Mississippi State junior quarterback Tyler Russell (17) throws a pass against Middle Tennessee Saturday night. (Photo by Kim Murrell, SDN)
The 15th-ranked Mississippi State Bulldogs overcame a sluggish start and put away from the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders on homecoming night at Davis Wade Stadium.
The 45-3 victory enabled the Bulldogs to remain perfect at 7-0 for the season. Â
â€śIâ€™m pleased with how we played coming out of the locker room in the second half,â€ť MSU head coach Dan Mullen said. â€śWhen you look at the statistics at halftime, there wasnâ€™t anything that really stood out to me (as a problem), but we got into the red zone and didnâ€™t score touchdowns. We had two of those opportunities. We came away with just three points and had a turnover which obviously killed a drive for us.â€ť
Mississippi State opened with a methodical 14-play scoring drive that took over 7 minutes off the clock and resulted in a 4-yard touchdown pass from Tyler Russell to Chris Smith. The catch was Smithâ€™s third of the drive, setting the tone for what would be a career night for the Meridian product.
Not to be outdone, the Bulldog defense answered the bell as well with a prompt three-and-out handed to the Blue Raider offense.
Stateâ€™s second possession stalled at the Middle Tennessee 15-yard line, setting the table for freshman place kicker Devon Bell to extend the MSU lead to 10-0 with a 32-yard field goal.
The quick start to open the game was all the offense Mississippi State could muster in the first half thanks in part to a Russell fumble and a couple of untimely penalties.
MSUâ€™s lack of energy combined with a late Blue Raider 32-yard field goal sent the teams to the intermission with just a seven-point differential at 10-3. Â
â€śHe pretty much said we were playing terrible and that wasnâ€™t Mississippi State football,â€ť said Russell of coach Mullenâ€™s comments at the half. â€śHe told us we had to prove to him that we were a good football team. Thatâ€™s basically all he said and then some guys got up and started talking from there. We just came out and played Mississippi State football in the second half.â€ť
Mullenâ€™s halftime speech was heard loud and clear by his Bulldogs as they opened the second half with a strong defensive stand and a burst of speed on offense.
On Stateâ€™s first possession of the second half, LaDarius Perkins broke free for a 64-yard scoring run that energized the MSU crowd and increased Stateâ€™s lead to 17-3.
The junior tailback continues to be the picture of consistency for Mississippi State as he has scored a touchdown in each of Stateâ€™s games this season. For the game, he carried the ball 20 times for 125 yards and a score.
Moments later there was a collective gasp in Davis Wade Stadium when former East Webster High School player Johnthan Banks collected his 16th career interception to tie Walt Harris for the career mark at MSU.Â At the end of his interception return, Banks was left lying on the turf for what seemed like an eternity to State fans and coaches alike.
â€śEverybodyâ€™s heart kind of jumped into their throat right there on that play,â€ť Mullen said. â€śWhen that happened, I think our guys relaxed in a good way. When Perkins broke the long one, Banks got the interception and got back up, our guys just relaxed, started executing and we started making a ton of plays from that point.â€ť Â
Three plays later the Bulldogs struck again with Smith picking up his second scoring reception of the game from Russell giving State the 24-3 advantage. Smithâ€™s scoring grab set a career high for the senior receiver who also had seven receptions for 66 yards.
The next Middle Tennessee possession ended much like the previous, with a turnover. This time it was Cameron Lawrence who forced and recovered the Blue Raider fumble and one play later Robert Johnson hauled in a 23-yard scoring catch to extend the lead to 31-3.
Wasting no time to take advantage of an opportunity redshirt freshman quarterback Dak Prescott entered the game in the fourth quarter and promptly scored from 5 yards out after being set up by Nick Griffinâ€™s 44-yard run. Stateâ€™s lead swelled to 38-3 but the Bulldogs werenâ€™t done.
Derek Milton capped the scoring with a run from 6 yards out to give State the victory.
For the game, Mississippi State racked up 446 yards of total offense with Russell going 17-of-21 for 191 yards and three touchdown tosses. Â
â€śHeâ€™s just done a good job of preparing,â€ť said Mullen of Russellâ€™s effort. â€śWith Tyrone (Nix) being there he is somewhat familiar with their defense even if you donâ€™t see it each week heâ€™s seen if for the last couple of years.â€ť
Defensively State held MTSU to just 305 yards of offense with Banks and Nickoe Whitely pacing the team with eight tackles. Mississippi State now stands plus 17 for the season in turnover margin for the season.
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The win sets the stage for undefeated Mississippi State to travel to Tuscaloosa to meet the defending national champion Crimson Tide with the top spot in the SECâ€™s Western Division on the line.