The Sports Network
By Pat Taggart, Associate College Football Editor
GAME NOTES: Fresh off a second consecutive defeat, the 22nd-ranked Florida Gators will attempt to get back on track this weekend against the Mississippi State Bulldogs.
Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen was the offensive coordinator at Florida before taking over the Bulldogs' program prior to the start of last season, so this game has added meaning for him. Mullen's squad is 4-2 thanks to victories in each of the last three games. On October 9th, the Bulldogs stepped outside of the SEC to best Houston, 47-24, on the road.
As for Florida, it opened the season with four consecutive victories by double figures to build excitement among the fans. Unfortunately, the Gators were blown out by Alabama two weeks ago and lost to LSU last weekend by a 33-29 final. They surrendered the game-winning score with six seconds remaining on the clock, and it will be interesting to see if Urban Meyer's team can shake off that disappointment and play well this weekend.
"I just have to watch the film," said Meyer after the game. "I thought our defense played better. It's a team game, and obviously our offense didn't hold up their end of the bargain."
Florida owns a 33-18-2 series lead over Mississippi State, including a 29-19 victory over the Bulldogs last season.
Mississippi State is generating 31.7 ppg this season to go along with 416.8 total ypg, so the offense is undoubtedly formidable. Mullen, an offensive guru, has used two quarterbacks this season, and both Chris Relf and Tyler Russell have shown encouraging signs. Relf has a better touchdown to interception ratio than his teammate and has thrown for more yards. Also, Relf has rushed for 295 yards, second only to Vick Ballard's 418 yards. Ballard has scored an impressive total of 12 touchdowns, 11 of which have been rushing scores, and Chad Bumphis has made 32 grabs for 431 yards and four scores.
The MSU defense has been formidable this season, limiting opponents to 17.5 ppg and 328.2 total ypg. Stopping the run has been an area of strength for the Bulldogs, who are yielding a mere 113.2 ypg at a clip of 3.5 yards per carry. As for the pass defense, there is certainly some room for improvement, as opposing quarterbacks are posting 215.0 ypg against MSU. Chris White leads the Bulldogs with 46 total tackles, including 7.5 TFLs.
In the victory over Houston last time out, Mississippi State got a tremendous performance from Ballard, who rushed for 134 yards and three touchdowns on just 14 carries. Relf and Russell both played interception-free football, and the offense as a whole racked up 538 total yards. MSU held the ball for over 39 minutes and was 8-of-15 on third down conversion attempts.
"Obviously, we ran the ball over 400 yards and controlling time of possession, which was really important coming in because when you're facing a high-powered offense, you want to keep them off the field," said Mullen after his team snapped Houston's 18-game home winning streak.
Defensively, the Bulldogs took away the Houston ground attack last week, causing the Cougars to rely entirely on the pass. Sure, that resulted in 356 yards through the air, but Mississippi State came up with a pair of interceptions and played well enough to win the game.
"We did give up a bunch of yards, but they threw the ball 59 times," said coach Mullen. "Our defense did a good job of not bending, not breaking and making some big plays when we needed to make some big plays."
John Brantley has the unenviable job of replacing Tim Tebow as the starting quarterback of the Gators, and through six games the signal caller has completed 62.1 percent of his passes for 1,056 yards with six scores and four interceptions. While those numbers are solid, they certainly fall well short of what Tebow was able to muster. Jeff Demps leads the Florida ground attack with 414 yards, but a sore foot has him questionable for this weekend's tilt. Florida is scoring 31.0 ppg while generating a modest 323.7 total ypg.
Against LSU, Florida managed only 243 total yards, including 89 rushing yards on 32 attempts. Demps didn't play in that game because of the foot injury and he was clearly missed. Brantley threw mostly short passes, as his 16 completions resulted in just 154 yards. He failed to throw a touchdown and was intercepted once. Still, Meyer praised his quarterback for fighting through injury to play the contest.
"He fought his tail off," said Meyer. "It's what you expect out of Johnny (Brantley). He's a tough nut."
On the defensive side of the football, Florida is yielding 306.7 ypg, and the squad is permitting 20.2 ppg to foes. Opponents are rushing for just 117.8 ypg against the Gators at a clip of 3.7 yards per carry. As for the pass defense, which is permitting 11.2 yards per completion, it has already come up with 13 interceptions to overshadow eight passing scores allowed. Ahmad Black paces Florida with 50 total tackles and three interceptions.
The Gators surrendered 385 total yards and four touchdowns to the LSU offense last week. The Tigers were able to make good on half of their 16 third down conversion attempts, and Florida simply didn't play well enough to win defensively.