UAB-MSU Pregame: Thames Out; Elliott to Start

Today’s game: vs. UAB (2-4), 6 p.m., ESPNU (Clay Matvick and Herm Edwards)

Sophomore reserve defensive back Dennis Thames is not dressed out for today’s game as punishment for an unspecified violation of team rules, said an MSU spokesman. No further details were provided.

Thames, who also plays on special teams, has seen action in six games and recorded eight tackles (six solo), 1.0 TFL and two pass break-ups.

It’s not the first time Thames, a Louisville product, has run afoul of coach Dan Mullen. On May 30, 2009, he was arrested for public intoxication.

Now for a few lineup notes:

• For the second straight week, Quentin Saulsberry will start at center for injured J.C. Brignone (sprained knee).

Mark Melichar will make his first start since Week 2 of the 2008 season, taking Saulsberry’s normal spot at right guard.

Robert Elliott will get the start at tailback instead of leading rusher Vick Ballard. Elliott was credited with starts the first three games of the season, and he’s rushed for 154 yards and no touchdowns on 41 carries. Ballard has 516 yards and 11 TDs on 78 carries.

Brandon Henderson will draw his third start of the year at tight end.

• Backup cornerback Damein Anderson, a junior, is out today. He’s on the sidelines but not dressed out, so we’ll try to find out after the game what his deal is.

Let’s take a look at the Bulldogs’ three keys to victory from our GameDay section.

1. Don’t relax. Coaches and veteran players have harped all week on the importance of maintaining focus and a normal approach after last weekend’s big win over Florida.

A team as young as MSU is vulnerable to a letdown, especially against a team like UAB, which has enough athletes to exploit a defense that loses its mental edge.

This is where leadership comes in. MSU didn’t have captains last year until the Egg Bowl, but that role has belonged to seniors Pernell McPhee, Derek Sherrod, Chris White and K.J. Wright this season. It’s up to them to keep everyone sharp.

2. Pound the ball. UAB is decent against the run, allowing 136.2 yards per game, which ranks 46th in the country. MSU is 21st in the nation in rushing offense, with 211.9 yards per game, and it had 212 against Florida last week.

The Bulldogs have firmly become a run-first team, and it will force UAB to make tackles, which isn’t easy. Tailback Vick Ballard and quarterback Chris Relf are both strong runners who don’t usually go down on first contact, and the Blazers’ front seven doesn’t have many huge bodies.

3. Be negative on defense. MSU defensive coordinator Manny Diaz puts special emphasis on making “negative plays,” like sacks and tackles-for-loss.

Against Florida, MSU recorded three sacks and 10 TFLs, both season highs in SEC play.
For the season, MSU is averaging 1.9 sacks and 7.4 tackles-for-loss per game. UAB has given up only eight sacks in six games (1.3) and 35 TFLs (5.8).

NOTABLE STAT: With a win today, MSU can post its first unbeaten non-conference slate since 2000, and that was a three-game schedule. The last time it went 4-0 in non-SEC games was 1990.

WEATHER: Going to be nice and clear with just a few harmless clouds sprinkled about. Temps should be around 76 at kickoff, dropping to the mid-60s by game’s end.

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