Bulldogs battle Florida down to the end
STARKVILLE, Miss., - Once again Mississippi State gave a ranked opponent all they could handle at Davis Wade Stadium.
And once again the Bulldogs did not help their own cause with three interceptions.
Defending National Champion Florida left Starkville victorious for the first time since 1985 holding off the Bulldogs for a 29-19 keeping their winning streak intact at 17-games and improve to 7-0 on the year and 4-0 in the Southeastern Conference.
"I am really, really proud of our guys tonight in the way they fought and battled tonight," said MSU head coach Dan Mullen "I thought our defense gave a heck of an effort against, as everyone knows, a really talented team, the number one team in the nation. Our defense went and battled and did a really good job in the red zone. We turned the ball over. Florida's defense did a really good job keeping us off balance and creating turnovers.
"I thought our kids battled to the end and I thought we had a chance all the way to the end. You have to give them credit, they did a heck of a job. You can't turn the ball over, we threw three interceptions, you can't do that and win football games. We will get a lot better. I was really proud of our kids and what they did, how they fought, and how they battled."
Mullen was facing his former team and also his mentor Urban Meyer, whom he had coached with from 1999 through last season.
"This is my first trip to Starkville, and this is a tough place to play," Meyer said. "That's SEC football. Dan is doing a heck of a job with his team. He did a lot of stuff to try and win that game, and I admire that out of him. There are some guys that would never do that, but Dan obviously is one of the best coaches in college football."
Florida amassed 376 yards on offense with 249 yards on the ground and another 127 yards through the air. The Gators also turned the ball over twice, both returned for touchdowns by Johnthan Banks.
"I did not coach very well," Meyer said. "I put Tim (Tebow) in some tough situations in the red zone. Our red zone offense is really an issue, and that is something we will start working on the plane ride home. We have to get a lot better. The great news is we are 7-0. We have a bunch of good guys who are extremely passionate about playing the game and winning. I had a good talk with our team about sticking together right now. We cannot lose the fact that we are 7-0."
Chris Rainey paced the Gator ground attack carrying 12 times for 90 yards and one touchdown.
Tebow completed 12-of-22 passing for 127 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions. Tebow also added 88 yards rushing on 22 totes and a score.
Aaron Hernandez hauled in five passes for 32 yards while Riley Cooper caught four balls for 63 yards.
The game did not begin as Mississippi State planned. After picking up one first down, Tyson Lee had his next pass batted in the air at the line of scrimmage and picked off by A.J. Jones at the MSU 47-yard line.
The Gators went to work from there but the MSU defense stood strong forcing a 37-yard field goal attempt from Caleb Sturgis that hooked wide left.
The Bulldogs took over and methodically drove down the field with a 10-play drive that moved the chains four times and set up a 43-yard field goal by Derek DePasquale for an early 3-0 lead with 9:05 in the opening quarter.
Florida bounced back on the ensuing drive driving 68 yards in 10 plays down to the 1-yard line. But the Bulldogs defense once again held solid with a goal line stand stopping Tebow on two consecutive running plays from a yard out. Sturgis came on with a 20-yard field goal to tie things up.
The Gators took the lead early in the second quarter. Florida drove 67-yards and reached the end zone on a 26-yard keeper by Tebow diving across the right pylon for the score. Sturgis came on to kick the point after lifting the Gators to a 10-3 advantage.
Florida's defense held the Bulldogs to three-and-out for the second consecutive series setting up their offense again with good field position. Florida drove down to the MSU 4-yard line but again did not break forcing a 21-yard field goal by Sturgis as the Gators took a 13-3 lead with 7:15 remaining before the half.
Florida appeared to be on the verge of adding another score before heading to the locker room. The Gators defense stopped Mississippi State for the fourth consecutive drive forcing another punt. But this time Rainey slipped through and blocked the punt recovering at the 7-yard line going in.
The Bulldogs again defense not only held Florida out of the end zone on third down, but Banks caught a tipped Tebow pass in the end zone and raced the length of the field for a 100-yard interception return with 26 seconds left in the first half.
