September 1, 2012 9:15:55 AM
STARKVILLE - A 280-day wait ends Saturday night for Mississippi State University football fans as they can revisit the exact location of last year's 31-3 Egg Bowl victory to culminate the 2011 regular season.
In the 2012 season, the expectations are higher for MSU fourth-year head coach Dan Mullen and the excitement has grown as Bulldogs fans anticipate the beginning of what could be a special season in Starkville.
MSU will begin the 2012 campaign against Football Championship Subdivision opponent Jackson State University (6 p.m., Fox Sports South) for only the second time in the history of both programs.
Here's what we're going to do for our pre-game blog: The Dispatch MSU Sports Blog is going to review all the material we've assembled for you this week in our print edition.
NOTE: Be sure to bookmark this page as we'll continue to update this post throughout the day until kickoff as news continues to flow out about pre-game news for either team tonight.
UPDATE (5 p.m. SATURDAY) - Mississippi State University officials announced the indefinite suspension of three players for the 2012 season opening game against Jackson State University.
Junior wide receiver Ricco Sanders, sophomore defensive tackle P.J. Jones and sophomore defensive back Jamerson Love were the individuals suspended for Saturday's game.
Sanders, who has 17 career catches in two seasons, saw action in 12 games last year including his second career start in the win at the University of Kentucky. Sanders biggest moment in a MSU jersey is still arguably in the 2011 Gator Bowl win against the University of Michigan when he had his first career catch and touchdown in the same New Year's Day afternoon.
Jones played in all 12 regular season games but did not participate in Bulldogs 2011 Music City Bowl victory over Wake Forest University. The Tupelo High School product had nine total tackles in a backup role last year but was expected to compete significant playing in the middle of MSU's defensive front four.
Love appeared in all 13 games last season as a redhsirt freshman and recorded 18 total tackles on the way to being an All-Southeastern Conference freshman team nomination. Love had 11 tackles in a three-game stretch against the University of South Carolina, Kentucky and the University of Tennessee at Martin.
The announcement, which was made more than two hours before kickoff Saturday, failed to include any details to the violation or length of the suspension. MSU football spokesperson Joe Galbraith said the players were being punished for what the program was calling a violation of team rules.
MONDAY - MSU football notebook - We evaluate Mississippi State's plan for backup Dak Prescott along with the playing time situation at both kicker and right tackle - http://www.cdispatch.com/sports/article.asp?aid=18536
MSU football feature - Early in the week we looked at the road senior offensive guard Tobias Smith has taken, including three major surgeries, to get the start tonight in the 2012 season opener - http://www.cdispatch.com/sports/article.asp?aid=18537
TUESDAY - MSU football feature - MSU freshman wide receiver Joe Morrow, from Ocean Springs, talks about dedicating the 2012 season opener to the victims of Hurricane Isaac in the gulf region. http://www.cdispatch.com/sports/article.asp?aid=18585
MSU football notebook - We look into Mississippi State's athletic department distancing itself from a rogue booster and how Mullen will be scripting the first 12 plays of today's game vs. Jackson State. http://www.cdispatch.com/sports/article.asp?aid=18587
WEDNESDAY - MSU football notebook - We look into MSU new wide receivers coach Tim Brewster trying to learn the language of the Bulldogs offense in a quick time period along with MSU senior cornerback Johnthan Banks getting another All-American nomination and senior wide receiver Brandon Heavens has moved to an outside position. http://www.cdispatch.com/sports/article.asp?aid=18595
MSU football feature - We look into the MSU coaching staff's debate as to how much of the game plan do they want to show before Auburn University rolls into Davis Wade Stadium next week?
THURSDAY - MSU football notebook - MSU names its 2012 team captains and the Bulldogs get its first decommiment since the resignation of WR coach Angelo Mirando. http://www.cdispatch.com/sports/article.asp?aid=18631
MSU football feature - Will MSU's offense look any different than Mullen's first three seasons as head coach? http://www.cdispatch.com/sports/article.asp?aid=18632
5 Keys to the Game
1. Will MSU be able to showcase a high-octane pass offense?
All spring and summer Mississippi State has done nothing but promote its passing offense led by junior quarterback Tyler Russell and four senior starting wide receivers on the outside. Against a Jackson State defense with nine seniors and two juniors among its starting unit, what kind of numbers will the Bulldogs pile up through the air in the 2012 season opener?
