November 18, 2012 11:24:10 AM
STARKVILLE - What did we learn?
Turnovers is how the Mississippi State University football team survives. It's their lifeblood and how they flip the momentum against teams during the 2012 season.
A motivated and humbled MSU (8-3, 4-3 in Southeastern Conference) team forced a season-high five turnovers Saturday against an Arkansas team with an interim head coach with absolutely no confidence once things started to go badly in the second half.
In the last three losses, MSU had lost the turnover battle to the University of Alabama, Texas A&M University and Louisiana State University by a combined minus-4. On Saturday, MSU created five turnovers and were plus-4 in the margin. The Bulldogs have won 23 of 24 games when victorious in the turnover column and currently lead the country with a plus-18 turnover margin at home
At the most critical times in the game Arkansas' potent offense wilted in front of an announced attendance of 54,838 in Starkville. In a six-possession stretch in the second half, the Razorbacks (4-7, 2-5 in SEC) managed to commit five turnovers and suffer a three-and-out offensive drive to see MSU score the final 38 points of the contest.
- The epitome of Arkansas' demise was symbolized in the third quarter in a two-play sequence where the Razorbacks fielded a punt and had to take a timeout because they were unsure what play to call after coming on the field. After the timeout, the first play resulted in a fumble by Arkansas tailback Jonathan Williams that fell directly in the arms of MSU senior linebacker Cam Lawrence. MSU senior linebacker Cameron Lawrence registered 11 tackles, a pass breakup and his third career fumble recovery.
The five turnovers caused by MSU Saturday tied a season-high when MSU forced Auburn University in the same number during its 28-10 victory this season.
- The major adjustment by the MSU defensive staff was simply not panicking after an early deficit like the Bulldogs had done against Alabama and Texas A&M. Instead, MSU continued to just rush with four defensive lineman and try to cover with the back two levels of defense. Defensive lineman Denico Autry and Preston Smith began to create pressure on Wilson and Autry, the former East Mississippi Community College star, even got his fourth sack of the season.
Smith, a freshman that has seen little playing time in 2012, ended the game with four tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, a sack and a fumble recovery.
- Perkins, who had not missed a game in his college career before last week, went to the MSU coaching staff demanding to play Saturday in the home finale against the University of Arkansas.
It was clear after the 45-14 victory over the Razorbacks what MSU's offense had been missing over a week ago in Tiger Stadium.
Perkins' presence accounted for 147 all-purpose yards against the Arkansas (4-7, 2-5 in Southeastern Conference). The ability to establish a run game for MSU (8-3, 4-3 in SEC) early allowed MSU to slip the 190-pound out of the backfield on play-action passes for two touchdowns on wheel routes to Perkins.
After the 45-14 victory in Starkville Saturday, MSU junior quarterback Tyler Russell said they saw on film that the Razorbacks linebackers were weak in pass defense especially against faster tailbacks with a running start out of the backfield on check-down passes.
Perkins was able to not only give Russell a comfort zone in the pass game but also be a successful option in pass coverage when the junior quarterback insisted on holding on the football the extra half-second against a youthful Arkansas secondary. Mullen is now 29-12 as a head coach when his team rushes the ball for over 100 yards and the Bulldogs tallied more than 500 yards of total offense in a SEC game for the first time since putting up 531 yards in a loss at Auburn on Sept. 10, 2011. MSU, which came in the contest Saturday ranking just ninth in the league in rushing, went for over 200 yards on the ground for the first time since a win on Oct. 20 against Middle Tennessee State University and the fourth time this season.
- In the Bulldogs 45-14 dominating victory over the University of Arkansas Saturday, Tyler Russell broke the single-season school record for completions (201), yards (2,523) and 200-yard passing games (seven), while extending his single-season record of 21 passing touchdowns.
Russell became the first MSU quarterback in school history to eclipse 2,500 passing yards in a season and earned his first four-touchdown performance since his debut in a MSU jersey over two years ago in a 49-7 victory over the University of Memphis. The former Parade All-American out of Meridian also kept up his single season school records for completion percentage and passing yards per game. Russell finished with 19-of-32 for 274 yards and fourth touchdowns against the worst pass defense in the SEC. His four touchdown passes were the most for an MSU quarterback in a Southeastern Conference game since Wesley Carroll accomplished the feat in 2007 against the same Arkansas program.
- Next season MSU cornerback Jamerson Love will be spotlighted as a feature defensive player in the Bulldogs secondary. Right now, he just gets to play off the limelight of his more famous veteran teammates Johnthan Banks and Darius Slay.
