MSU's weak non-conference schedule has been duly noted, but let's not sell this next opponent too short. With Alabama, Arkansas and Ole Miss looming after this game, I suppose this one could make folks a little nervous.
Nah. But the Skyhawks are decent. Let's have a look at the Bulldogs' Week 10 foe.
UT-Martin Skyhawks (Nov. 5, in Starkville)
• Conference: Ohio Valley (Division I-AA)
• 2010 record: 6-5 (5-3, T-4th OVC)
• Final ranking: Not ranked
• Coach: Jason Simpson (33-25, five years)
• Returning starters: 18 (8 offense, 7 defense, 3 specialists)
• Last meeting: First meeting
• On the Web: utmsports.com
UT-Martin has been to the I-AA playoffs only twice, most recently in 2006, Simpson's first year as coach. He's done fairly well, with a 25-14 record in OVC play. Of his 33 total wins, 17 of them came in the 2006 and '08 seasons combined, and Simpson's had two losing campaigns (2007 and '09).
The Skyhawks know how to put a scare into an SEC team, though. In 2008, they trailed Auburn 20-13 at halftime and 27-20 after three quarters before succumbing, 37-20, on the Plains. Last year, well, UTM lost to Tennessee, 50-0. So it's 0-2 versus SEC opponents all time.
An experienced offense is directed by junior quarterback Derek Carr (6-foot-1, 196 pounds), who led the OVC last season with 2,543 yards to go with 13 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. He completed 58.2 percent of his passes and had a QB rating of 129.1, fourth in the conference.
His main target will be senior receiver Steven Shiver (6-3, 214), who made 36 catches for 634 yards and five TDs last fall. While UTM was good in the passing game last year, the running game was middling (153.5 ypg), but its top two rushers return. Jason McNair rushed for 547 yards and two TDs, while Tevin Barksdale had 479 yards and three scores. (McNair also completed all three of his pass attempts for 65 yards and a TD.)
By the way, McNair and teammate Julius McNair, though not brothers, are of the Mount Olive McNairs.
Here's an interesting stat about UT-Martin's offense: It averaged 393.2 yards per game (second in the OVC) but only 21.5 points per game (sixth). I'm thinking 60.6 penalty yards per game (last) and a minus-four turnover margin (seventh) had something to do with that.
Defensively, there's experience at every position: two defensive linemen, two linebackers, two cornerbacks and a safety. Top tackler Josh Bey is gone, but second-leading tackler Jett Howard (56 stops), a junior linebacker, returns. Also back is lineman Darrin Nalls (5-10, 296), who had 28 tackles and tied for the team lead with five sacks.
Safety Kendal Harper leads the secondary; he had 42 tackles and three interceptions.
UTM, which bases in a 4-3, was statistically the stoutest defense in the OVC last season, ranking in the top three in scoring defense (23.1 ppg), total defense (299.3 ypg), rushing defense (145.3 ypg) and passing defense (154.0 ypg). All these stats are relative, of course, and difficult to put into context in light of this matchup.
Simpson, the UTM coach, has some MSU ties, having begun his college career there before finishing at Southern Miss (class of '95). So it'll be a homecoming of sorts for the Ellisville native.
Up next: Alabama