September 17, 2012 4:14:27 AM
STARKVILLE - What we learned?
It was the first road trip of the season in a small but energized stadium experience where they suffered several mental mistakes a week following a huge win against Auburn University.
So why were we all surprised that this Troy University comeback effort fell just short of completing a upset in a 30-24 MSU victory Saturday night in the home of a Sun Belt Conference opponent.
The Mississippi State University football fans had their fears realized Saturday afternoon but get to use the four-hour bus ride back to Starkville as a big exhale of relief.
The reason for the hidden smiles being covered up by a layer of concerned looks is MSU was able to walk away from a upset friendly environment with a 30-24 victory over Troy University Saturday night.
In front of a sellout crowd of 29,013 with thunder sticks in hand and nonstop emotion from the opening kick, MSU (3-0) survived six dropped passes and a defensive effort that was less than stellar to avoid what would've been the biggest disappointment of Dan Mullen's head coaching career in Starkville.
The 572 yards of total offense given up by an MSU defense is the second-most a Mullen-coached team has allowed since taking the job in Starkville and the most given up by Bulldogs defensive coordinator Chris Wilson.
When asked about the effort and ineffectiveness of the defense, Mullen used the word terrible in repetition four times and just stopped talking.
"The story of the day is that we didn't play well on the defensive side of the ball at all," Mullen said. "We're very fortunate to play as poorly as we did and come out here with a win."
- Until otherwise noticed, LaDarius Perkins is star tailback and we will expect him to get a bulk of the carries behind quarterback Tyler Russell for the rest of the 2012 season.
In order to escape with its 13th consecutive non-conference victory, MSU had to rely on the running attack of junior tailback LaDarius Perkins between the tackles. The Bulldogs starting tailback hadn't gone over the 100-yard mark since 2010 and ended with a career-high 179 yards on the ground on 23 carries. MSU used its over 20 pound average of extra mass on the offensive line against the smaller Sun Belt Conference foe for 6.1 yards per rush.
"Coming into the game we knew we could dominate them up front so I knew I would get to the secondary more," Perkins said. "When you get to the second level, you have to be able to break a long one and break through low tackles and I did that tonight."
MSU won the time of possession battle by more than a 2-to-1 ratio in the final quarter allowing Mullen to move to 23-0 when leading after three quarters.
- The high-tempo spread-option used by Troy had the Bulldogs defense at numerous time confused and was able to identify one-on-one matchups to march up and down the field Saturday evening.
After tossing for just under 500 yards through the air against the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, Troy quarterback Corey Robinson went untouched all evening allowing the junior to toss for 343 yards on 45 attempts.
"It's very frustrating to move the ball up and down the field on a team like that and not get it in the end zone," Robinson said. "Whether it's a turnover or something goes wrong, it's pretty frustrating. That just shows us, as an offensive group, that nobody that we're going to see can really stop us. We've beaten Troy two weeks in a row now. If we take care of the football we're 3-0 right now."
However, what was incredibly troubling was the effectiveness of the Troy running game in the second half when a tired and physically overwhelmed MSU defense.
Troy junior tailback Shawn Southward had 137 yards on 20 carries and two touchdowns while running in-between the tackles with massive holes up the middle of the Bulldogs front seven.
"We were more physical than them," Troy linebacker Kanorris Davis The only thing they had over us was size. They had more size. Physical, head up, they weren't anything special."
- MSU senior defensive back Johnthan Banks is still able to induce two more interceptions but this time indirectly instead of picking them off himself like he did against Auburn.
As noted by MSU assistant media relations director Kyle Niblett, Of Troy's 47 passing attempts, the Trojans (1-2) threw at the Bulldogs preseason All-American selection just 7.8% of the time (six times). Banks allowed 4.8 yards per catch. However, he was able to still be involved in both of the interceptions thrown to senior cornerback Darius Slay.
The only two mistakes Robinson made on Saturday landed in the waiting hands of Darius Slay. The senior defensive back had two interceptions and a fumble recovery that resulted in 20 points for MSU on the ensuing drives.
Slay currently leads all Football Bowl Subdivision players with four interceptions.
"I knew they like to throw vertical and so you had to jump the routes," Slay said. "It was almost like the ball kind of found me on one of (the interceptions)."
both Darius Slay interceptions came on corner blitzes by Banks.
"I'm not the least bit discouraged except for the turnovers, the explosive plays and the timeouts," Troy head coach Larry Blakeney said. "That always comes back to bite you late in a game, especially when you're trying to come back."
- Chad Bumphis loves facing non-conference opponents and came up with another gem performance at Troy.
The statistics show Mississippi State University senior receiver Chad Bumphis would be much better off just suiting up against non-conference opponents.
The Bulldogs senior wide receiver, who finished with a career-high 180 yards and two touchdowns in MSU's 30-24 win in Troy, was the target for the vertical passing game straight over the top of the Trojans defense.
