October 13, 2013 1:50:14 AM
STARKVILLE - That noise everybody in Oktibbeha County heard at 9:48 p.m., was a giant sigh of relief.
Mississippi State narrowly avoided a upset loss by escaping with a 21-20 victory over a Bowling Green team itching to continue the tradition of Mid-American Conference opponents knocking off Bowl Championship Series schools.
In a season where MSU coach Dan Mullen has spoken constantly about the word 'finishing', the home players left a partially empty Davis Wade Stadium playing surface dejected feeling the clock simply ran out on Bowling Green's comeback effort.
What we learned?
- MSU coach Dan Mullen played the injury card early and often Saturday night after the close victory. Mullen lamented that at least five offensive lineman with starts from the 2012 season were out of practice at one point during the week leaving little to no chemistry among the offensive unit.
"At one point we had six starters on the offensive line this week," Mullen said. "We got to find a way to make some corrections and get some combinations together up front. We you have as many walking dead as we have on the offensive and defensive line as we did tonight, we need this break to simply get some players back that are critical to us."
- The quarterback controversy is over at Mississippi State.
One throws the football and the other runs with it, enough said.
Dak Prescott's running ability and Tyler Russell's right arm led the Bulldogs offense to 422 total yards and 6.4 yards per game in a frustrating night where MSU was dealing with several offensive line injuries.
"It doesn't really matter who is our quarterback," Russell said. "Coach Mullen calls in a play and we execute it."
MSU utilized its organized quarterback system to a narrow 21-20 victory Saturday night to a overmatched Bowling Green defense in terms of physicality and athletic. Before the game, instead of last week's defiance of announcing a starting quarterback at all, MSU officials decided to put both players together on the video board before kickoff. Both players traded turns saying the other's name in a gesture showing how potential ridiculous the quarterback debate among fans, media and everyone involved has been.
"We moved the ball well," Prescott said. "We did some good things, but we also shot ourselves in the foot on some things. We just have to get better."
- Will Redmond was able make two big plays in his eagerly anticipated college football debut.
The sophomore defensive back had a tackle in his first kickoff coverage and then a key deflection credited to him on the fourth down play to end hope of a Bowling Green comeback. Redmond saw a lot of action as a backup cornerback in MSU's 21-20 victory over Bowling Green Saturday night.
"He was able to get out there and get out on the field to make some plays that we've seen him make on the scout team over the last year," MSU coach Dan Mullen said.
Saturday marked Redmond's debut due to a NCAA investigation revealing in June a former booster assisted Redmond in purchasing a automobile at a discount and other financial benefits. Redmond, now a sophomore defensive back, was reinstated after paying back $2,660 in benefits, forfeiting a year of eligibility and being withheld from the first five games of the 2013 season.
Mullen said he was proud of the way Redmond handled the year and half delay to his college football career.
"I give him a lot of credit because he's had to deal with a awful lot of stuff," Mullen said. "He's been under pressure and handled it with class. I'm proud of how he's dealt with everything and maybe he'll have some smooth sailing to the rest of his career."
- Bowling Green quarterback Matt Johnson was constantly making plays while running for safety the entire evening. Johnson finished 253 total yards and 224 through the air while creating different and new angles to throw from because of MSU's consistent pressure on the defensive front seven.
"This game showed us we can play with anybody in the country," Johnson said. "We knew we could but it reaffirmed to us that we could play right down to the end against a SEC team. Tonight we proved it to the rest of the country."
Johnson had split time with two other quarterbacks in the first six games of the season but his athletic ability allowed him to take every snap of the game Saturday night and nearly lead the Falcons to the upset.
"That boy really surprised us with his ability to run," Jones said. "We hadn't seen him run on film all week so we were all looking around with thinking 'man where did this come from'."
- MSU (3-3) found itself with a early lead thanks to the reemergence of a suddenly healthy LaDarius Perkins in the backfield. While being paired with all three backups in the same backfield, Perkins earned 83 yards off 16 carries. The senior workhorse tailback discovered the end zone for the first time in over a calendar year with a one-yard over-the-top run for the game's second score.
