Bulldogs still have bite

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 9, 2001

Sports Editor

Oh, how the mighty have fallen.

A perennial favorite to win the Southeastern Conference Western Division Championship before the beginning of the season, the Mississippi State Bulldogs fell in their first three SEC games of the year.

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The Bulldogs, winners over Memphis 30-10 to open the season, have since been edged by both South Carolina and last week at Auburn 16-14, and were rolled by No. 1 Florida 52-0 two week’s ago in Gainesville.

If nothing else the Trojans, beaten by then-No. 1 Miami Saturday, 38-7, will enter Saturday’s game against State with an identical record (1-3).

And suddenly a game that, prior to the 2001 season looked like yet another loss for the Trojans, has suddenly become much more interesting.

"It would be hard for me to imagine what a win this weekend would do for this program," said TSU head coach Larry Blakeney. "It would be a surprise to most people and most assuredly it would be a surprise to Mississippi State."

What’s surprising to most people is the Bulldogs’ early season collapse. Eight offensive starters returned to a unit which led the SEC in rushing (193.8 ypg) last season, including top two rushers Dicenzo Miller and Dontae Walker. Thus far this year, Mississippi State is averaging 113 yards per game on the ground, mostly on the legs of Walker (225 total rushing yards). Miller has been limited in his touches due to an ankle injury suffered at Florida.

But defensive coordinator Wayne Bolt isn’t buying any reports of the Bulldogs’ demise.

"They are an outstanding football team with a big offensive line and strong running backs," he said. "Wayne Madkin (MSU quarterback) is an outstanding player. They’ve struggled a bit, but they’ve played some good teams."

Madkin, Mississippi State’s all-time winningest quarterback, passed for 1,908 yards last year and was named first team all-SEC by College Sports Southeast. This year, with the Bulldogs’ running game floundering, the Huntsville native is being heavily relied on and has responded, throwing for 697 yards and four touchdowns.

"They have a great screen game, but do throw the deep ball, so we have to be ready," said Bolt.

Miami quarterback Ken Dorsey sat back in the pocket and picked the Trojans apart last week with a short, patient, passing attack. But Madkin brings the run-pass threat to the Bulldogs’ backfield.

"He’s (Madkin) a better runner and athlete," said Bolt. "Dorsey was a pocket guy and Madkin is more of a scrambler. The quarterback scramble is always a concern for the defense when it’s spread out on the field."

Offensive coordinator John Shannon was pleased with the productivity he received from his offense in the first half of the game against Miami. The Trojans had 312 yards for the game, including its highest output of the season on the ground with 155 yards on 45 attempts. Redshirt freshman DeWhitt Betterson led the charge in the fourth quarter, rushing for 96 yards on only nine carries.

This week, Shannon will be at odds against a defensive guru in Mississippi State coordinator Joe Lee Dunn.

"He (Dunn) just does so many things," said Shannon. "He will start with a 3-3 front and then switch it around a lot. They (MSU) hardly ever end up with what they show you at the beginning of the play. For us, everything starts with protection, because you don’t know where their defenders will be."