program closed out the regular season with a 41-24 setback in its rivalry game
against Ole Miss.
Despite the late-season slide, the Bulldogs were bowl eligible for the third
straight year, something they last accomplished from 1998-2000. They lost to
Northwestern in the Gator Bowl, 34-20.
"Three consecutive bowl games is not something that has been done very often
in Starkville," Mullen said. "I'm proud of our team, how they've embraced the
program we're trying to build."
OFFENSE: Mississippi State had a very productive offensive season a year ago,
averaging 29.5 ppg and 381.9 ypg, both of which ranked in the middle of the
pack in the SEC. The return of starting quarterback Tyler Russell should mean
equal or better results in 2013.
Russell was arguably the most efficient passer in the nation during his team's
seven-game win streak to start the season, tossing 15 touchdowns to just one
interception over that time. He cooled off significantly down the stretch, but
his year-end numbers were still impressive (.586 completion percentage, 2,897
yards, 24 TDs, 10 picks), and he is looking forward to the opportunity to
improve as a senior.
"I'm ready to get back on the field," Russell said. "Our team started really
well really early in the year and kind of fell off towards the end. Partly, I
put it all on my shoulders. I feel like if I would've played the last two
games (against Ole Miss and Northwestern) like I'm capable of playing, we
would've won those last two games."
Also back in the fray for his senior season is running back LaDarius Perkins,
who was a workhorse in 2012 with 1,024 yards on 205 carries and 10 total
touchdowns. Both he and Russell will benefit from working behind an offensive
line that returns four starters.
The receiving corps has been thinned significantly following the departures of
Chad Bumphis (922 yards, 12 TDs), Chris Smith (564 yards) and Arceto Clark
(487 yards). Robert Johnson, Jameon Lewis and Joe Morrow will fill in as the
starters, but the trio combined for only 32 receptions in 2012.
DEFENSE: The Bulldogs' defense was surprisingly effective in 2012. Although
their scoring defense (23.3 ppg) and total defensive figures (387.4 ypg)
weren't among the SEC's best, they caused havoc by creating 33 turnovers, tied
for sixth-most in the nation. The bad news, however, is that Johnathan Banks
(four interceptions) and Darius Slay (five picks) have moved on, leaving some
gaping holes in the secondary.
The lone returning starter in the defensive backfield is Nickoe Whitley (88
tackles, three INTs), who, without Banks and Slay, is the clear leader of the
unit, and is in line for a monster season.
The team remains relatively strong at linebacker with Benardrick McKinney (102
tackles) and Deontae Skinner (62 tackles), and both are likely to compete for
All-SEC honors. Denico Autry (9.5 TFL, four sacks, two FF) brings a veteran
presence to the defensive line.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Devon Bell is a solid placekicker, knocking through 14-of-21
field goal attempts as a freshman, with a long of 47 yards. Baker Swedenburg
averaged 41.1 yards per punt a season ago with 18 landing inside the
opponent's 20-yard line.
Lewis ran back 20 kickoffs for 517 yards in 2012, including a 100-yard
touchdown versus Ole Miss. He'll likely get some punt return action too in the
absence of Banks.
OUTLOOK: What Mullen has accomplished during his tenure in Starkville has been
impressive, especially considering the talented team that surround the
Bulldogs in the SEC. They have proven themselves worthy, although taking that
next step to a championship-level squad will be difficult considering the
amount of player turnover they've experienced.
"We're going to have a young football team," Mullen said. "Only 10 seniors on
the roster. A lot of opportunities for young guys to step up, not just as
playmakers on the field, but young guys need to step into leadership roles for
us this year. I think that's going to be a real defining factor of our
Mississippi State's schedule does it no favors either, with matchups against
LSU, South Carolina, Texas A&M and Alabama bogging down its likelihood for
competing in the SEC West. Still, with Mullen's solid track record and the
return of Russell under center, another bowl bid is within reach.
The Sports Network