October 14, 2012 1:09:18 AM
STARKVILLE - What did we learn?
Saturday night was about respect.
"I think we showed Mississippi State is for real," MSU junior quarterback Tyler Russell said. "We did what we had to do tonight."
Respect for the Mississippi State University offense that simply did whatever it wanted against an overmatched University of Tennessee defense.
Respect nationally for the 19th-ranked Bulldogs as a 41-31 victory over the Volunteers allows MSU to start a football season 6-0 for only the third time in school history.
"This is about the mindset of this football team," MSU head coach Dan Mullen said. "Our guys came out and performed. Period."
MSU junior quarterback Tyler Russell used the nationally-televised platform to introduce himself as potentially one of the better signal callers in the Southeastern Conference. The junior quarterback has 199 yards through the air by halftime as the Bulldogs worked the ball down the field at will through the first 30 minutes of play. The last time an MSU had 200 yards passing at halftime was Kevin Fant against the University of Memphis in 2003. Russell was pinpoint accurate on his passes as he finished the game 23-for-37 for season-high 292 yards an touchdowns. A clear example of the high confidence level for the Parade All-American was his first touchdown pass to senior tight end Marcus Green. Russell had to fit the football through the hands of two Tennessee defenders to find the 6th-year player in the back of the end zone.
"When we needed to make plays, we made plays," Russell said. "That's the sign of a championship football team."
The 27 first-half points by MSU (6-0, 3-0 in SEC) are the most in SEC play since 28 vs. the University of Kentucky in 1994. The 19 first downs in the first half are the most by a Bulldogs team since at least 1989.
"We came out and played a great first half," Mullen said. "I'm really proud of the effort of the guys in that locker room."
Tennessee (4-3, 0-3) was only able to keep the game close early off a 98-yard kickoff return by Tennessee junior receiver Cordarrelle Patterson. However, the special teams score for the Volunteers was mixed in with a major gaffe as well after MSU was able to recover a squib kick nearly 20 yards down the field on a live ball. The recovery led to a 13-yard touchdown pass from backup quarterback Dak Prescott to Marcus Green giving MSU a 17-7 lead.
Tennessee was able to crawl back into contention by scoring 10 points on its first two drives of the second half and quieting most of the 57,831 in attendance, which was the third largest in Davis Wade history.
Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray's favorite target of the night was Patterson as the junior college transfer would finish with 57 receiving yards, 113 return yards and 25 rushing yards in clearly his most complete offensive effort of the 2012 season.
When the momentum was clearly sided with the orange faithful, Tennessee fumbled in the fourth quarter in its own territory on a play caused and recovered by senior cornerback Johnthan Banks.
"Our locker room was just ridiculous after the game and I've never seen it like that," Banks said. "Have you seen the headlines? We have the best secondary in the nation. No question about it."
Banks, who would run over with the football to the opposite sideline to give a chest bump to Mullen, held Tennessee star receiver Justin Hunter to just two catches for 41 yards Saturday.
"We say it all the time but big time players make big time plays in big games," Mullen said. "Banks did that. He just did."
The turnover, which was the second by the Volunteers offense, quickly turned into a one-yard touchdown run by junior tailback LaDarius Perkins. Perkins, who finished with 101 yards on 23 carries, is one of three running backs in the Football Bowl Subdivision to have a score in each of the first six games of the season.
Respect was recovered from an MSU defense after questions arose about their consistency following performances in the second halves at Troy University and the University of Kentucky.
"I hope that everybody in the media doesn't say we haven't played nobody," Banks said. "Maybe they'll give us the respect we deserve. Maybe they'll say Tennessee wasn't a big game or any good either."
Once MSU was able to get pressure on Bray, the Bulldogs defensive front was able to force three-and-out possessions and keep one of the best offenses in the SEC on the sidelines. In the first half, MSU held an astounding time of possession edge of 22 minutes, 44 seconds to seven minutes, 16 seconds.
Saturday showed off why future defenses are going to have to respect the pass attack of MSU after four of the first five play calls were directed for Russell to air the ball out down the field.
MSU, which came in averaging 225 yards passing per game, had nearly that figure eclipsed in the second quarter.
MSU, who will likely take another jump in the national rankings today with the victory, will host Middle Tennessee State University in the Homecoming game matchup next weekend.
What we heard?
Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen:
"You hear this all the time, but big time players make the big-time plays in the big games. (MSU senior cornerback Johnthan) Banks did that. We needed a play there (and) Banks came up and made that play. It was a heck of a ball game. We knew it was going to be a four-quarter battle all the way through, especially with the offensive fire power that they had. I'm proud of how our guys played."
Mississippi State quarterback Tyler Russell:
"We really don't care about people respecting us or anything like that. I think, overall, we did what we needed to do and I think we showed people that Mississippi State is for real."
Mississippi State right guard Tobias Smith
"I think we really had a coming-out party tonight for the offense, against a big-time opponent. They played us well, I think as an offense we gelled to come make plays when it was time."
Mississippi State cornerback Johnthan Banks
"Have you seen the headlines? We have the best secondary in nation. Period."
Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley on the Vols' defense
"We are not very good right now. You are what your film is. We don't get off the blocks the way we need to and we don't get enough people to the football."
On the first half:
"We played a bad first half. I thought that was pretty apparent. To their credit, we came out and had a great third quarter. It's a tough loss but we have to dust it off and move on."
Middle Tennessee State University (4-2, 2-1 in Sun Belt Conference)
The Blue Raiders needed a 7-yard TD run with 36 seconds to rally and defeat Florida International University 34-30 Saturday night.
After losing to FBS opponent McNeese State in the opening weekend, MTSU has won four of its last five including a 49-28 road victory at Georgia Tech University.
22-year-old junior quarterback Logan Kilgore has thrown for over 200 yards in five of the six games this season. MTSU also has a senior tailback in Benny Cunningham, who had five touchdowns against Georgia Tech and nine total touchdown in the 2012 season.
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.
4. A Stone's Throw: Beware COLUMNS