"For the last couple weeks, I haven't been quick enough because with ankle injuries it's hard to overcome everything mentally," Perkins said. "You're just not playing with the same mental intensity because you're worried about things happening to your injury again."
- During a second half in which MSU had just 134 total yards, Mullen decided to go for the automatic win late in the game on a fourth-and-three inside the Bulldogs 10-yard-line. Instead of kick a short field goal which would've forced the upset-minded Bowling Green (5-2) to score a touchdown to win, Mullen decided to do the traditional Dak Prescott up the middle running play. The referees ruled the sophomore quarterback was short of the marker and left the announced crowd of 55,148 wondering if they would be watching the first upset of the Dan Mullen era.
"I wanted to score there," Mullen said of the choice to go for the first down. "I wanted to put the ball in Dak's hands. I thought he was playing and running it pretty well. It didn't go exactly as I planned."
- Devon Bell missed another field goal Saturday to create more of a controversy among himself and the Mississippi State special teams unit.
Bell hit the right upright from 44 yards out in the fourth quarter that would've put MSU up four with 13 minutes left to go.
Bell is now 5 of 10 on field goals this season while being a superior weapon on kickoffs by having over 75 percent of his kicks go out of the end zone. Over his career, Bell is now 19 of 31 on field goals and 7 of 14 from 30-39 yards out.
In the final minutes of the fourth quarter, MSU elected to not have Bell try what would've been a 24-yard field goal and instead had Prescott run the ball up the middle on fourth-and-three. Prescott was stopped short at the 5-yard-line and gave the Falcons one more opportunity to win the game.
Bell also had his first punt Saturday as he entered the game in the first half for a 41-yard punt to pin the Falcons offense inside the 5-yard-line.
- Justin Senior received his first start of his collegiate career Saturday after Blaine Clausell was ruled out of the contest after suffering a foot injury in last week's 59-26 loss to No. 10 LSU.
Senior, the Montreal, Quebec native, has only played four years of organized football after transferring to Hargrave Military Academy in Chatham, Va., two years ago.
Clausell, who had started five straight games at left tackle and played in 22 career games, was wearing a protective boot on his injured foot all week but was not named on the injury report by MSU coach Dan Mullen.
Former East Mississippi Community College star Justin Cox drew his first career start at Mississippi State since transferring this summer. Cox was in place of the injured Jamerson Love after he left last week's game in the fourth quarter on crutches.
After the game MSU coach Dan Mullen confirmed backup linebacker Ferlando Bohanna suffered another concussion and will likely be out for the rest of the 2013 season. Mullen said in the post-game media conference he had reservations about Bohanna's ability to ever return to the football field in his college career after the injury Saturday.
What we heard?
Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen
"A win is a win. We'll take it. Give Bowling Green credit because that is a very good football team. Coming in they were 5-1 on the season and they really look like the top team in their conference.
"Like everybody else we have played, they have all been good football teams this season. It's great to be 3-3 at this point in the season. Obviously, you would like to play a little bit better, but its pretty good to be 3-3. We'll take it.
On the decision to go for the first down late in the fourth quarter ...
"I wanted to score. I wanted to put the ball in Dak [Prescott's] hands. I thought he was playing pretty well and he was running it pretty well. I figured that was a good opportunity for us to finish off the game. It didn't go exactly as I planned, but that was our decision."
On defensive stand to win the game ...
"I don't know if we played a great defensive game tonight for the entire duration, but we have to trust in our guys on defense and trust in our guys to make plays and step up in key moments.
"We talked about finishing the game and I tell you what the one thing we did tonight was finish the game."
Bowling Green coach Dave Clawson
On the comeback in the second half ...
"Like I told the team, I'm disappointed that we didn't win but that's the only thing I'm disappointed with. Our effort was outstanding, our preparation was great and I thought our kids played their hearts out. We came up one point short."
On first-half offensive struggles ...
"We didn't really struggle, we just dropped a few passes. We catch the one pass down the sideline and if we catch the other one down the sideline, this may have been a different outcome. I thought we protected well.
"We had a good mix of run and pass. We just dropped a few balls.
On emotions changing tides ...
