September 2, 2012 1:12:40 AM
STARKVILLE - What we learned?
While questions existed throughout the preseason camp as to which new players would take to the stage early in 2012, Saturday night featured a steady dose of the familiar offensive names doing significant damage to the JSU defense.
Even with this being his first full season as the starter, Tyler Russell easily connected on a pair of touchdown passes to receivers MSU fans are used to seeing in the end zone.
Russell engineered the opening drive of the contest 66 yards culminating in a nine-yard touchdown strike to senior wide receiver Chad Bumphis in back of the end zone. Bumphis now has six touchdown catches in his four season openers and has recorded a catch in all but one of the 37 career games he's played in an MSU jersey.
In a very veteran move by both of the aerial combination, Bumphis and Russell were able to confuse the corner into thinking he was watching the quarterback's eyes the entire play.
In his first game as the primary ball carrier for the Bulldogs offense, LaDarius Perkins found the end zone on an eight-yard and one-yard scampers. It marked the sixth and seventh time Perkins has scored on running plays in his career and shortly meant the junior's night was quickly over to get the other three newcomers (Nick Griffin, Derrick Milton and Josh Robinson) experience behind the first-string offensive unit.
Russell would then go back to work to find sixth-year tight end Marcus Green for a 13-yard pitch-and-catch to complete another near six-minute drive. Russell was able to locate eight different MSU receivers in the first half to rack up a game-high 175 yards in just over two quarters of action.
With 2:32 left in the first half, senior cornerback Darius Slay became the fourth different MSU (1-0) upperclassmen to find the end zone on a 52-yard interception return. A miscommunication between JSU quarterback Dedric McDonald and his receivers left an wide-open lane for Slay to find six points.
After the return for a touchdown, MSU found itself up 35-0 before halftime and was able to cruise to an early victory that allowed true freshmen defensive lineman Quay Evans and Nick James some playing time in front of a sellout crowd of 55,082.
Evans and James, who is considered the defensive tackle duo in Starkville for years to come, combined for three total tackles and a forced fumble Saturday night.
While the secondary goal was to get as many active players on the field Saturday night for depth purposes, it was clearly the players that had seen the bright lights that dominated against the defending Southwestern Athletic Conference champion Tigers (0-1). Mullen acknowledged after his 22nd career head-coaching victory that in order to break his 0-4 record against his opponent next week, Auburn University, the big plays will have to have to come from the older members of this MSU roster.
We also might have learned sophomore Matthew Wells is going to be a very versatile weapon for the MSU defense this season. In a matter of two possessions, MSU defensive coordinator Chris Wilson had Wells lined up at his normal linebacker spot, backpedaling to safety and even standing up as a pass rushing defensive end.
In MSU's 56-9 blowout of Jackson State, Wells ended with a team-high five tackles, a sack and his first career interception and touchdown in the same play.
On a tipped pass in the third quarter, Wells had the football fall directly into hands and the Monticello native instantly knew the end zone was waiting for him.
After Wells made it into the end zone, he marked the first game MSU had two interceptions returned for scores since Johnthan Banks did by himself three years ago in a loss to the University of Florida.
Wells said after the game he anticipated he would be used in a variety of ways this season and was excited when the Bulldogs linebackers coach Geoff Collins approached him with the idea for him.
While harassing McDonald in the first half while blitzing off the edge, Wells finally got the JSU quarterback on the ground with a crushing hit on his first career sack.
Wells had started three games before Saturday's season opener but had only one game in his career with over five total tackles and said after the game he'd never been as productive in his MSU career.
The Bulldogs improved to 80-31-2 all-time in season openers. Dating back to 1991, the Bulldogs have posted a
15-4 mark in season openers against non-conference competition, including four-straight victories.
A total of 14 true or redshirt freshmen saw playing time for MSU vs. Jackson State, including five true freshmen (Quay Evans, Nick James, Ryan Brown, Devon Bell and Cedric Jiles)
MSU returned two interceptions for touchdowns in a single game for just the fourth time since 1990 (2009 vs. Florida, 2002 vs. Memphis, 1994 vs. Arkansas).
Mississippi State has won its last 12 non-conference games, with Dan Mullen improving to 13-2 in out-of-conference action. Mullen bettered his record to 21-0 when leading after three quarters, while the Bulldogs won their 25th-straight contest when holding a lead entering the final quarter.
What we heard?
Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen
"We have a lot of guys getting some reps and we gave a lot of guys some experience, a lot of guys got to play football on the collegiate level for the first time. A little bit of everything we can go through and teach this week, and hopefully we will see a great improvement from this game to next week's SEC kickoff game."
MSU junior quarterback Tyler Russell
"Overall I think I did a pretty good job. Some throws I should not have made. I'll get into some film tomorrow to see some things I need to fix for next week."
MSU sophomore linebacker Matthew Wells
"I like moving around. I have confidence that the coaches will put me in the best place to make plays."
Jackson State head coach Rick Comegy
"We saw a team execute and what can happen when you do the things you should do right. I think we will learn that's what it takes when you got a team that has that desire to win. You've got to execute plays, and you've got to do it for 60 minutes. They had a good team tonight."
Auburn University (0-1)
After falling in their opener to No. 14 Clemson in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic game at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, Auburn will open its Southeastern Conference season at Mississippi State. Against Clemson's defense, Auburn quarterback Kiehl Frazier struggled to an 11-of-27 passing night in their 26-19 loss. It'll be interesting to see if the Auburn signal caller and new offensive coordinator Scott Loeffler can rebound against an incredibly confident MSU defensive secondary.
All of the Dispatch MSU Sports Blog readers: feel free to follow me on Twitter at http://twitter.com/matthewcstevens for up-to-date Mississippi State coverage.
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