Tyler Russell threw for a career high 23-37, 291 yards and two touchdowns and made a key fourth down touchdown pass to Malcolm Johnson to clinch a 6-0 start for the second time since 1999. It would also move State up four spots in the AP poll at 15th.
It was said many times this past week that big players make big plays in big games. That's what every single player on the roster did for MSU Saturday night. Chad Bumphis made catch after catch, Marcus Green reeled in two big touchdowns, Johnson was back in full force in his first game of the season, and Johnathan Banks made a key turnover late in the game that changed the ballgame.
A crowd of 57,831, the third largest in Davis Wade Stadium history, packed the house to watch the biggest game of the year for the Bulldogs and they delivered.
The first half was key for the Bulldogs and they started it by driving straight down the field. Russell went straight down the field on the first play to sixth year senior Green for a 29 yard gain. Two first down passes to Bumphis and a 10 yard run by Perkins looked to have the Dawgs in business. But the next three plays netted just one yard and MSU had to settle for a Devon Bell field goal from 31 yards. The opening drive went eight plays and 73 yards to open the game.
But Tennessee would roar down the field on their opening drive. I nice dose of Tyler Bray and Rajon Neal set up a 75 yard drive in 10 plays capped by a powerful six yard run by Neal and UT had the lead at 7-3 and still nine minutes remaining in the first quarter.
State would start the drive from their own 36 and start it horrendously. Russell had no time in the pocket and was slammed to the ground for a 10 yard sack and State looked to be on a downhill slope. But on third and 18, Russell zipped a pass across the middle of the field to longtime teammate, Chris Smith, for a 20 yard gain and a first down. MSU would drive the ball inside the 10 where Josh Robinson would break through the hole in the defense and into the endzone and the Bulldogs were back on top, 10-7 with three minutes remaining in the first.
A three-and-out was forced by the MSU defense and they would take the ball into the second quarter.
MSU drove the ball into the redzone and it was time for Dak Prescott. Prescott took his first play on the ground for six yards down to the 13. Then a play action fake drew the defense to him and he found Green in the endzone wide open for the touchdown. For Prescott, it was his first career touchdown pass and it put the Bulldogs up 17-7 with 14:17 remaining in the half.
But Bell did something he didn't do on his first two kickoffs, he let the ball stay in play and it got into the hands of the always dangerous Codarelle Patterson who weaved his way through the defense for a 98 yard return and UT was back in it at 17-14 with 14 minutes left in the first half.
Russell immediately went on the attack completing his first five passes on the drive and pushing State inside the Tennessee 10 but the drive stalled and Bell was called upon to kick another field goal. The kick was true from 24 yards out and the lead was at six, 20-14. Bell's field goal was his eighth consecutive make for the freshmen.
Bell then pulled the rabbit out of the hat with the high kick dropping right in front of the MSU bench and it was grabbed by freshman corner, Taveze Calhoun and MSU was in perfect position to build on its lead.
Russell went down the field and found Johnson for 25 yards to put the Bulldogs inside the UT ten. It would be the first pass thrown Johnson's way this season has he recently recovered from an off-season injury and was playing in his first game of the year. Russell would finish the drive off with an absolute bullet between the defenders to Green for his second TD catch of the day. State would take the 27-14 lead with 6:30 left in the half.
A couple of possessions would go back and forth between the teams in the next six minutes, but the half was sealed by a deep Bray pass that was intercepted by Corey Broomfield. A kneel by Russell would send the Bulldogs into the locker room with a raucous Davis Wade in the back ground.
It was the best first half performance of the year offensively for MSU as they dominated the air to the tune of 27 points which were the most first half points in an SEC game since they scored 28 against Kentucky in 1994. State had 19 first downs in the first half and that was the most since at least 1989. The Bulldogs have also outscored its opponents, 218-56, in the first half during its last 10 wins.
But would the Bulldogs be able to keep it up in the second? Tennessee came out of the locker room with big plays in mind. Patterson grabbed the toss on the reverse, shook off a Denico Autry tackle, and cut it back the other way for a 34 yard gain. UT would drive the ball into MSU territory to the 20 but the MSU defense would get the stop and force the 35 yard field goal to make it a 27-17 game in MSU's favor.