2. What kind of impact can freshman wide receiver Joe Morrow make in his college debut?
Fans have been waiting over a year for the debut of 6-foot-4 wide receiver Joe Morrow. The Ocean Springs native gave the maroon and white faithful a taste of his explosive talent in the spring game but having over 100 yards and a touchdown and then freaked out those same fans by not being on the preseason depth chart. Can the most athletic wide receiver on the MSU roster have a spotlighted performance in his college debut Saturday?
3. How well does the move to safety for senior Corey Broomfield work?
Broomfield was told to take his act to free safety and quickly learn a new position in order to get seniors Broomfield, Johnthan Banks and Darius Slay on the field together to provide more leadership and experience to an MSU defense. In order for this to work, Broomfield, who has started the past three seasons at cornerback for MSU, must adapt quickly to his new surroundings in a very deep and talented Bulldogs secondary.
4. Who will get first crack at the kicking duties at MSU?
The MSU preseason depth chart has freshman Devon Bell or junior Brian Egan as the starting kicker but also walk-on Evan Sobiesk could get some opportunity throughout the contest as well. Mullen said Monday he was convinced MSU will "play several kickers this week and hopefully have the opportunity to kick extra points and kickoffs" against Jackson State. Will it be the veteran Egan, the strong-legged Bell or the consistent walk-on Sobiesk who gets the confidence of Mullen early on in 2012?
5. How basic and vanilla will MSU's gameplan be with Auburn looming next weekend?
This weekend the question exists as MSU tries to figure what complexities of its game plan to hold back for the season opener against Jackson State (6 p.m., Fox Sports South) for Auburn in a Southeastern Conference opener on national television the next week.
It's normally not something MSU has done in season openers against the University of Memphis but logic suggests MSU could use basic schemes to come through Saturday with a win over FCS Jackson State.
Players to Watch
Freshman wide receiver Joe Morrow
Morrow, who is not listed on MSU's pre-game depth chart at any of the receiver positions, is expected to make an impact as a large 6-foot-5 target in the Bulldogs vertical passing game. The former four-star prospect has already impressed his new position coach with his physical tools.
"Joe Morrow is an extremely gifted and talented wide receiver," MSU wide receivers coach Tim Brewster said. "He's been blessed with physical tools that simply put, most guys just don't have. I'm anticipating Joe playing well and quality reps on Saturday night."
Senior defensive back Darius Slay
The junior college transfer from Itawamba Community College is expected to receive a lot of action from opposing quarterbacks simply due to being on the opposite side of senior Johnthan Banks, who was named to the 2012 ESPN.com All-America team Wednesday.
"He can be really good and the one thing that set him back a little bit was that he came into camp so late last year and this is his first time he's gotten to go through the offseason and got to understand the defense," MSU head coach Dan Mullen said. "I think as he gets that experience being comfortable in the system but being out there on the field in the secondary, I expect him to have a big year for us."
Sophomore wide receiver Tobias Singleton
Singleton transferred to JSU on Aug. 17, just days after walking out on Ole Miss. He's already taking snaps with the first-team offense as well as getting reps at kickoff and punt returner. The the two-time Metro Player of the Year according to the Jackson Clarion-Ledger provides an immediate down-the-field element to the Tigers' rebuilding offense.
Senior defensive end Joseph LeBeau
LeBeau, who was also named preseason SWAC Defensive Player of the Year, transferred to JSU from Arkansas Baptist Community College a year ago. The senior defensive end, earned SWAC Newcomer of the Year honors in 2011, becoming the second straight Jackson State player to win the honor, following quarterback Casey Therriault. In his first season with the Tigers, he totaled 15.5 sacks (his 1.41 per game ranked second-best in the Football Championship Subdivision) and 24.5 tackles for loss (2.23 per game, ranking fourth in the FCS right behind teammate Donavan Robinson). He also forced three fumbles, while making 75 tackles.
The last time.....
And the only time Mississippi State lost to a FCS team was 2004 when they were defeated 9-7 by the University of Maine. Ron Whitcomb threw a 17-yard touchdown pass to Kevin McMahan with 2:55 left, and Division I-AA Maine stopped Mississippi State twice in the final minutes to beat the Bulldogs.
Maine (2-1), playing a Division I-A opponent for the first time since 1991, handed Mississippi State its second loss in three games under then-new coach Sylvester Croom.
All of the Dispatch MSU Sports Blog readers: feel free to follow me on Twitter at http://twitter.com/matthewcstevens for up-to-date Mississippi State coverage.
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