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10 thoughts from a first hand experience of Saturday night's 41-31 win over Tennessee at Davis Wade Stadium.
So many times, Mississippi State fans have seen a game like Saturday night go the other way. 2009 against LSU. 2010 against Arkansas. 2011 against Auburn. Wins in our grasp, but not quite enough to secure them. But make no mistake, the 2012 edition of the MSU football team is not the same as those from previous years. After three uninspiring victories in the weeks leading up to Saturday, State showed late Saturday night that they did have the killer instinct to finish a game and secure a big victory to continue our undefeated season. There was so much to take away from Saturday's 41-31 win over Tennessee, and here's my attempt to pick 10 things to talk about from what I witnessed live Saturday night.
- Starkville was outstanding on Saturday - I cannot say enough about Starkville on Saturday. Instead of our usual trip up Friday night, my wife and I waited and drove up Saturday around mid morning with plans of hitting the Junction by 1:30 or 2. When we first got to campus it was already somewhat buzzing, but still pretty thin crowd wise. That's understandable, considering the game was not until 8 and even if you showed up at 4 you would have 4 good hours to tailgate before kickoff. But by 4 p.m. or so, the Junction was slammed with people - groups setting up chairs and coolers in any bare spot they could find (and some right in our tailgate area as well). And if I thought it was crowded then, by 6:30 or 7 there had to have been 70,000-80,000 people running around out there, as you couldn't turn left or right without running into someone. You could just feel the excitement in the air, as everyone was in heavy anticipation for the game that awaited us. And that was all pregame. The crowd during the first half was the loudest I can remember since the 2009 Florida game. And why not, we were given plenty of reason to cheer. Although we were quiet for a majority of the 3rd quarter, the noise picked back up in the 4th and was deafening several times on big 3rd downs for the Volunteers and after both huge TD drives for State late in the game. Kudos to everyone who was there and who did their part to cheer on the team. I know I was hoarse walking out Saturday night, as I imagine most people were.
- Tyler Russell, not your average MSU QB - I mean, you cannot say enough about this young man. In my time of being an MSU fan, the best quarterback we've probably had prior to Russell was Wayne Madkin. No knock on Wayne, but he didn't exactly set the world on fire throwing the ball, and to be honest no State QB has in my time on this earth. So with my preconditioned notion of what to expect from a QB, I have been in awe of what Tyler has done. He makes smart decisions with the football, he pinpoints his passes. He lets plays progress, and time after time on Saturday, he made big time throws that kept State out in front of a good Tennessee offense.
- Finally, Dak on play action! - We've all come to know Dak Prescott as the Tim Tebow of the 2012 football team. Prescott comes in at QB in situations where State needs a yard or two, and wants to pick it up via the 6'2" 230 lb quarterback from Haughton, Louisiana. But many of us have wondered, when will we see Prescott get to throw the ball in that situation? Defenses had begun to key on Dak when he entered games, knowing he was in there to run straight ahead for a yard or two. Finally on Saturday, Mullen shook up Prescott's role a bit, faking the QB run up the gut and airing it out. Dak found a wide open Marcus Green in the endzone for a touchdown that put State up 17-7 in the 2nd quarter. Now defenses have to respect Prescott's ability to both run and pass, making the talented future QB for State that much more dangerous when he comes into games.
- Steady Chad Bumphis was steady - He won't stick out on the stats sheet, but Chad Bumphis again proved that he is the go - to receiver in this offense Saturday night. Bumphis did register 7 receptions for 93 yards, but it was the clutch nature of several catches of his that stood to me. His catch on 3rd and 7 on the final drive of the game was absolutely as clutch as it gets. In a big game Saturday, Chad showed us that he is the go to guy in this offense, and I would expect to see Tyler Russell look his was a good bit more this year in big situations.