Love did make his first impact Saturday on the 2012 season with an interception in the first Arkansas drive of the second half. After the Razorbacks had earned a first down, Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson dropped back and clearly didn't see the sophomore cornerback in the middle of the defense as the All-SEC selection threw it right to the 5-foot-10 defensive back.
Love, who was three-star athlete coming out of Aberdeen High School three years ago, hadn't totaled two pass breakups and a tackle for loss in nine games heading into Saturday. Love has competed in 23 career games but mostly been seen on special teams. It's only been in the last month where the sophomore has seen more snaps with the first-team defense in SEC play.
- MSU remains on the short list for the school's first appearance in the Chick-fil-A Bowl since 1999 when they defeated Clemson University 17-7 in the Georgia Dome to conclude a 10-win season.
The Bulldogs (8-3, 4-3 in SEC) are among three SEC teams in the mix for the bowl game in Atlanta on New Year's Eve along with Louisiana State University and the University of South Carolina.
With MSU, you have to look at the big picture," Chick-fil-A Bowl chairman Leeman Bennett wrote on his blog this week. "A pair of wins to close it out against Arkansas and Ole Miss will probably get the Bulldogs ranked again and put them in great position for a trip to Atlanta."
MSU is also being projected by many websites including ESPN and CBS for its second trip in three years to the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville. Two years ago, MSU defeated the University Michigan 52-14 in the 2011 Gator Bowl in the school's only trip to the New Year's Day postseason game.
What we heard?
Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen:
On Tyler Russell:
"It's huge (to break records like that). We've broken a bunch of records since we've been here and one day I'm sure they'll get broken again. We came into this season and said 'you're going to be as good as your seniors are' and you look at that class but Tyler is a four-year player. They wanted to go out the right way. I think we've gotten close to where we want to be, which is a 50-50 run/pass team and be efficient doing both."
"After the poor start early, I thought we made a lot of plays. Give our staff credit, they hung in there. They overcame me and I'm rough duty to deal with on game day. They did a good job and made some slight adjustments and stuck a lot with our game plan."
On turnovers being contagious:
"I think it was. Our guys started playing with some confidence. We haven't created as many turnovers defensively coming in the last 5 SEC games. I think we created three turnovers in our last five SEC games. I think there can be a little bit of it from the mental side of things and hit that slump now. We got back to that play making mentality."
On Egg Bowl:
"Can't wait. I can't wait. A little bit different attitude this week. Always the biggest game of the year for us so we'll be ready to go."
Arkansas head coach John L. Smith:
"We ended up really losing the turnover battle in the second half and that's the story of the game. From here on out what we are going to do is let these guys finish up, because they have been through a lot. They will continue to battle and fight with class and do it right. We will have a senior class where it will be their last time to play in Razorback stadium and their last time to put on a Razorback uniform. That is a sad deal to see guys go, they are part of your family. So, we are going to try to work our tail off to make it our very best. We have a foe coming in next week that is very good. We will put it all out on the line; we will go out and battle and finish this thing up the right way."
Mississippi State senior linebacker Cam Lawrence:
"I think it took us a couple of series to get settled in. Coaches made good adjustments; I tip my hat to them. Got us in the right place. Once we got settled in we executed. We got our mojo back and got the win."
"Coach (Chris) Wilson made a big emphasis that we needed to make more plays and create more turnovers. That's exactly what we did. We were hunting the ball the whole time and we were able to come up with it a couple of times."
Mississippi State junior quarterback Tyler Russell:
"I wasn't really on the whole day. Offensive line did a good job. Running backs bailed me out a ton. Receivers caught the ball for me. Knowing you have people on the offense to make plays for you, you can be OK and still executing with the ball. I was glad those guys stepped up and made some plays."
Mississippi State senior wide receiver Chad Bumphis:
"We were kind of frustrating because we knew we didn't play our best first half. Coaches made adjustments and we just really needed to execute better."
On Egg Bowl:
"I have been waiting on this one. I'm excited. I'm ready to go to Oxford. I owe them. Last time I was there I broke my collarbone."
Egg Bowl 2012 in Oxford
There's a clock that counts down to this one game - The Egg Bowl. MSU has won the last three and goes for four in a road in Oxford for the first time since a stretch between 1939-42. Ole Miss (5-6, 2-5 in SEC) is coming off an emotionally draining loss at LSU this past week and will need to win this game to earn bowl eligibility in HugH Freeze's first season with the Rebels.
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. America and the Muslims BOOK REVIEWS