September 25, 2017 9:52:52 AM
ATHENS, Ga. -- Long spurts of defensive dominance were the calling card of the Mississippi State football team in its 3-0 start.
Following victories against Charleston Southern and Louisiana Tech, the highlight for MSU was a second half against LSU in which the Bulldogs held the then-No. 12 Tigers scoreless. Overall, the Bulldogs limited the Tigers to 270 yards in a 37-7 victory.
On Saturday at Sanford Stadium, then-No. 17 MSU's defensive dominance lasted two possessions.
MSU held then-No. 11 Georgia to 11 yards on two drives to end the first half. The first stop set up a field goal for MSU. Georgia then averaged more than 10 yards per play to score on two of its next three possessions to pull away for a 31-3 victory.
"All the little things you need to do to win on the road, we didn't do those today," MSU coach Dan Mullen said.
MSU (3-1, 1-1 Southeastern Conference), which slipped to No. 24 in The Associated Press and the Amway/USA Today Coaches polls, will return to practice today to begin preparations for No. 13 Auburn (3-1, 1-0) at 5 p.m. Saturday (ESPN) in Auburn, Alabama.
Mullen didn't say the defense would have to reboot after the loss. He and his players don't believe the Bulldogs have to make radical changes required to return to the standard set in the first three games.
"We beat ourselves. They didn't do anything we didn't prepare for," senior cornerback Tolando Cleveland said. "We just have to get lined up and play."
MSU's troubles started on second-and-long.
Georgia faced second-and-8 or more eight times and averaged 7.1 yards per play in those situations. Georgia's success on second down helped it face short-yardage situations (4 or fewer yards to go) on six of its 11 third downs.
Early on, Georgia's success on second down led to scoring opportunities. On a second-and-12 in the first quarter, Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm threw to Mecole Hardman for an 18-yard gain down the middle. Later in the quarter, D'Andre Swift ran for 6 yards on third-and-8 to set up a third-down conversion.
"A couple of times (we) let them off the hook with some long runs after catches. Overall, we got to execute a little bit cleaner," Mullen said.
In the third quarter, Georgia gained 15 yards on a pass interference penalty and 20 yards on a run by Swift on its first two second downs. The plays enabled Georgia to extend its lead to 21-7.
Georgia intercepted quarterback Nick Fitzgerald on the next series and scored a touchdown a few minutes later to put the game out of reach.
Georgia's run-pass balance contributed to its success. Facing second-and-8 or longer eight times, Georgia ran the football five times and threw three passes. Two of the runs went for first downs.
"(Balance) is pretty much always the game plan. We take what they give," Georgia running back Nick Chubb said. "I thought we did a great job with that. We just look forward to carrying it on."
Outside of second down, MSU has another emphasis.
"We know they have excellent running backs. I don't think we tackled as well as we have been the past couple of weeks," Mullen said. "(It is) just little things we'll get fixed up and get coached up."
Mullen said he doesn't believe MSU will have to adjust the physicality in its practices. He said the Bulldogs will have to adjust their practice habits to game speed.
"It's hard because we have a lot of young players, freshmen and first-year players, so it's hard for them in their adjusting," Mullen said. "The game is going to be much faster than practice. You hope it isn't, but we don't have scout-team backs that are going to be top draft picks.
"The speed in which that happens, guys have to learn how that's really going to be on game day. Young players learn that as they get more experience."
Some of those young players might be getting an accelerated education. Junior defensive lineman Braxton Hoyett said he talked to fellow lineman Jeffery Simmons about organizing a players-only meeting "just to get everybody's mind straight, don't feel like we're too good for the other opponents we have to face."
Hoyett said the meeting probably would happen today after the team's regularly scheduled meeting.
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter @Brett_Hudson
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