Mississippi State came in to Saturday's game facing their biggest opening-game test in nearly 10 seasons against #13 Oklahoma State. The Bulldogs prepared all summer for one of the top passing games in the country but it was the rushing game that would doom them as OSU put 286 yards on the ground and MSU's offense never got enough production to contend as they fall in game one, 21-3.
The quarterback controversy was solved midway through the game as Clint Chelf had trouble getting things going in the passing game against the aggressive MSU defense. Enter J.W. Walsh who sparked the offense with his legs and arm putting up 18-of-27 passing for 135 yards but 125 on the ground with a touchdown.
Mississippi State started things off well enough as Tyler Russell found four different receivers in his first four passes all for 10-plus yards and first downs. State got the ball inside the redzone at the 17 but stalled and kicked a field goal to take the early lead at 3-0 with 8:38 remaining in the first.
The Bulldog defense was what surprised fans early on as they were all over the field defensively putting pressure on the quarterback and receivers alike. It was so impressive that Oklahoma State managed just 3:48 on the time of possession and only two first downs. Even more encouraging were the mere 13 passing yards given up by the defense. MSU managed the game plan well but the three points were the only ones scored in the first quarter.
Outside of a Russell interception on third down on MSU's second possession, it was a punter's paradise in the first half with nine total punts between the two teams and OSU punting every possession.
The entire second quarter was sloppy for both teams and MSU looked to break that on their final possession of the period. Perkins took a dumped off pass and turned it into a 30-yard run. Russell followed the play up with a 12-yard keeper of his own but the Bulldogs took a sack and had too many men on the field and the drive stalled forcing another Bulldog punt.
Oklahoma State finally made MSU pay with a big 46-yard run by Walsh on third down into the MSU 10. Three plays later, the Cowboys put their first points on the board as Walsh found paydirt from four yards out.
MSU immediately got momentum back with a 66-yard kick return from Jameon Lewis, but all momentum was gone after Russell fell down on the first snap and MSU couldn't recover as they would eventually turn the ball over on downs at the OSU 44. OSU would convert a third down inside the MSU 35 with six seconds remaining and would attempt the 49-yard field goal when things got interesting. Nickoe Whitley blocked the kick and the ball landed in the hands of cornerback Taveze Calhoun who brought the ball down the sidelines before being dropped just short of the goal line at the 10. OSU would take their 7-3 lead into the locker room.
The one bright spot for the MSU offense in the first half were the 105 yards (53 rushing, 52 receiving) from Perkins on 16 touches as Russell managed 8-for-13 with 117 yards and an interception while taking a sack. The Bulldogs out-gained the Cowboys 192-162 with the time of possession overwhelmingly in MSU's favor at 20:56-9:04.
OSU would come out of the locker room ready to roll as Walsh led the offense down the field converting three third downs but and would cap off an 11-play, 75-yard drive with a one yard plunge by Jeremy Smith to give OSU a 14-3 lead with 10:41 left in the third.
OSU got the ball back after a three-and-out by the Bulldogs and drove down the field before MSU made a big stop inside the 35 yard line for a turnover on downs. On the first play of the new drive, Russell took a run up the middle and a knee to the head had him on the ground for some time and Dak Prescott would take over for the Bulldogs and they would face another three-and-out.
State would end the third quarter with only 10 yards of offense and six plays completely flipping what they did in the first and all the momentum carried over to OSU into the fourth leading 14-3 and they built on that momentum.
Three plays into the fourth OSU took a handoff on the left side and Jeremy Smith turned it into six points for the second time and the Cowboys extended the lead to 21-3 with 14:33 left in the game. MSU would finally start to get things going again on offense. After failing to convert a third down, Josh Robinson got the first down on fourth then Prescott hit tight end Malcolm Johnson for 35 yards. After a converted fourth down, MSU stalled and missed a chip-shot field goal from Bell.
For the Bulldogs, they were led defensively by linebacker Deontae Skinner who had 10 tackles. Offensively, State had a 10-for-16 day by Russell for 133 yards while Prescott was 7-for-17 with 89 yards and an interception. After a huge first half, Perkins was hardly used in the second half and finished with 16 carries and 50 yards as well as 52 yards on three catches. Lewis and Malcolm Johnson each had 55 yards on five and four catches respectively.
The big disparity in the game was MSU converting on 2-of-16 third downs, missing 13-straight, while OSU converted 7-of-13. After a 10-3 advantage in first downs for MSU, they falling behind 22-17 and the Cowboys out-gained MSU 432-333.
The Bulldog secondary, already inexperienced, saw safety Jay Hughes and cornerback Jamerson Love both go down in the first half with neither returning to play. The injuries were not specified but, at least Hughes', looked serious. Backup safety Dee Arrington, who had his best game in his young career, also suffered an injury with a bone bruise but stayed in the ball game.
In addition to Russell and secondary members, linebacker Matthew Wells also went down towards the end of the third quarter with an apparent finger/hand injury and right guard Justin Malone went off in the fourth with an ankle injury. Neither returned to the game.
After preparing all offseason for this game, MSU had a lot of rough spots against OSU. It is unclear when Russell will return and they now have to rely on sophomore Prescott. While he has little experience, there were flashes of great things out of him in the game and he is well equipped for the offense.
Either way, the depth at quarterback now goes to a sophomore and true freshman and the offensive line struggled for the most during the game giving up four sacks. Running the football consistently wasn't a priority for the Bulldog offense and it showed as OSU was able to bring a heavy rush.
State now heads back home for the first time to face off against Alcorn State at 2:30 next Saturday. It will certainly be interesting to see what happens moving forward.