Game day info, what to watch for, preview and links

Game day is finally here. Grills in The Junction are firing up, parking lots are filling to capacity and the Jumbotron is turning on its bulbs.

Dan Mullen and his Bulldogs will take the field tonight at 6 p.m. to play Jackson State.

Make sure and follow along with the game, as I’ll be live-chatting throughout on HailState.com starting at roughly 5 p.m., assuming I can get dinner finished in time. (I’m sure I can. I’m a skinny dude.)

If you’re on your way into campus, Mississippi State’s re-vamped game day site – HailState.com/gameday – will be your best friend. It’s got interactive and up-to-the-minute parking info, as well all general notes related to Junction setup, the Dawg Walk and other such items of interest.

But how ’bout the game itself?

Outside of just being excited to see live football for the first time since the Music City Bowl, there is plenty more I’m anxious to see.

  • The debut of Tyler Russell the starting quarterback. It’s not his first game to start, but it’s his first season he’s entered as the unquestioned starter, and the difference has been obvious as far back as March.
  • MSU’s offensive line. It struggled last year and has several new pieces this season. State needs it to be better to have the season it wants to. The good or bad, depending on how you look at it, is JSU’s defensive line may be it’s strongest unit.
  • Rising stars. Guys like sophomore receiver Jameon Lewis and freshman receiver Joe Morrow. Freshman and starting middle linebacker Benardrick McKinney. Senior starting cornerback Darius Slay. Junior, and again, starting defensive end Denico Autry. They’re all new to their starting gigs or promising backups who bring something different to the table.
  • What is the offense actually going to look like? History tells us Mullen and the offensive staff will keep things relatively vanilla tonight, but the change in style and look from 2011 to now is one both I and many others are curious to see.

In addition to what we’re watching, I’d recommend reading a little, too. MSU did a superb job with the game day program this year, and I’m sure you’ll be able to find a junior high kid walking around with an armful somewhere on campus. There are plenty of stories, features and the like, as well as a short something from me on the five keys to the game.

Now, here’s some more that isn’t from me. Your official game preview, courtesy of MSU media relations.

————————

By: Hunter Richardson

STARKVILLE, Miss. – For 245 days, ever since Head Coach Dan Mullenand his 2011 Bulldog squad hoisted the Music City Bowl trophy in victory, anticipation for the 2012 football campaign has been building in Starkville. For 245 days, the faithful of the Maroon and White have been waiting to hear the sounds of the Famous Maroon Band and the ringing of cowbells reverberating throughout the campus. Now the time has come, as tomorrow the Mississippi State Bulldogs will open up the 2012 season on home turf Saturday against in-state foe Jackson State.

Kickoff for the 2012 campaign is set for 6 p.m. CT, with television broadcast on Fox Sports Network. Those who are unable to make it to Davis Wade or catch it on television will be able to hear Jim Ellis, Matt Wyatt and John Correro call the action on the Mississippi State Radio Network and through satellite radio via XM Radio (Channel 196) and Sirius Radio (Channel 113).

On Saturday, fans will see two teams known for their defenses and with new-look offenses. A young Bulldog offense and a veteran defense will take the field looking to turn 2012 into a season to remember. On the other sideline, the Tigers will roll out an offense that saw significant changes during the offseason and a defense that will anchor the team throughout this year.

This past offseason saw many changes for the Bulldogs, with such stars as Fletcher Cox, Charles Mitchell and Vick Ballard moving on after being taken in the 2012 NFL Draft. Quarterback Chris Relf as well as senior offensive linemen leaders Addison Lawrence and Quentin Saulsberry graduated. With the losses, Mullen is counting on new senior leaders and some rising stars to take command.

Johnthan Banks, a preseason All-American and one of the best defensive players MSU fans have seen since Fred Smoot roamed the field, will resume his position as leader of the Bulldogs’ defense. A spectacular 2011 campaign saw Banks earn AP All-SEC Second Team honors and rise to elite status within the SEC. In 2012, the Maben, Miss., native will have his sights set on nothing short of a championship. Also on the defensive side, senior Cameron Lawrence will look to continue his dominance at the linebacker position for the Bulldogs. The Southeastern Conference’s leading returning tackler hopes to build off an impressive 2011 campaign that saw him finish second in the SEC with a team-high 123 tackles.

When Mullen’s squad takes the offensive, he will have junior Tyler Russell running the show behind center. Russell is no stranger to big play in the collegiate ranks, as he has seen plenty of action the past two seasons and has been a dominating figure in season openers for the Maroon and White. The junior has put up 425 total yards the past two season openers with six total touchdowns, five of those coming through the air. Saturday he will look to usher in a new era of offensive play at Mississippi State and begin his trek towards becoming one of the best signal callers in MSU’s history.

For the Tigers, defense will be the name of the game during the 2012 operation and they will face a daunting task to start. Mullen is the only coach in the SEC to average 50-plus points per game in season openers since his arrival in 2009 against these very Tigers. Joseph LeBeau, a preseason Buck Buchanan (Most outstanding FCS defensive player) candidate, will lead sixth-year coach Rick Comegy’s squad into the battle in hopes of not allowing an offensive explosion from the Bulldogs. Comegy will sport a high-powered offense as well, led by preseason All-American receivers Rico Richardson and EJ Drewery, who combined for 1,250 yards and 13 touchdowns last season.

The last (and first) time these two teams met, the scene was very different at State, as Mullen and many of his present seniors were beginning their first year in Starkville. Chris Relf ran the show for Mullen, scoring four times en route to a 45-7 victory against the Tigers. The Bulldogs dominated from the start, scoring early on in the first quarter on a touchdown pass from Relf to then freshman receiver Chad Bumphis. MSU held command till the very end, scoring five times in the second half. Relf and Bumphis led the Bulldog’s offensive attack, while Corey Broomfield made quite the impression in his first game as a Bulldog, returning a pick 43 yards for the score.

Following Saturday’s season opener, the Bulldogs will begin preparing the start to their SEC schedule, as they will host the Auburn Tigers on Sept. 8th. Kickoff is set for 11 a.m., with ESPN broadcasting the SEC West battle.

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