"Things changed at halftime when we kicked that field goal. I thought at halftime we had a lot of momentum. We came out in the second half and went right down the field, but we missed a field goal. We got the ball right back and scored a touchdown. It was a one point game with 20 minutes left."
On possibly going for two to tie the game ...
"I did, but usually I start going for two in the fourth quarter. I wanted to keep us in the game. I didn't want to not get it and then have MSU score to go up nine and make it a two-score game. I thought about it, but I just thought there was too much time left. If it was inside the fourth quarter, we probably would have gone for two."
On the fourth quarter offensive drives ...
"I think we were holding up upfront. We dropped too many balls tonight. If we catch everything that we should catch then perhaps it's a different outcome.
"When you play a team like this you have to execute at a high level. When you have chances to make big plays you have got to make them. I thought we left a couple plays on the field simply through dropped passes."
Mississippi State junior defensive tackle P.J. Jones
"It was a long, rough night I'm not going to lie. We should've really blown those guys out over there.
On the Bowling Green QB Matt Johnson...
"That boy really surprised us with his ability to run. We hadn't seen him run on film all week so we were all looking around with thinking 'man where did this come from'."
Mississippi State senior quarterback Tyler Russell
On the offense executing no matter who was playing QB ...
"It doesn't really matter who is our quarterback. Coach Mullen calls in a play and we execute it."
On the lack of execution on offense at times...
"I felt we had some silly mistake and shooting ourselves in the foot when we got close on drives. I felt like in pre-game warmups that I could feel the ball coming out of my hand perfectly but we just couldn't get in the end zone when we needed to."
Mississippi State sophomore quarterback Dak Prescott
"We moved the ball well. We did some good things, but we also shot ourselves in the foot on some things. We just have to get better."
Mississippi State senior tailback LaDarius Perkins
"For the last couple weeks, I haven't been quick enough because with ankle injuries it's hard to overcome everything mentally. You're just not playing with the same mental intensity because you're worried about things happening to your injury again."
Bowling Green sophomore quarterback Matt Johnson
On the offensive play in the second half ...
"We just started to execute more offensively. We called the same plays we were to start the game, but we just performed them at a higher level. The line gave me more time and the receivers played extremely well, especially against the SEC corners."
On a particular turning point in the game ...
"I don't think it was any particular play, but that drive at the end of the second quarter where we were able to get three points helped us carry it over into the second half. We were able to move the ball on our opening drive of the second half and for the rest of the night."
On playing close late in the game ...
"Coach told us to keep it close, and at the end, all we wanted was a shot. We gave ourselves that shot. Unfortunately, we just came up a little short, but the team played well offensively and defensively."
On the general emotion of the game ...
"This game showed us we could play with anybody. We came down to an SEC program and we fought with them for four quarters. We knew we could going in, but it was nice we were able to prove it to the rest of the country. We wanted to show them the Indiana game was a fluke, and that that's not what Bowling Green football is. This game is what we are about, and we have to carry the momentum from this game into our next game."
vs. Kentucky on Thursday Night Football on Oct. 24
MSU will now have 11 days of preparation before they face Kentucky on a Thursday night game in Starkville to complete a four-game homestand for the Bulldogs.
"We you have as many walking dead as we have on the offensive and defensive line as we did tonight, we need this break to simply get some players back that are critical to us," Mullen said.
Kentucky (1-5, 0-3 in Southeastern Conference) lost at home 48-7 to No. 1 Alabama Saturday night and may have lost dual-threat quarterback Jalen Whitlow after he left the game in the first quarter with what Wildcats coach Mark Stoops said was a sprained left ankle. Without their dual-threat quarterback, the Wildcats had no chance.
"We know how good Alabama is, but we can play better," Stoops said after the loss Saturday. "We didn't play our best tonight, and that's why I'm disappointed. When you're playing the No. 1 team in the country, at least give them your best shot."
Kentucky's fourth straight loss closed out its most grueling stretch in school history, a schedule of ranked teams including No. 7 Louisville, No. 19 Florida and No. 13 South Carolina before facing the nation's top-ranked team and two-time defending national champions.
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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