September 9, 2012 12:20:50 PM
STARKVILLE - What we learned?
The question is now - is the monkey finally off the backs of everybody involved in the Mississippi State University football program?
MSU head coach Dan Mullen and the Bulldogs program finally crossed the barrier that seems long overdue making way for a new attitude and thought process throughout the Starkville campus.
"I guess the monkey is off my back now, but I view it as a bigger one just jumped on," Mullen said. "I hope in November we are talking about an 800-pound gorilla jumping on my back - that's what I want for our program."
Saturday afternoon at Davis Wade Stadium was a unique feeling seeing MSU dominate Auburn University in nearly every aspect of the game in a 28-10 victory.
MSU head coach Dan Mullen finally has a victory over every school in the Southeastern Conference. The Bulldogs fourth-year head coach achieved his first victory against a Western Division opponent named the University of Mississippi.
Throughout all his stops as a coach, Mullen had never defeated Auburn (0-2) and one would be hard pressed to find a more dominating win against an SEC opponent not named Ole Miss.
"We've talked about since I've been here that we were going to compete for SEC championships and I've talked about the road we have to take to do that," Mullen said. "If you watched how this game went along, especially in the first half, we did a lot of things that in the past we wouldn't have overcome."
After hearing throughout the entire spring and fall camp that it was finally his team, MSU quarterback Tyler Russell completed a career-best 20 passes on just 29 attempts for 222 yards and three touchdowns.
Saturday marked Russell's first 200-yard performance against an SEC defense and the first 200-yard passing game by an MSU quarterback since the 2010 Egg Bowl rivalry matchup against Ole Miss.
"With our offensive line and our running game, it's about picking your poison so today Auburn's defense allowed me the opportunity to beat them," Russell said. "We worked so hard on stressing our fakes this year so the defense can't tell if it's pass or run."
For MSU (2-0) football fans, a feeling will be reached Sunday morning when they wake up knowing they cheer for a current leader of the Western Division in the SEC. It's the first time the Bulldogs will be at the top of the SEC divisional standings since 1998 and the first time MSU is 1-0 in league play since 1999. MSU is expected to be favored in at least four of its next five contests and could be highly ranked by the end of the month.
We learned Russell's safety blanket this season could be tight end Marcus Green. Green spent the spring practices on the sidelines
determining if he still wanted to play college football. Saturday's performance for the Mississippi State University sixth-year senior assured him that he made the correct decision to come back one final time. The senior tight end quickly became the favorite target for MSU quarterback Tyler Russell over the middle in the 28-10 victory over Auburn University.
Green was not made available to the media immediately after the game. Green finished with a team-high 54 yards receiving and two touchdowns from Russell. The two touchdowns were Green's first multi-score game in his MSU career. The four catches were for most for him since 2009.
His statistics and performance served as a proper ending to Green's games against Auburn as he suffered a season-ending knee injury two years ago against the Tigers in Starkville. The moments of seeing the maroon and white No. 32 in the end zone even gave coaching staff some emotion.
"I was very happy for Marcus because he dropped one earlier today and nobody said anything to him because that's not Marcus and he knows that," MSU offensive coordinator Les Koenning said. "Two years ago this is exactly where he tore up his knee and he stood tall today."
MSU senior defensive back Johnthan Banks was able to induce two more interceptions out of Auburn quarterback Kiehl Frazier, which moved him up to second all-time in school history. Banks is now two interceptions behind former NFL first-round pick Walt Harris.
"The worst thing you can ever do is take a talent like that for granted," Wilson said. "I'm fortunate to have been in good places before but I've never taken the talent I have in our secondary right now for granted ever."
Banks now has the lead in career interceptions among active players in college football and the Jim Thorpe Award nominee notched his third career game with multiple interceptions.
"If I get that record then I'll enjoy it but I can be happy with second all-time behind a player like Walt Harris," Banks said. "Right
now it's about getting wins and today felt great getting a win against somebody other than (Ole Miss)."
MSU defensive coordinator Chris Wilson said he still expects offenses to challenge Banks this season because if they don't, two things will happen. The first result would be MSU would've effectively made the offense one-dimensional and the following would allow for senior cornerback Darius Slay to make plays on the opposite side of the field.
"All day long the secondary was there making it uncomfortable for the Auburn passing game," Mullen said. "They made the quarterback hold the ball longer than (Frazier) wanted to."
MSU's head coach says his wife may find him yelling and screaming at the Bulldogs special teams coach this weekend.
