October 14, 2012 1:28:23 AM
Matthew Stevens - [email protected]
STARKVILLE -- 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."
The Mississippi State University offense earned respect by doing whatever it wanted against an overmatched University of Tennessee defense.
As a result, No. 19 MSU earned respect nationally with a 41-31 victory that pushed the Bulldogs to 6-0 for the third time in school history.
"This is about the mind-set of this football team," MSU coach Dan Mullen said. "Our guys came out and performed. Period."
Russell used the nationally televised platform to introduce himself as one of the better quarterbacks in the Southeastern Conference. He had 199 yards passing at halftime as the Bulldogs worked the ball down the field at will. The last time a MSU quarterback had 200 yards passing at halftime was Kevin Fant against the University of Memphis in 2003. Russell was 23-for-37 for a season-high 292 yards. A clear example of the confidence level for the Parade All-American came on his first touchdown pass to senior tight end Marcus Green. Russell had to fit the football through the hands of two defenders to find the sixth-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 SEC) are the most in SEC play since it scored 28 vs. the University of Kentucky in 1994. The 19 first downs in the first half were the most by the Bulldogs 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) kept the game close early thanks to a 98-yard kickoff return by junior receiver Cordarrelle Patterson. However, the score was mixed in with a major gaffe, as MSU recovered 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 Green that gave MSU a 17-7 lead.
Tennessee crawled 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. The crowd was the third largest in Davis Wade Stadium history.
Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray's favorite target was Patterson, a junior college transfer, who had 57 receiving yards, 113 return yards, and 25 rushing yards.
When the momentum was clearly sided with the orange faithful, MSU's Johnthan Banks caused and recovered a fumble in the fourth quarter that helped turn the tide.
"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 ran over with the football to give a chest bump to Mullen, held Justin Hunter to just two catches for 41 yards.
"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, the second by the Volunteers; offense, quickly turned into a 1-yard touchdown run by junior tailback LaDarius Perkins. Perkins (23 carries, 101 yards). Perkins is one of three running backs in the Football Bowl Subdivision to have a touchdown in every game this season.
The MSU defense also earned a bit of respect after questions arose about its 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 pressured Bray, its defensive front forced three-and-outs and kept one of the SEC's best offenses on the sidelines. In the first half, MSU held a time of possession edge of 22 minutes, 44 seconds to 7:16.