Mississippi State Bulldogs versus the Jackson State Tigers. State wins 45-7.
It started with the traffic. I have never seen Starkville with so much traffic. I was getting frustrated but it was balanced by the wow factor of having so many people in attendance. I can't find the numbers, but at the stadium it was announced that this was the third largest attendance in Davis Wade Stadium history... Let's take a minute and soak that in as the last few years have not been great for ticket sales.Today was.
I have a picture that i will upload tommorrow and it shows only about 40 people missing on the student side of the stadium (I let a friend take my phone with them so it wouldn't get soaked). It was truly something to see.
After I noticed all the people, I noticed the hype. The banners, the TV ads, the T-shirts. I got nervous, hype is a double-edged sword. Would we cut with it or get cut? After all, hype has failed us before.
As the rain came, foreshadowing was on my mind but I couldn't help but be excited. The smoke filled the tunnel, the rain drops flooded, and the players ran out to a screaming crowd of over 52,000. I loved it. I had not seen this much excitement in Starkville since the kicker i can't remember made a big field goal and we went to the SEC Championship. My 11 or 12 year old self went and hung on the field goal as drunk frat boys and pocket protectors alike brought it down. I will always remember that. Would this new coach bring that kind of excitement back?
Once the players rushed out, they were sent right back in. That's right, a lightning delay. When that happened, I was sure we would lose people. If you didn't know, a lightning delay causes a 30-minute break-mandatory. Not cool. I was soaking wet in blue jeans and everyone around me had the same look on their face-a smile. We couldn't help it. Eventually the game started. I wanted to take notes but the rain ruined my legal pad, sorry if the facts aren't facts. I'm going by memory and it should be very close.
Tyson Lee is the incumbent at QB and seemed a little off and on. His height has always been an issue. He stands around 5'9" and that causes problems throwing over the lineman. He played the first few drives alternating with back-up Chris Relf who took over mid-second quarter or so and started the rest of the game.
The first half was not pretty as it was held up by penalties. Their were a few turnovers, penalties stalled drives and they seemed lifeless at times. They recovered in the second half.
Relf was used in a Tebow-esque fashion minus the deep balls. Relf would throw a dink and a dunk, not normally more than a 5 yard toss. Next he would run or option it off to a HB. It was a true spread-option offense. He was solid enough but never spectacular. You have to wonder if it would've been enough against next week's opponent, Auburn.
I later found out after the game through a Dan Mullen radio interview that the reason Tyson Lee was out. He was having shoulder spasms on his throwing arm. The trainers said that he could play if needed but it wasn't necessary to play him. JSU was outmatched.
My favorite player on the offense was the guy that was the most consistent-HB #2 Robert Elliot. His stats were 11 carries for 80 yards and a lone TD. I can't remember how many downs he either converted or made convertable. Most of these will not be remembered because the officiating brought him backwards nearly as much as he brought us forward. He was a stud.
Freshman WR Chad Bumphis caught two TD's but had a big drop. His drop would've converted first down and had he hit the nearing sideline correctly, it may have been another TD. I have to think he was celebrating in his head before he got the ball in his hands. No matter, he will be an asset all season. The rest of the receivers did nothing worth writing home about in this game, but with how horrible the officiating was, who could blame them.
The offensive line was solid for the most part after 3 false starts in the second and third drive of the game combined.
Wow! Just wow! I do not remember ever seeing any team have a special teams unit with that amazing of coverage on kickoffs. Our kicker, who missed two field goals, seemed to put the ball on their 5 nearly every time. Our coverage unit was so fast that it would meet their returner near the 15 yard-line almost every time. It was spectacular!
The punt coverage was similar. WR Leon Berry returned the opening kickoff about 40 or 50 yards and almost cut loose for a TD despite being tripped up. The place went nuts! He never got another kick return because our defense was too good. He had one punt return but was hit immediately.
The kicking team was terrible. Our new kicker, #37, whoever he is was impressive in the spring game, yet abysmal today. Yes, abysmal. He went 1/3 only making a 25-yarder. The two that he missed were in no way long-shots. I was so disappointed.The punter, however, was a boomer. JSU couldn't return anything.
I am in my early twenties, so when I say the best tackling I have ever seen, then you have to understand I haven't seen as much as "average-aged fans", but I welcome them to show me better. It was outstanding! Our tackling was truly a force. They would run up the middle and hope they got tackled forward because that was their best shot at gaining yardage. Their was only two bad plays the whole night on defense. Twice we let a guy behind our secondary. When JSU scored, they were mostly playing third stringers with a few second stringers-I believe.
Back to the good news, our defense created fumbles, they intercepted, they scored, they held them to 8 first downs the entire game.They held them to 194 total yards. To make that more amazing, Jackson State's QB most likely runs a 4.5 sec 40-yard dash. The kid can fly and that helped him escape the first two or three tackles in the backfield, only to be tackled by two or three more. These guys can play.
I feel obligated to talk about the bands. The top thing for Jackson State is their band-the Sonic Boom. They combine a lot of urban elements into their marching band and make for a great show-or so I heard. It was a large disappointment to me but still came out as the better of the halftime shows.
Our own "Famous Maroon Band" chose to throw in the towel and play alongside a local bluegrass/country band. It was an experiment that should remain just that.
I would enjoy hearing how many flags were thrown and a count by quarter. I would bet over twenty-five flags were thrown and somewhere around 8 in the last 5 minutes. It was as if the refs did not want the game to end. This disrupted the game experience for the fans and players alike. Its sad that the refs truly get in the way sometimes.
Right now, I would have to say that yes, Dan is the man. I'm full of confidence in the defense and coverage units. The only worries I have are the deep ball on offense and the field goal unit. Yeah, carry overs from last year that still hang around. Both units should improve. Our offense is not seasoned with this style of approach and I look for them to get better every week. The kicker, well we can hope, right?
Starting tailback Anthony Dixon will return next week against Auburn and his bruising style should place more defenders around the line of scrimmage in the "box". This should help open up the deep ball. Back-up HB Christian Ducre fumbled twice and wasn't half as effective as Elliot. Look for Elliot to move up the depth chart.
Tyson Lee should be back in action and I look forward to seeing him improve throughout the season. Growth really is a journey and I'm looking forward to traveling with the Bulldogs in 2009. Join the ride.
Near the end of the game, the quarterback for JSU, Dedrick McDonald, threw it deep. The ball sailed threw the air and DB #25 for the Bulldogs came down with it. He ran about 55 yards straight, sideways, backwards and all of the above to return it for a touchdown. It was exciting, but it was not near as exciting as what happened in the end-zone. A MS State D-lineman found himself getting punched by #74 for JSU. This caused a small fight. As I turned and looked, I saw the referee tackle the big o-lineman. I am not making this up. He tackled him, then covered him and held him down. It was like watching a man tackle a grizzly bear and seeing the grizzly bear lay limp almost in astonishment that the man had the guts to tackle him. I wish I could've taken a picture.