September 16, 2012 1:06:20 AM
TROY, Ala. -- The problem for Troy University's offense wasn't an inability to move the ball against Mississippi State University's defense.
Troy's problem was it was a more than generous host Saturday night.
Troy ran more plays (52-27), outrushed and outpassed MSU in terms of yards, and held a seven-minute advantage in time of possession, but MSU still managed to escape with a 30-24 victory in front of a crowd of 29,013.
"I was just trying to get it fixed -- period," MSU defensive coordinator Chris Wilson said. "I'm not a guy that walks into the locker room saying, 'Give me a stat sheet so I know what I'm talking about.' I can see what our issues are and knew they needed to be fixed immediately.
MSU (3-0) is plus-11 in turnover margin, which leads all Football Bowl Subdivision schools. Entering the game, MSU was second in the nation in forced turnovers (eight). It left Veterans Memorial Stadium tied for the lead with 12.
MSU senior defensive back Darius Slay had three tackles, two interceptions, one fumble recovery, and a pass breakup in the first 30 minutes.
"We made the big plays tonight on defense, but we didn't get the three-and-outs we wanted," Slay said. "We did get turnovers and the ball found us sometimes but we know we can play better than that."
The Bulldogs scored 20 points off the Trojans' four first-half turnovers. Entering the game, Troy (1-2) had turned the ball over five times.
Malone gets first career start at right guard
Redshirt freshman Justin Malone earned his first start Saturday.
The Madison-Ridgeland Academy product, who played football only in his sophomore and senior years in high school, took the place of the protected senior lineman Tobias Smith.
"I saw him play much calmer this week, with a lot more confidence out there on the field which is something that we need," MSU coach Dan Mullen said this week. "The fact he continues to grow will allow the continuing of the rotation."
Smith and his surgically repaired knee were held out of the first half. The Columbus native continues to battle back from a severe injury he suffered last year in a 19-6 loss to LSU on Sept. 15 in Starkville.
"We knew Tobias with his first game was sore all week and our trainers came in on Thursday and said we're not sure," Mullen said after the game. "With his history we'll see how it goes this week. I imagine Tobias will be questionable this week again to see how it hangs in there."
Malone, who had played for Smith in parts of the first two games, started at right guard. The rest of MSU's line stayed intact.
"That's my boy, and, mark my words, he'll be an All-American before he leaves Mississippi State," Smith said last Saturday. "He's a real smart guy, and all he needed was some wisdom on the game."
Without Smith, MSU's first-team offensive line has 39 combined starts, but none on the right side. Gabe Jackson, an Outland Trophy nominee, has 26 starts.
"I knew Tobias was recovering and staying where I was at in terms of my play wasn't going to be a option," Malone said this week. "I knew I would have to play in important spots this year and my teammates were counting on me to improve. I needed that push."