It's Bulldogs vs. Bulldogs in Starkville this Saturday, and unfortunately, if you threw a blanket over both teams, you wouldn't be able to tell them apart -- they're both 1-2, 0-2 in the SEC. If the Georgia breed of Bulldog can't make something happen, it's going to be an ugly season in Athens.
MISSISSIPPI STATE'S DEFENSE, BY THE NUMBERS
Against the pass: 220.0 yards allowed per game in 2009 (64th nationally); allowing an average of just 150.3 this season (22nd) against Memphis, Auburn, and LSU.
Against the run: 146.0 yards per game in 2009 (62nd); gave up an average of 132.7 in their first three games (50th).
REASONS TO BE EXCITED
Well, if nothing else, Aaron Murray stands a better chance of making it through this game without getting any bones broken. Murray was taken down six times by a so-so Arkansas pass rush last week, but State's defensive front has only managed four sacks all season against some not-particularly-Great-Wall-like offensive lines. JUCO transfer Pernell McPhee doesn't have any of them, and you'd kind of think he's due, but nobody else in the MSU front seven qualifies as an every-down threat, particularly with last year's leading tackler, LB Jamar Chaney, plying his trade in the NFL.
If Murray actually gets some time to throw, his receivers showed last week that they're willing to do their level best to compensate for the continued absence of A.J. Green. Kris Durham has quietly delivered a string of clutch performances, while Tavarres King's touchdown reception in the fourth quarter last Saturday showed a degree of want-it that the whole team would do well to emulate.
And praise be, Georgia will finally have a full tailback stable heading out to Starkville, with Caleb King -- who's nursed a bum ankle ever since the second half of the season opener -- a virtual lock to play this weekend, according to all available information coming out of Athens. King not only offers some fresh legs in the backfield but should also provide some much-needed help in pass protection, where Washaun Ealey, god bless him, turned in a few particularly undistinguished performances against the Razorbacks.
REASONS TO WORRY
It's kind of sad that an offensive line this veteran should be inspiring so much finger-crossing and praying on the part of the Georgia fan base, but, well, that appears to be where we're at these days. Pass protection has been horrendous over the last game and a half or so, and while State's pass rush has hardly been an unstoppable force over the last few seasons, nobody thought Arkansas' was going to amount to much before they planted Aaron Murray into the Sanford Stadium turf six times last week. Someone on the line is going to have to step up, particularly with fullback Shaun Chapas still listed as "questionable" this week.
The receivers will have to step up, too, because the secondary they're going up against may actually be the most tenacious they've faced all season. State's starting defensive backfield featured two freshmen last year, but they hardly played like rookies -- one of them, CB Corey Broomfield, was tied for eighth in the nation in 2009 with six INTs, and the other, free safety Johnthan Banks, is the guy who made Georgia fans everywhere cackle with glee as he turned around not one but two Tim Tebow passes for pick-sixes last October. These guys can make even experienced QBs look stupid, so Aaron Murray can't afford to be running around in the backfield and heaving up desperation throws.
The running game, meanwhile, will be a bit of a question mark. The Georgia offensive line has been somewhat more effective in run-blocking than pass protection, and having Caleb King back this week will certainly provide a needed spark. But the Bizarro Bulldogs have been fairly solid against the run this season -- rushers such as Auburn's Onterrio McCalebb and LSU's Stevan Ridley have out up decent averages against them, but State's defense has allowed only one run of 20+ yards this season, and they haven't let any individual rushers go over 100 yards. If King's return is to make a difference in this game, the coaching staff will have to commit to the run early and give it a chance to get into a rhythm.
MATCHUP TO WATCH
Georgia OL Cordy Glenn vs. Mississippi State DT Fletcher Cox. Glenn, unfortunately, has been one of the weaker links in an underwhelming offensive line ever since battling illness over the last few weeks of summer practice, which means that MSU's Cox might pose a bigger threat to the continuity of the Georgia passing game than even McPhee. Cox checks in at 6'4", 300 pounds, and will be a threat as both a pass rusher and an imposing run-stuffer in the middle of the defense.
(Tomorrow: Georgia's defense vs. Mississippi State's offense, where it might get a little more fun.)