October 6, 2012 6:53:31 PM
LEXINGTON, Ky. - What did we learn?
The Mississippi State University coaching staff knew coming into this week that their opponent was coming in with an agenda.
The University of Kentucky arrived to Commonwealth Stadium Saturday with the 99th-best run defense, which ranked next-to-last in the 14-team Southeastern Conference, and were determined to not let MSU do the same this week.
Mullen and the Bulldogs offense happily obliged early in its 27-14 victory by handing the game to junior quarterback Tyler Russell with the message to challenge Kentucky's inexperienced secondary.
Through the first half of play, which saw No. 20 MSU (5-0, 2-0 in SEC) take 17-7 lead into the locker room, Russell was 17-of-29 for 177 yards and a 10-yard touchdown pass to walk-on fullback Adrian Marcus. At the halftime break, Russell was already just one attempt from tying his career-high (29 vs. University of Auburn in 2012 and vs. the University of South Carolina in 2011).
"I think we threw for a bunch of yards today," Mullen said. "We were able to throw, especially on third down and once we started getting that confidence it really gives you time and patience in the run game. Even though their crowding the line of scrimmage it gives you patience in the run game to be able to do that."
Russell found it even easier to get open receivers the football after Kentucky senior cornerback Martavious Neloms was laying on the field in serious pain after a punt by the Wildcats. With Neloms unable to return to the game with what UK head coach Joker Phillips said was "pulled hamstring", Kentucky had no choice to go the rest of the game with a pair of true freshman cornerbacks (Cody Quinn and J.D. Harmon).
Russell immediately picked on the newcomers without mercy. MSU had 14 passing plays of 10 yards or more in a Kentucky defense that was crowding the line of scrimmage daring Russell to move the chains with the skill in his right arm.
"It goes back to what I told you guys the other day, just taking what the defense gave me," Russell said. "I made some plays downfield, and I was able to check it down. We were able to get a lot of yards off that. Just taking the ball down and finding guys open like (senior receiver Chad) Bumphis."
Instead of having a predetermined location for the pass before the ball is snapped, MSU offensive coaches have proven this week they have confidence in the junior signal caller to go through all his reads in the pocket.
Russell finished the contest 23-of-39 for a career-high 269 yards and two touchdown passes. Russell hits seven different receivers in route to his career day at Commonwealth Stadium in Lexington.
"It really just depends on the play call," MSU senior receiver Chad Bumphis said. "We got so much confidence in our receivers that it really doesn't matter who gets it and makes the play."
Russell's 23 completions marked the most completions by a MSU quarterback since Mullen took the job in Starkville. Russell also tied Rockey Felker for eighth all-time in school history with 23 touchdown passes.
After one of his better games against an SEC opponent, Russell was joking with his head coach that there's still holes in his play that need to be talked about before MSU takes the field next week at home against the University of Tennessee (8 p.m., ESPN2).
"When you miss the little (throws) they kind of get under your skin, and you're like, 'man, I'm too good of a quarterback, and our team is too good, to miss those little throws like that'," Russell said.
For the second time under Mullen, MSU tallied a 250-yard passer, a 100-yard receiver and a 100-yard rusher (2009 loss vs. Georgia Tech University).
- MSU's defense rises up against inexperienced Kentucky team
MSU (5-0, 2-0 in SEC) never allowed Kentucky's much-maligned offense to generate enough momentum to get the deficit within a two-score difference causing six three-and-out possessions Saturday afternoon in front of an announced crowd of 49,498 at Commonwealth Stadium.
The Bulldogs held Kentucky to the second-lowest total yardage output of the season with just 228 yards and the lowest rushing total of the year with just 84 yards on 34 carries.
"Our defense made the stops they needed to," MSU head coach Dan Mullen said. "Overall, I guess I'm critical but I think our defense played very, very well throughout the course of the game. There were a couple of brain-farts in there but overall we played pretty well."
MSU, which came in tied for last in the league in defensive sacks with just five, got to Kentucky's quarterbacks three separate times Saturday including an emotionally back-breaking sack by senior Josh Boyd.
After closing the gap to 27-14 and then recovering an on-side kickoff, Kentucky had energy and momentum along with the football near midfield. Boyd, who had been without a single tackle behind the line of scrimmage all season, was able to power through a double block with a swim move and the takedown of Kentucky quarterback Jalen Whitlow made the three-play drive lose a total of five yards.
"We took it to heart that they did that [the on-side kick] to us, so we took it upon ourselves to play the best possession we played all game," Boyd said.
- Bumphis takes over MSU TD catch record
MSU senior receiver Chad Bumphis wouldn't say he hadn't been thinking about the touchdown receptions record
He can put that thought behind him now as he owns the honor following a 27-yard touchdown catch from junior quarterback Tyler Russell in the third quarter of the Bulldogs' 27-14 victory over the University of Kentucky Saturday.
"It's a big deal to get it out of the way finally," Bumphis said after the game. "You can't say you don't ever say you don't think about it but you try not to. What we want to do this year is get to (the Southeastern Conference championship game in) Atlanta. That's just one step."
Bumphis led all MSU (5-0, 2-0 in SEC) pass catchers in receptions (nine), yards (104) and had the longest play of the day (the 27-yard touchdown) of any Bulldogs offensive player. The senior from Tupelo now has 12 catches for 151 yards along with two touchdowns in two SEC victories this season. "There's more confidence with Chad but even him, these guys know this is it," Bumphis said. "They expect to make the plays. They've played a lot of SEC games. Coming here, any time you're on the road in this league it's tough. And our guys responded and played pretty well and got a pretty good win."
What we heard?
Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen
"One of the big things coming in was we wanted to start fast. When you get on the road; a team playing with some young quarterbacks that is facing some adversity, they wanted to feed off the home excitement. So we talked to our guys about a fast start. I thought we certainly had that, we had a really solid first half on both sides of the ball."
"Overall, I guess I'm critical but I think our defense played very, very well throughout the course of the game. There were a couple of brain-farts in there...so you can put it in your article!...of miss-alignment. But overall we played pretty well. We would have liked a couple more scores."
Mississippi State quarterback Tyler Russell
"It goes back to what I told you guys the other day, just taking what the defense gave me. I made some plays downfield, and I was able to check it down. We were able to get a lot of yards off that. Just taking the ball down and finding guys open like Bump. Overall we played pretty good."
Mississippi State wide receiver Chad Bumphis
"It not about being more confident but about actually going out there
and doing it. I know what I'm capable of and what the offense can do."
Kentucky head coach Joker Phillips on the injuries to his team:
"Somebody mentioned that the other day. I've been through it before, okay? I've been through it before. It does help depth down the road because you have to play so many people, someone has to step up, and our saying is the next guy out. Somewhere in the season we are not going to have to say that, but that's the way it is, the next guy has to step up and make plays. We didn't make plays. I thought our guys completed hard and gave ourselves a glimmer of hope in the second half."
University of Tennessee (3-2, 0-2)
MSU will now turn to a nationally-televised spotlight next week when they return home to face the high-powered offense of the University of Tennessee (3-2, 0-2). The Volunteers will come to Davis Wade Stadium (8 p.m., ESPN2) with SEC's best passing attack at 329.2 yards per game.
"Our stadium is going to be rocking, our guys are going to be pumped up," Mullen said. "They are an explosive, high-scoring, very talented football team."
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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