"We had a great pass rush and Corey Broomfield tipped it and I was just in the right spot at the right time," Banks said. "I made a play on it. I had a feeling I could go all the way on it. I saw Tebow and I had a man in front of me and I knew a lineman wasn't going to catch me. I had Pernell McPhee in front of me blocking. I thought I could take it back but then I saw Jeffrey Demps coming back but Chris White made a good block on him and I made the play."
DePasquale booted the extra point pulling the Bulldogs within 13-10.
MSU came out with momentum in the second half stopping the Gator offense on three plays and putting together a scoring drive of their own. Lee hit Christian Ducre out of the backfield for a 54-yard pass that set up a 31-yard game tying field goal.
The score would not remain nodded long as Florida drove down the field on the next drive to set up a 27-yard field goal by Sturgis with 5:15 left in the third quarter.
The Bulldogs tried a fake punt deep in their own territory early in the fourth quarter but it backfired. Robert Elliott took the reverse pitch around the end and looked to have a chance at reaching the first down marker but slipped down turning the ball over to Florida at the 22-yard line.
"It wasn't like we were churning up and down the field on offense," Mullen said. "It was a key point in the game and i thought we needed a play. They had been coming after us on the punt team and I thought we would get it. I thought we had it and I looked at the replay and Robert just stumbled."
The Gators made State pay scoring six plays later on a 8-yard run by Rainey. Sturgis missed the extra point but Florida took a 22-13 lead with just over nine minutes to play.
On the ensuing drive, Lee had another pass tipped high in the air at the line of scrimmage falling into the awaiting arms of Dustin Doe, who raced 26-yards into the end zone for the score. Sturgis kicked the extra point as Florida went up 29-13 at that point.
Lee was intercepted by Major Wright at the UF 2-yard line following a fourth down conversion at midfield looking as if the Gators had the game in the bag.
But Mississippi State proved it still had some fight left as Banks picked off Tebow on the first play from scrimmage and returned it 20-yards for his second interception return of the night, marking the first time in school history a player has had two interceptions returned for touchdowns.
The two-point conversion run by Chad Bumphis failed but the Bulldogs had a chance with 3:51 left on the clock.
MSU kicked off and pinned the Gators deep in their own territory but were flagged for being offsides on the play. After marking off the penalty, Brandon James returned the ball to midfield spelling the end of State's upset hopes.
The Bulldogs managed 237 yards on offense with 145 yards passing and just 92 on the ground.
Florida's defense snapped Anthony Dixon's streak of five consecutive 100-yard games. Dixon carried 15 times for 53 yards on the night.
"They had a real fast defense," Dixon said. "Their defense is really good and deserve all the rankings they have so far this season. I felt like they were up for this game and were not taking us lightly. They brought their A game and stepped up to the challenge. I wish I could have done more and gotten more opportunities, but I felt like I gave 110-percent and so did my
Lee completed 15 of 23 passes for 145 yards but was picked off three times by the Gators and did not throw a touchdown pass.
"(Tipped passes) happen," Lee said. "However short or tall you are, it's going to happen. What you've got to do as a quarterback is find a lane to get the ball to one of your receivers and don't let the ball get tipped."
Dixon and O'Neal Wilder each caught three passes for 21 yards while Marcus Green hauled in three balls for 20 yards. Ducre caught two passes out of the backfield for 61 yards to lead the team in that category.
Florida was led defensively by Ryan Stamper with 12 tackles followed by Joe Haden with seven stops and Doe with six. Stamper and Haden also each recorded a tackle for loss.
Carlos Dunlap brought down Lee three times during the contest while Joey Sorrentino got to the quarterback once.
Marcus Washington paced the Bulldogs defense with 15 tackles and one stop for loss. Jamar Chaney made 12 tackles, one tackle for loss and one forced fumble. Sean Ferguson and K.J. Wright each made eight stops.
McPhee made 1.5 sacks while Wright got to the quarterback once. Nick Bell was also credited with a half a sack.
The loss was the third consecutive for State at home and drop to 3-5 on the year and 1-3 in the SEC.