Michigan wide receiver Junior Hemingway (21) has his pass broken up by Mississippi State cornerback Johnthan Banks (13). Banks played his high school football at East Webster. (Stephen Morton/The Associated Press)
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. â€“ For one quarter Saturday, the Michigan offense powered by quarterback Denard Robinson was every bit as good as advertised.
The Wolverines put up 153 yards of total offense in the first period alone, sprinted ahead to a 14-10 lead, then the MSU defense put the clamps down.
Michigan tallied just 189 yards of offense the rest of the way as the Bulldogs cruised to the win.
"I thought we came out with the right intensity," said Michigan head coach Rich Rodriguez. "But from the second quarter on, we did not execute. It sounds simplistic. It's very disappointing. They made plays and we didn't.
"They tackled better than us, they caught better than us, and they ran better than us."
Mississippi State outscored Michigan 42-0 over the contest's final three quarters, turning the second half into a celebration for the maroon and white clad fans at EverBank Field.
Particularly critical was the Bulldogs' ability to contain Robinson.
The Deerfield Beach, Fla., native who won the Big Ten's Offensive Player of the Year award and finished sixth in Heisman Trophy balloting passed for 254 yards, but ran for a season-low 59 yards.
Coming into Saturday, Robinson averaged 136.9 rushing yards per game this season.
"We made a couple of mistakes and they played well," said Robinson.
MSU defensive coordinator Manny Diaz said it simply took he and his unit a few series to see what they were up against before they could stop it.
"We knew we were playing the run when they tried to run the ball on the first drive," said Diaz. "Basically our plan, we had Charles Mitchell on one side of the field and (Emmanuel) Gatling on the other side of the field and that allowed (Chris) White and (K.J.) Wright to run. They locked in on a key and they were full-flow guys the entire day. When they run, that takes double teams off of (Fletcher) Cox, (Josh) Boyd and those guys on the inside.
"We sort of knew going in that this was about as linebacker-friendly a gameplan that I had ever seen and I expected them to play well."
Mitchell led a balanced MSU defensive effort with 5.5 tackles. Wright notched 4.5 and White tallied 3.5 for the Bulldogs.
While MSU forced just one turnover in the ballgame, an interception by Johnthan Banks early in the second quarter, it turned out to perhaps be the game's changing point.
With State up just 17-14, Banks' pick set up a 12-play, 43-yard drive that culminated with a touchdown run by Chris Relf to put the Bulldogs up by two scores.
The critical interception seemed to halt the Michigan offense's momentum completely. That momentum was built, in part, on several prior successful passes thrown in Banks' direction.
"The credit goes to John Banks," said Diaz. "We were rotating three kids at corner and we sat Banks down and told him we've got to play better than we're playing right now. We gave him a series on the bench to think about it and he came in and his interception on that third down, you could see the game turning at that point."
Banks also broke up what looked to be a sure touchdown pass from Robinson late in the third quarter, making a play that really impressed Diaz.
"The play he made on that pass break-up, that's as good a play as I've ever seen him make in a game or practice," said Diaz.
Banks' day of overcoming early struggles represented the MSU defense as a whole on Saturday as the Bulldogs overcame their early woes to help give the school its most lopsided bowl win ever.
"It was a slow start on defense, but we picked it up and started playing better," said White. "We were flying around the whole time. Coach Diaz wanted us to play hard and that's what we did. After we got settled in, we were ready for them."
late flu virus
Mississippi Stateâ€™s coaching staff knew Saturday they were walking into a locker room that was overwhelmed with a sickness.
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A stomach virus made its way through the squad throughout the week leading up to week of the 2011 Gator Bowl. MSU spokesmen stated several players had suffered flu-like symptoms throughout the days leading up to the game including six starters on offense and defense.
Six starters (senior linebacker Chris White, senior offensive tackle Derek Sherrod, senior center J.C. Brignone, junior offensive tackle Addison Lawrence, junior defensive end Sean Ferguson and sophomore wide receiver Arceto Clark) all missed the team walk-through at EverBank Field the day before kickoff but every one of them played.
â€śWell, when I walked into the training room last night and Derek Sherrod has got two IVs in him, Brignone has got IVs in him, and Addison Lawrence's got IVs in him along with (offensive lineman) Gabe Jackson, not a good sign," Mullen said.
Mullen gave many kudos to the MSU training staff for getting the star players ready to play in Mississippi Stateâ€™s 52-14 victory over Michigan Saturday.
â€śI said these guys all better play today, so whatever it takes,â€ť Mullen said. â€śThey were squeezing IV bags into them last night. I wanted them hydrating, eating, whatever you need to get into their system so they can play the game. Â Our training staff did a great job of getting those guys ready today.â€ť
In his final game of his MSU career, White had 3.5 tackles as the 2010 Conerly Trophy winner chased Robinson all over the field Saturday afternoon.
â€śChris took an IV before the game,â€ť Mississippi State defensive coordinator Manny Diaz said. â€śHe wasn't feeling great this morning. And as a coach, with a hot day, that always concerns you first.â€ť
Sherrod and Brignone led a State offensive line that allowed only one sack and charged up a running attack that accounted for 204 yards.
Clark ended the day with three catches for 45 yards including a 4-yard touchdown from junior quarterback Chris Relf for the Bulldogs first score of the contest.