NASHVILLE, Tenn. – It was the defense that stepped up all year for Mississippi State and that did not change in the Music City Bowl Friday night.
The Bulldogs came away with a 23-17 victory, but the biggest stat may have been State allowing Wake Forest to convert only two third downs on 17 attempts.
“Tanner (Price) did not hit many throws,” Wake Forest head coach Jim Grobe said of third down conversion. “We dropped some balls and we were close to picking up first downs but we had to punt. The best explanation is MSU’s defense is really good.”
MSU head coach Dan Mullen was pleased with his defensive pressure.
He thought they could have done better but they stepped up when his team needed it most.
“They did a good job,” Mullen said of his defense. “When we needed to get pressure on them, we did. We were able to get off the field defensively when we needed it the most.”
Mississippi State only allowed 287 yards on 86 plays.
The front four was the anchor of the defense all night. The defensive line was responsible for five of the six sacks. Junior Fletcher Cox, senior Sean Ferguson, junior Josh Boyd and redshirt freshman Curtis Virges counted for four of them.
One came from junior Corey Broomfield and the other was credited to the team when most of the defensive line got to the quarterback.
“Well, we expected them to pressure us,” Grobe said. “They have a really good defensive front. I thought they did a nice job mixing blitzes up. They brought a lot of corner pressure (Friday), but it is not anything we didn’t expect.”
Price, the Wake Forest quarterback, expected the pressure also. He was forced to rush a lot of passes and never got into a rhythm.
“Going into the game, we knew Mississippi State would be throwing a lot of different defenses at us, different coverage and blitzes. I was a little off tonight and missed some throws.”
The six sacks led to a loss of 31 yards.
Senior captain Charles Mitchell was proud of his teammates' effort and thought they executed their game plan very well.
“We wanted to be physical and we did a good job of it," Relf said. "It was about us doing our jobs and flying around all night for 60 minutes.”
Mitchell and former East Webster player Johnthan Banks have anchored the secondary for most of the year. They lost a big piece when Nikoe Whitley went down with an injury.
Wade Bonner stepped up Friday night and tried to fill the hole they lacked with Whitley being out.
“He had a great game,” Mitchell said of Bonner. “It’s usually me and him and Nikoe, but Nikoe got hurt. He stepped up and has been consistent and played good tonight.”
The offense needed the defense to step up. Mississippi State turned the ball over four times, twice deep in their own territory. The defense held and did not allow the Deacons to capitalize on the offensive’s mistakes.
Cox gave the momentum to the Bulldogs when he recorded a sack in the second quarter, that forced Wake Forest to attempt a field goal. He made another big play and blocked the attempt.