Nine games' worth of football can give us statistics that are worth examining, which is what I'm going to do with Mississippi State. This entry is devoted to the offense, and I'll write about the defense and special teams later (probably tomorrow).
What I'll do is list some major categories, where MSU stands in said categories, and try to put those stats in context. Enjoy.
• Scoring: 28.1 ppg (9th). That's not a bad number, but it's a bit misleading. MSU has scored 40-plus points three times this season: against Memphis, Alcorn State and Houston. That skews the average. In SEC games, State is scoring 15.8 ppg.
What sticks out, though, is how the Bulldogs outscore opponents in the first quarter (85-27) and the fourth quarter (61-30). It's the same in SEC games: 34-17 in the first, 24-9 in the fourth. That means MSU is starting fast and finishing strong.
• Total yards: 383.2 ypg (8th). MSU's players are now well-steeped in coach Dan Mullen's offense. Problem is, the personnel isn't yet fully in place. And the loss of tight end Marcus Green and receiver Leon Berry to injuries has hindered the progress somewhat. It's not a balanced attack right now, with 67.1 percent of MSU's plays being run plays (that's a 2-1 run-pass ratio).
• Rushing: 218.7 ypg (2nd). Who among us didn't think MSU's run game would take a dip after Anthony Dixon left? Well, it hasn't been much of a dip. Between Vick Ballard (77.4 ypg), Chris Relf (56.3 ypg) and LaDarius Perkins (41.9 ypg), the Bulldogs have cobbled together the league's best rushing attack outside of the Auburn Fightin' Newtons.
• Passing: 164.6 ypg (10th). Relf still has strides to make as a passer, but he's getting better. He's ninth in the league with a 126.8 pass efficiency rating (MSU's team rating is 129.0), but his three interceptions tie him with Alabama's Greg McElroy for fewest in the league among starting QBs. And that 164.6 number is 20 yards better than last year.
• Turnover margin: Plus-7. MSU's committed 12 turnovers, second-fewest in the league. The offense hasn't given the ball away the past four games. That's helped State win some tight contests.
• Sacks against: 10 (2nd). This has been a huge stat, because Relf can try to do too much when he gets in trouble and can't elude the rush. He can, of course, elude the rush, so he and the offensive line share the credit for this.
• Third-down conversions: 46.4% (3rd). Relf's a big reason for this stat being so good, often using his legs to move the chains. And he can do that so frequently because State's been pretty good at getting into what coaches like to call "manageable" third downs.
• Fourth-down conversions: 71.4% (3rd). See above. State is 5 of 7 on fourth downs, and the versatile run game is why. On the five successful conversions, two were runs by Relf, one was a pass by Relf, one was a run by Ballard, and one was a run by Perkins. However, only two of those conversions occurred on scoring drives, which points to the fact that MSU sometimes has trouble finishing things offensively.