In the second quarter, Russell found Bumphis on a screen pass and the Tupelo native found a hole down the middle of the field for a 72-yard pitch-and-catch that gave the Bulldogs a 16-7 lead.
"Chad had a pretty good day," Mullen said with a smile. "It's hard to fault Tyler for 11-for-26 because that's terrible but after (six) drops, he would've had a huge day."
One play after an interception by MSU senior defensive back Darius Slay, Russell used a beautifully executed play-action fake to hit Bumphis for a 58-yard touchdown strike to give the Bulldogs a 16-point halftime advantage.
Bumphis' career has been defined by big games against inferior competition where MSU is already considered a big favorite but less than stellar performances against the top caliber schools of the Western Division of Southeastern Conference.
After this game, 54 of Bumphis' 111 catches (47 percent) have been against non-conference opponents. The senior has 934 of his 1,587 receiving yards (59 percent) against non-SEC schools and a staggering 14 of his 17 touchdowns are in 14 career non-league games.
"I'm excited about it because I was talking to Banks about it he was saying his best games come against SEC teams and he told me to match him so we're going to see how it goes," Bumphis said with a smile.
- Justin Malone got his first ever college start at RG; no signs of Tobias Smith
Mississippi State redshirt freshman Justin Malone got his first start of his college career.
The Madison Ridgeland Academy product, who played only his sophomore and senior year of high school football before arriving to MSU, took the place of the protected senior lineman Tobias Smith.
"I saw him play much calmer this week, with a lot more confidence out there on the field which is something that we need," Mullen said this week. "The fact that he continues to grow will allow the continuing of the rotation."
Smith and his surgically repaired knee were held out of the first half as the Columbus native continues to battle from his recovery from a severe injury during last year's 19-6 loss to Louisiana State University in Starkville on Sept. 15.
"We knew Tobias with his first game was sore all week and our trainers came in on Thursday and said we're not sure," Mullen said after the game. "With his history we'll see how it goes this week. I imagine Tobias will be questionable this week again to see how it hangs in there."
Malone, who has been substituted for Smith during periods of the first two contests of the 2012 season, got the start at right guard with the rest of the starting MSU line staying intact.
"That's my boy and mark my words, he'll be an All-American before he leaves Mississippi State," Smith said last Saturday. "He's a real smart guy and all he needed was some wisdom on the game."
Without Smith, the current first-team offensive line group for MSU has 39 combined starts but none on the right side and 26 of them coming from Jackson, a Outland Trophy watch list nominee.
Smith has been limited in fall camp because of multiple ankle surgeries and now the completion of rehabilitation from his knee injury.
"I knew that Tobias was recovering and staying where I was at in terms of my play wasn't going to be a option at all," Malone said this week. "I knew I would have to play in important spots this year and my teammates were counting on me to improve. I needed that push."
What we heard?
Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen
"The story of the day is that we didn't play well on the defensive side of the ball at all. We're very fortunate to play as poorly as we did and come out here with a win."
MSU offensive coordinator Les Koenning on the winning touchdown
"You kind of read it out and Tyler had confidence in Chad. I actually turned to the people next to us in the booth and said 'thumbs up or thumbs down' and they said they didn't know."
MSU senior defensive back Darius Slay
"We made the big plays tonight on defense but we didn't get the three-and-outs we wanted. We did get turnovers and the ball found us sometimes but we know we can play better than that."
MSU senior wide receiver Chad Bumphis
"The wide receivers tried everything we could to lose it tonight. We got to keep our heads up because obviously they're going to keep coming to us down the road. Of course we want the ball but after all these drops, I don't know how easy it'll be."
MSU junior running back LaDarius Perkins
"Coming into the game we knew we could dominate them up front so I knew I would get to the secondary more. When you get to the second level, you have to be able to break a long one and break through low tackles and I did that tonight."
Troy head coach Larry Blakeney
"I got the feeling in the middle stages of the third quarter there wasn't any way they could stop us on offense. I think we got them a little tired, we played fast, we made them line up and it was harder for them to sub and get calls in. We had great holes for Shawn Southward, Justin Albert, and even Deon Anthony."
University of South Alabama (1-2)
The Jaguars football program, which was established in 2009, is going through its first season as a transition member of the Football Bowl Subdivision. USA is 23-4 mostly against lower-level competition including winning its first 17 straight games.
Joey Jones, former University of Alabama and Atlanta Falcons receiver, was named in 2007 as the first head football coach in the university's history.
North Carolina State beat South Alabama 31-7 in its home debut where the Wolfpack led 28-0 by halftime and held South Alabama (1-2) scoreless until the final minutes.
The Jaguars' only points came on an 8-yard pass from Ross Metheny to Jereme Jones with 5:20 left.
The Jaguars' offense failed to score a touchdown for the first time in the fourth-year program's history in last week's 9-3 home win against Nicholls State. Metheny threw for 189 yards and the short touchdown to lead South Alabama, which finished with 314 yards - though 112 came in the meaningless final quarter.
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