NASHVILLE, Tenn., - It may not have been the prettiest win but it was a victory nonetheless for Mississippi State on Saturday night.
In typical Bulldog fashion, the offense benefitted from a stellar defensive effort held off Vanderbilt allowing for a 15-3 win and improve to 2-1 on the season and 1-1 in the Southeastern Conference.
"I'm really proud of our kids," said MSU head coach Dan Mullen. "They were challenged today. Last week we didn't put them in a good position as a coaching staff but we corrected that. We played hard on defense and sputtered at times on offense, especially on third down conversions."
The MSU offense converted only 2-of-15 third down conversions but managed 341 yards churning out 260 yards on the ground and 81 through the air.
"Tonight was a tough, SEC battle," Mullen said. "Any victory is an unbelievable feeling. We put a lot into the game and to celebrate as a family is great."
Anthony Dixon carried the load for the Bulldogs rushing for 123 yards on 21 carries including a huge 40-yard run late in the game to set up State's only touchdown.
"We were in fight mode out there," Dixon said. "That's what coach has been preaching all summer, just fight and keep punching. That's all I was doing. This year with it being my last year, I want to lead these dudes to a championship. I'm in fight-mode. I'm going to keep fighting until the 60 minutes are over with."
Tyson Lee connected on 8-of-14 passing for 66 yards and his 22-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter was just enough to put the Commodores away.
Leon Berry had three catches for 17 yards while Marcus Green made one catch for 23 yards to lead the Mississippi State receiving corps.
Mississippi State got a spark right from the start when Berry took the opening kickoff back to the house. But the momentum was short-lived when Cameron Lawrence was flagged for holding on the play.
After a scoreless first quarter, the Bulldogs got on the board on the first play of the second. Sean Brauchle split the uprights from 44-yards out giving MSU a 3-0 lead.
A Robert Elliott fumble set the Commodores up at the MSU 6-yard line. The Bulldogs defense stood strong holding Vanderbilt to a 20-yard field goal by Ryan Fowler tying things up with 11:28 in the second quarter.
The Bulldogs took the lead just before the half on another field goal by Brauchle, this time from 27-yards out with 2:14 left before intermission.
Vanderbilt managed only 33-yards and one first down the entire first half.
State took advantage of a muffed punt by Alex Washington when Jamie Jones recovered at the VU 36-yard line. The offense stalled but Brauchle again drilled a 49-yard field goal giving the Bulldogs a 9-3 advantage with 59 seconds remaining in the third quarter.
The Bulldogs put the final nail in the coffin with 3:20 left in the game. Mississippi State kept a five-play, 50-yard drive alive going for it on 4th-and-2 from the VU 30-yard line. Dixon plowed ahead for a 3-yard run for a new set of downs.
"After the timeout when we went back in we automatically knew we were going to go for it," said Derek Sherrod. "Therefore, all 11 had to come together in order for us to make that 4th down because the offense is going to want it and the other team is going to want it. It's all or nothing and at that point of the game it was a very important play in the game and fortunately we came out with it."
Two plays later, Lee faked a handoff to Dixon and ran straight up the middle for a 22-yard score.
"Dixon took on for the team on that one," Lee said. "He had ran hard all night and they were keying in on him. When they did that, it allowed me to have an open gap and the offensive line did well and we were able to get a touchdown."
The Bulldogs elected to go for two on the play but Lee's pass to a wide open Green was dropped in the end zone.
Vanderbilt attempted a late comeback but Damein Anderson picked off Larry Smith at the MSU 5-yard line to wrap it up in maroon and white.
The Commodores (1-2, 0-2) were held to 157 yards on offense with 124 yards passing and 33 on the ground.
"We got it handed to us tonight," said Vandy head coach Bobby Johnson. "They came out and were more physical than we were. They were coached, played and executed better than we did. MSU came in and had a good game plan."
Smith completed 12-of-32 passing for 124 yards and one interception while Warren Norman ran seven times for 26 yards. John Cole paced the Vandy receivers with three catches for 32 yards.
K.J. Wright led the Bulldogs defensively with 11 tackles including one tackle for loss. Zach Smith, Jamar Chaney and Chris White all had seven tackles each. Pernell McPhee recorded one sack and also combined with Kyle Love on another.
"I thought our kids played extremely well," said MSU defensive coordinator Carl Torbush. "We were able to do some things and bring pressure off the edge and inside. Without a doubt that helped us. We weren't able to do that as much last week for a number of reasons, it wasn't because we didn't want to. Some of the things Auburn did kept us from doing that but that one is gone and we corrected that."
Chris Marve made 15 tackles to lead Vanderbilt followed by Patrick Benoist with 13 stops and Sean Richardson with 10. T.J. Greenstone and Brent Trice each recorded a sack for the Commodores.
MSU will return to the friendly confines of Davis Wade Stadium next week to take on LSU at 11:21 a.m. while Vandy hits the road bound for Rice at 7 p.m.
"It's a great win for us," Zach Smith said. "The fans are going to be rocking again next week. We are going to play LSU and do everything we can to get another win at home."