The Dawgs would come out of the gates rusty and were forced to punt after a three-and-out. That would give the opportunity to close the gap to UT and that's exactly what they did. They used their running game to open up the pass and drove down the field 86 yards in 15 plays with the touchdown coming from 11 yards out from Bray to Patterson. We now had ourselves a ball game at 27-24 with four minutes remaining in the third.
Both teams' defenses would begin to get stops back and forth as the quarter changed into the middle part of the fourth. UT would reel off a first down run, but this is when All-American nominee, Banks would come to the forefront. Banks reached into the running back's arms and ripped the ball free while also recovering and making the biggest defensive play of the day.
State had the ball at the UT 30 and would strike quickly with Bumphis hauling in a 25 yard catch inside the five. Perkins would then roll into the endzone for the score and MSU's lead was made a little more comfortable at 34-24 with eight minutes remaining.
But Bray and company were not done yet. They quickly drove the ball 58 yards in two and a half minutes with a Bray touchdown in the back of the endzone to the fullback. Plenty of time still remained and the lead was cut to three at 34-31.
The Bulldogs had to have a long, sustained drive to clinch it and Perkins went straight to work. He took his first two carries for 13 yards and a first down. On third down and seven, Russell would find Bumphis for 10 yards and keep the chains and the clock moving. On second down, Russell would throw a strike down field to Bumphis once again for 23 yard and another Bulldog first.
But UT came up with three straight stops inside the 10 and with 14 seconds left, Dan Mullen was faced with a decision. He decided to go for it and, with ice water in his veins, Johnson reeled in a one handed grab in the back of the endzone for the touchdown in the final score of 41-31.
Malcolm Johnson - AMAZING one handed catch (via sfslickdawg)
The win was the biggest of the year and should give MSU a little more respect than what they've been getting. They now are two weeks away from possibly going to Tuscaloosa at 7-0 and facing the number one team in the country at Alabama.
But a homecoming matchup vs. Middle Tenn. State looms first for the Bulldogs and a trap game appears to be set up.
The game will kickoff at 6 p.m. at Davis Wade as MSU looks to start the season at 7-0, equaling last weeks entire season win total.
News and Notes
- There are five quarterbacks in the country that have thrown 10 or more touchdowns and less than two interceptions. Tyler Russell is one of them.
- Russell is balling it out in SEC games. He's complete 62.8 percent of his passes on 66-105. He's also thrown for 782 yards with seven TD's and zero interceptions.
- Russell is tied for sixth all-time at MSU now with 25 career touchdowns.
- 199 first half passing yards by Russell were the most since Kevin Fant had 214 against Memphis in 2003.
- Marcus Green stepped up big time against UT. He hauled in a career- high six catches, a season-high 71 yards, and a career-high tying two touchdowns. His five season touchdowns have come on just 13 catches. Safe to say, he's making the best of his sixth year.
- Perkins is one of just three running backs in the country with a rushing touchdown in every single game.
- With 109 yards Saturday night, Perkins now has three 100-plus yard games this season. Coming into his junior year, Perkins had only one 100 yard game.
- Against Kentucky, Bumphis became the all-time leader at MSU with 18 career touchdowns. Saturday, Bumphis moved from eighth to fifth all-time in career yards at MSU with 1,816 yards.
- Bednardrick Mckinney had another huge game for the Bulldogs. Coming off being named co-freshman of the week in the SEC with 12 solo tackles, McKinney reeled off 14 Saturday night to lead the team. In his last four contest, Mckinney has averaged 10.5 tackles.
- In the first six games, MSU has 212 points which is the most in school history. The 25 points or more in every game is also the most.
- There are only 12 teams in the country still remaining and MSU is one of those. The 6-0 start has happened only three times previously.
- Tennessee lead the nation coming into the ball game in passing efficiency. After the first half they had only 58 yards and finished with just 148 its lowest production of the season.
- Mullen is now 8-3 against the SEC East and for the second time in his career, finishes the season undefeated against the other division.