September 23, 2012 11:36:39 AM
STARKVILLE - What did we learn?
Mississippi State University football didn't want to look this way heading into a bye week.
Of course the Bulldogs got out of Davis Wade Stadium with a 30-10 victory on Saturday night against an overmatched South Alabama team. However, it was underwhelming in almost every phase of the game and Mullen appeared more dissatisfied with a win than any other time I've covered this beat.
"It was everything we didn't want to do in a game like this," Mullen said.
It was the word the Mississippi State University coach chose to use during his halftime interview session
Through the first quarter of play, No. 23 MSU (4-0) had jut one first down and four punts. Through the first 30 minutes of the Bulldogs' 30-10 victory over the University of South Alabama, Dan Mullen didn't have the look of a content fourth-year football coach.
"It was just sloppy," Mullen said. "When you get these games, you want to come out and play sharp and play crisp, and we didn't do that in the first-half at all. We went backwards a lot."
Quarterback Tyler Russell looked confused and frustrated as passes continued to fall incomplete.
For the second straight week, Russell was not made available to the media following a victory. The fourth-year junior did take to his Twitter account late Saturday night in an attempt to calm a restless fan base after his 13-for-27 performance that included no touchdown passes and just 171 yards.
"A win is a win, 4-0," Russell tweeted. "We have to get better and we will. This team is to special not to."
The only touchdowns from the quarterback position came from the ground Saturday night as Russell and backup Dak Prescott both were able to find the end zone on goal-line carries.
"To me, Tyler was just off a little bit tonight," Mullen said. "We put a lot on him. When we're not throwing the ball well, to come up with a win is still big."
The running game, which had bailed out MSU last week during all the dropped passes at Troy University, was barely in any kind of mid-season form by finishing with only one player at double-digit carries for the game (LaDarius Perkins with 11).
Before getting picked off in the second quarter, junior quarterback Tyler Russell tied Wesley Carroll's school record set in 2007 of 137-straight attempts without an interception. His former high school teammate Chris Smith said it was a matter of the receivers not making Russell feel comfortable with their separation from the Jaguars' defensive backs.
The Bulldog offense has scored 144 points through its first four games, its highest point total through the first four games of the season since the 1944 squad dropped 159 in its first four games. However, this version of MSU has yet to play the top level of the Western Division of the Southeastern Conference in the caliber of the University of Alabama and Louisiana State University.
"Not everything going to be perfect for him all the time," Smith said. "Nobody is asking for Tyler to have a perfect game every time."
- 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.
- South Alabama (1-3) has the pieces in place to be a solid member of the Sun Belt Conference after what they put together in its first game against a Southeastern Conference opponent. C.J. Bennett completed 14-of-26 passes for 154 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Demetre Baker added 49 yards rushing.
The Jaguars are a transitional BCS team that is in just their fourth season as a program. However, The defense managed to force three-and-outs for the majority of the first half before the Bulldogs slowly got on the scoreboard.
- Quarterbacks still haven't learned to not pick on MSU senior cornerback Johnthan Banks.
The East Webster High School product, who came into the post-game media conference glasses on his face in the similar style of Miami Heat stars Dwayne Wade and Lebron James, finished with two pass breakups and a fourth quarter interception.
"I've always said that if you throw it over to my side of the field then five or six times, then I'll get at least one," Banks said.
The pick of South Alabama quarterback C.J. Bennett moved him into second on the active list for interceptions and now needs just one more to tie Walt Harris for the school's all-time lead in the statistical category.
Banks also broke Derek Pegues' school record of 241 return yards off an interception set from 2005-08 (274) and currently ranks first among active FBS players in that category.
Banks said the Bulldogs first-string defense, which only gave up three points in the three quarters they were on the field, were more than motivated after the 572 yards given up last week at Troy University.
"(Coach Mullen) may have been embarrassed at half, but he is always poised when he talks to us," Banks said. "He comes in there and speaks the truth, and that is what I like and respect about him."
- State's six-game overall winning streak ties the 2010 mark for the longest overall winning streak since winning the first eight games of the 1999 season. The 53 points allowed by State through the first four games is the lowest total allowed through the first four contests of a MSU season since the 1999 team held opponents to 28 total points.
Mullen is now 20-1 when winning the turnover battle, improving to an FBS-leading plus-13 this season in turnover margin. Mullen bettered his record to 24-0 when leading after three quarters, while the Bulldogs won their 28th-straight contest when holding a lead entering the final period.
What we heard?
Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen
"We're going to leave the month of September 4-0, which will put us in a position we want to be in.
We've got a lot of improving we've got to do on both sides of the ball. We'll get a lot of that fixed in the bye week next week. I wasn't real happy with our overall performance today, but 50 percent of the people in the country are very sad right now, and we get to be happy. South Alabama, give them credit, they played hard. Their kids played hard and they're building a good program down there, and they showed that tonight with how they competed on the field."
"We weren't throwing the ball very well. It was just sloppy. Bad play calls. When you get these games, you want to come out and play sharp and play crisp, and we didn't do that in the first-half at all. We went backwards a lot. To me, Tyler was just off a little bit tonight. We put a lot on him. When we're not throwing the ball well, to come up with a win is still big."
Mississippi State kicker Devon Bell
On his struggles earlier in the season:
"Coach tells me after every single kick, 'I know you can make that.' He knew that as a true freshman coming in and kicking, that I was going to struggle a little bit, but he is patient with that and now I'm good."
On his first three misses of the season:
"It was mainly because of technical stuff: over-rotating, my plant foot being in the wrong place, dipping my shoulder, little things like that. Getting that field goal at Troy really got the monkey off my back and gave me some confidence. 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."
South Alabama head coach Joey Jones
"I am really proud of this football team. There are a lot of things we can work on for sure. I saw a lot of heart on that football field tonight. I told the team in the locker room that I can handle that. To be able to play with teams like Mississippi State, we have to get better. We are a young team. We are trying to learn and fight our way through these games. Nobody is going to feel sorry for us because we are a new program."
University of Kentucky (1-3, 0-1)
The Wildcats, who entered with the league's top passing attack before facing Florida's defense in a 38-0 blowout loss, are now without quarterback Maxwell Smith as he sat out with a shoulder injury. Backup Morgan Newton missed open receivers early and often, diminishing his team's already slim chance at an upset in Gainesville.
"I think Morgan was throwing it to the right person; we just weren't very accurate," Kentucky coach Joker Phillips said. "Again, for us to be successful in this offense, you have to be able to throw and catch, and we weren't able to do that today."
Kentucky finished with 60 yards passing.
Newton completed 7 of 21 passes for 48 yards, with three interceptions. He was benched in favor of Jalen Whitlow in the fourth. Smith watched from the sideline -- unable to do anything to help.
"To run the risk of him being out for a long period of time if he got hit and injured today, I was not ready to do that," Phillips said. "I'm treating him as if he's my kid and I just did want to do that. The risk was not worth the reward."
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.
5. Freedom Creek Festival: Still deliverin' the blues ENTERTAINMENT