What Megan Mullen may find extremely troubling with that concept is her husband is the special teams coach in Starkville.
"I got to get on that special teams coach a little bit because he didn't do very well today," Mullen said with a laugh. "I'll meet with him later in a quiet room somewhere so my wife will find me screaming at myself."
The opening kickoff of the second half went back 100 yards by Auburn senior Onterio McCalebb and the play that silenced the Davis Wade Stadium crowd of 56,111 gave the Tigers a 10-7 lead. McCalebb made one
MSU defender miss and simply outran the rest of the Bulldogs coverage unit down the near sidelines.
"We knew we had enough time and talent to go back and get a score after that happened," Russell said. "It's situational stuff like that, which we practice every day."
It's plays like the kickoff return for Auburn that Mullen mentioned would've led to a snowball effect last year in negative momentum.
"I told the defense at halftime that if they don't score on them, we win," Mullen said. "Sure enough about 10 seconds into the half, I had lied to our defense."
Mullen also watched his freshman kicker Devon Bell fail to convert on two field goals and the scholarship kicker from Vicksburg is now 0-for-3 in his college career in field goals. The three-star kicker prospect missed wide left from 36 yards out in the first quarter and had a 43-yard attempt blocked in the second half.
This is officially Tyler Russell's offense at Mississippi State.
For nearly three years the junior quarterback has been referred to as future but proved his present is something to behold and more importantly something Auburn University's defense simply couldn't stop.
In Saturday's 28-10 victory in the Southeastern Conference opener for both teams, the one aspect of Russell's game that impressed his head coach the most is his leadership and demeanor.
"Everything we put on him, he managed throughout the course of the game," MSU head coach Dan Mullen said. "You could see the poise in which he handled things today. He got us in the right plays, made great throws and hung in the pocket when he needed to do that."
Russell, who completed a career-high 20 passes against Auburn, was incredibly effective on first and second down out of the pistol formation. With the tailback standing right behind Russell in a shotgun snap, the play-action element was disguise extremely well and allowed the MSU quarterback that extra time to complete short, high-percentage throws.
"I really think we kept their defense paused for that half-second debating if it was a run or pass and that half-second is just what we need to break a big play," Russell said.
It's a formation that Russell feels comfortable in because immediately after receiving the snap, he's ready to throw or hand it off avoiding a sack.
"He better be comfortable with that because we've tweaked it specifically for him," MSU offensive coordinator Les Koenning said.
"It's two different issues with the Pistol because it just always him more time to get rid of the ball and still fake what we're doing."
MSU used the big play to its advantage by putting 15 plays of 10 yards or more on the Auburn defense.
What we heard?
Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen
"I guess the monkey is off my back now, but I view it as a bigger one just jumped on," MSU head coach Dan Mullen said. "I hope in November we are talking about an 800-pound gorilla jumping on my back - that's what I want for our program."
MSU offensive coordinator Les Koenning
"I was very happy for Marcus because he dropped one earlier today and nobody said anything to him because that's not Marcus and he knows that. Two years ago this is exactly where he tore up his knee and he stood tall today."
MSU defensive coordinator Chris Wilson
"The worst thing you can ever do is take a talent like (Johnthan Banks) for granted. I'm fortunate to have been in good places before but I've never taken the talent I have in our secondary right now for granted ever."
MSU junior quarterback Tyler Russell
"This whole team is different and it's not just me. We all work harder and have bigger goals now than we've ever had. This is a new Mississippi State and right now things are going well."
MSU senior linebacker Cameron Lawrence
"When you play us, I'm going to get in your head early on and I saw he wasn't ready for our plan for him from the first snap on. There was a point in the first half today where we knew exactly what the play was and who was going to get the ball. They couldn't confuse us on anything they were doing."
Auburn head coach Gene Chizik
"Other than the last drive, we struggled all day in the passing game (and) everybody wants to bring up Kiehl Frazier, but there are 10 other guys on the field with him. I don't think it is just one player."
Troy University (1-1)
Mississippi State will play its first road game of the 2012 season when they travel to Troy to play the Trojans this Saturday (6 p.m., ESPNU). The Bulldogs (2-0) will see a split personality team as in a game where they dictated momentum in a win against UAB, the Trojans were able to be much more balanced offensively but in a home loss to Louisiana-Lafayette (and former MSU coach Mark Hudspeth) Troy quarterback Corey Robinson was forced to throw the football 70 times for 485 yards but were one dimensional.
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