September 2, 2018 12:10:08 AM
Slim Smith - [email protected]
STARKVILLE -- Going into his debut as Mississippi State's head football coach Saturday night, Joe Moorhead insisted his team wasn't playing against Stephen F. Austin as much as it was playing against a standard - a championship standard, he said.
If that's the case, MSU opened the season 1-1.
The visiting Lumberjacks out of the FCS ranks were no match for the 18th-ranked Bulldogs. State scored five first-half touchdowns, including a 53-yard TD pass on its first offensive play of the season and dispatched the visitors from Nacogdoches, Texas, in much the same manner that a cat disposes with a field mouse, allowing the 'Jacks to squirm loose for a moment now and then before slamming down a big paw on their prey. Final score: Bulldogs 63, Lumberjacks 6.
The mouse never had a chance, as Saturday's scored emphatically confirmed. State's offense rolled up 400 yards in the first half alone with Keytaon Thompson, starting in place of suspended QB Nick Fitzgerald, throwing four TD passes in the first half, almost all of them to receivers as all alone as a Republican at a Planned Parenthood picnic.
Thompson finished the night with five TD passes and two rushing scores, tying a school record for total scores. He finished with a gaudy 364 passing yards and 109 rushing yards.
Yet, as far as playing to a championship standard, not even Thompson's play was even close.
It's not every day Bulldog fans are left muttering after a 57-point win.
The flaws were there, often and obvious.
MSU opened the second half with a listless effort. Thompson missed on eight straight pass attempts to open the second half before regrouping to throw for one TD and rush for another. For all his success, 18 of his 31 passes fell incomplete. That's not championship stuff.
The Bulldogs also committed a handful of dumb penalties and their secondary, particularly senior cornerback Jamal Peters, were beaten enough to cause some legitimate concerns as the Bulldogs prepare to run the pass-happy gauntlet that surely awaits them in the coming weeks.
Jace Christmann missed his only field goal attempt, from a manageable distance of 40 yards.
But even so, the Bulldogs didn't play to a championship standard, no matter what the scoreboard indicated.
All this was not lost on Moorhead, of course, who was neither pleased nor especially disappointed with his team's play.
"I felt we did some very good things, offensively, defensively and special teams," Moorhead said. "I was pleased, but not satisfied. There's a lot to clean up. What you don't accept in defeat, you don't accept in victory. We can't stick our heads in the sand because we had a big win and act like those problems don't exist."
Just as fans should not read too much into the final score, neither should they worry inordinately about the sloppiness, errors and lapses that also accompanied Saturday's performance.
As often happens in what was essentially a dress rehearsal, the Bulldogs blew some lines and missed some marks. They played everybody with a number, just about, which invariably leads to some missteps.
The curtain comes up for real Saturday, we assume, when Mississippi State takes on Kansas State in Manhattan, the one Kansas, which is well off Broadway but still a real show.
The Bulldogs will need to play a lot closer to that championship standard then.
And they probably will.
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is [email protected]