- Tight Ends get it done - Ever since Marcus Green caught 2 TDs against Auburn in early September, the tight end position has been M.I.A. in the MSU passing offense. But they made a comeback in a huge way Saturday night, as Green and Malcolm Johnson, who was playing his first game of the season, proved to be the difference for State on Saturday. Green caught 2 TDs against Tennessee, and Malcolm's outstanding one handed grab in the back of the endzone secured a State win. Between the two of them, they accounted for 8 receptions, 105 yards and all 3 receiving touchdowns. I thought State would need a solid effort from the TE position to get past Tennessee, and they proved to be the difference in the game. Dan Mullen could not have gotten Malcolm Johnson back at a better time, and now State will move forward into the toughest part of their schedule with two outstanding options at TE to compliment a group of WR's who get better every game.
- Cordarrelle Patterson was the best individual player to touch the field Saturday - I am of the opinion that the better football team of the two won on Saturday, but I am also of the opinion that the best individual player to step on that field wore orange and white. You can see now why so many coaches, including Dan Mullen, coveted JUCO WR prospect Cordarrelle Patterson so heavily last year when he was coming out of Hutchinson JC in Kansas. The guy is an absolute stud, and literally had a chance to take it to the house every time he touched the ball Saturday. He is not only huge at 6'4" and 205 lbs but he's shifty and lighting fast. You don't see a lot of guys his height returning kickoffs for a reason, but Patterson is the exception. We did not do much to contain him - he had 195 yards and 2 touchdowns (nearly 3) on the night, but in the end he couldn't quite give the Vols enough to pull them through. Mark my words, you will see that guy play on Sunday soon.
- White Out / Maroon Out participation was great - Those who came to the game Saturday did a great job participating with the maroon/white out, as witnessed by this photo (photo courtesy of Mississippi State University | Mansel Guerry):
- Running when it mattered - Although on paper things seemed fine - the Bulldogs ran for 169 yards on 41 carries - on the field, State seemed to have difficulty running the ball for a good bit of the night. But when we needed it most, LaDarius Perkins came through in a big way. On the last drive of the game, the one that clinched victory for MSU, Perkins rushed for 33 yards, including a huge 8 yard run on 2nd and 7 from our own 28 and a 15 yard run on 1st and 10 from the UT 23 that helped State reverse the field and drive down to score what would be the game's clinching touchdown. Perkins quietly collected 101 yards rushing and a touchdown, proving once again that he is capable of being the steady, every down back that State needed after losing Vick Ballard.
- Banks' strip changed the game - There's no doubt in my mind that the game was headed downhill quickly for State before Johnthan Banks stripped Devrin Young of the football and recovered it with around 9 minutes remaining in the 4th quarter. State clung to just a 3 point lead, and how many times have we seen that happen to us, a State team holding a lead only to watch it disappear late in the game? But big players make big plays when they're needed, and Banks smartly ripped the ball from Young as he ran by, then fell right on top of the ball to give State the football back just outside of the Tennessee redzone. 3 players later, LaDarius Perkins ran in for a 1 yard TD and State was back on top by 10, 34-24. Tennessee would march right back down and score, proving even more how big Banks' forced fumble was for us. Big time play, big time player, coming through in a big time way.
- The drive, the catch, the clincher; The Drive of THE YEAR - With 5 minutes and 22 seconds remaining the game and following a Tennessee touchdown to cut the lead back to 34-31, Mississippi State took over at our own 25 yard line. Holding on to a slim 3 point lead and knowing Tennessee was fully capable of scoring quickly, we knew we had to put together a drive to keep them off the field. And with 5 minutes and change left, it needed to be a long one. This is the point in the game where MSU teams from the past might have sputtered, failing to drive and putting that queasy feeling in the pit of the fans stomachs as we watched the opponent advance towards the game winning score. But that was not the case on Saturday. State put together what I would consider to be THE drive of the year so far, one led by the efforts of Tyler Russell, LaDarius Perkins, and Chad Bumphis, as well as an offensive line that was stellar all night. Perkins previously mentioned rushes on that drive, coupled with a HUGE 10 yard catch by Bumphis on 3rd and 7 got State down in the redzone, where Dan Mullen's gutsy play calling and Malcolm Johnson's amazing grab would finally put fans at ease, putting the game out of reach for the Vols. I can think of no better way to secure a game than to do so on a drive that made a statement like that drive did.