The Sports Network
By Pat Taggart, Associate College Football Editor
GAME NOTES: Fresh off a highly emotional win that vaulted them into the national rankings, No. 24 Mississippi State takes a break from the rigors of SEC play to tangle with the UAB Blazers of Conference USA.
UAB managed to halt a two-game slide last weekend with a 21-6 triumph over UTEP. Still, the Blazers are just 2-4 overall and 1-2 in league action, so they certainly have some work to do if they hope to earn a bowl bid this season.
As for Mississippi State, it has returned to the Top-25 for the first time since 2001, and head coach Dan Mullen deserves a great deal of credit for rejuvenating the program. Mullen, a former assistant coach at Florida, was able to defeat Urban Meyer and the Gators last weekend by a 10-7 final in the Swamp. The Bulldogs are riding a four-game win streak that has enabled them to improve to 5-2, and a victory this weekend will earn the squad bowl eligibility.
"I have said all week that I have had success in this stadium," said Mullen after MSU won at Florida for the first time since 1965. "This is not an upset - our team expected to win this football game."
Mississippi State has won two of its three all-time meetings with UAB, the most recent of which took place in 2007.
Quarterback Bryan Ellis played outstanding football for UAB in the victory over UTEP last weekend, as he completed 20-of-28 passes for 272 yards and three touchdowns with zero interceptions. Frantrell Forrest made seven catches for 99 yards and two scores to pace the receivers, while Jeffery Anderson contributed four catches for 93 yards and a touchdown. As for the ground attack, Justin Brooks pitched in 81 yards. UAB was 8-of-13 on third-down conversion attempts and finished with an impressive total of 500 yards.
"The offensive line obviously did both of their jobs great today, run blocking and pass blocking," said Ellis.
The offense is generating only 21.5 ppg this season despite racking up 422.2 total ypg. Ellis has completed 57.1 percent of his passes for 1,198 yards with eight touchdowns and five interceptions, while Forrest has made 25 catches for 364 yards and four scores. David Isabelle, the team's other quarterback, is an accomplished runner who has posted 394 yards and four touchdowns on just 72 attempts. Unfortunately, he has a hand injury that may keep him out of action this weekend.
Defensively, the Blazers permitted only 229 total yards to UTEP, a strong effort to say the least. UAB intercepted three passes and permitted only 15- of-33 passing attempts to be completed. The run defense was stellar as well, allowing only 60 yards on 23 attempts. A key to the win was that the Blazers were able to get off the field on third down, limiting UTEP to 4-of-13 success on its conversion attempts.
Opponents are scoring 28.8 ppg against UAB, which is allowing 374.8 total ypg. The Blazers have struggled against the pass, permitting 13.3 yards per completion and 11 touchdowns. There is also some room for improvement in regard to run defense. Keep an eye on Bryant Turner, as he has posted five sacks to date.
Through seven outings, Mississippi State is generating 28.6 ppg and 392.3 total ypg. The Bulldogs are gaining 211.9 rushing ypg at a clip of 4.9 yards per attempt, and 16 of their 25 offensive touchdowns have come on the ground. MSU has been able to make good on 49 percent of its third down conversion attempts thus far, a strong number, and the team has only lost two fumbles to date. Chris Relf and Tyler Russell have split time under center, and both have produced solid results. Regardless of who is throwing passes, Chad Bumphis is often on the receiving end. He has made 33 grabs this season for 461 yard and four touchdowns, while Vick Ballard leads the tailbacks with 516 yards and 11 rushing scores.
The defensive unit of Mississippi State deserves a ton of credit for the early success of the team, as opponents are only managing 16.0 ppg and 332.9 total ypg against the Bulldogs. Just four rushing scores have been allowed by MSU, which is yielding a mere 3.6 yards per rushing attempt. With 13 sacks and 12 takeaways, there has been a decent number of big plays made, but there is certainly some room for improvement in that area. Chris White is the top tackler on the team with 57 stops, including 12 TFLs and five sacks.
Mississippi State only attempted nine passes against Florida last week, completing only four of those for 33 yards. Fortunately, the Bulldogs came through with 212 rushing yards, 98 of which were pounded out by Ballard. Relf rushed for 82 yards and scored the lone touchdown for his team.
Florida posted 361 total yards against Mississippi State, including 210 through the air. Still, the Bulldogs didn't break, sending the Gators away scoreless on two of three trips to the red zone and allowing a mere seven points all afternoon.
"I don't know if they were pressured, but they wanted to win the game just as bad as we did, there's no doubt about it," said White after the win. "We knew they were going to come out swinging, so we had to come out swinging back."