On Saturday, Mississippi State was ready to right some wrongs from their big loss to LSU a week ago. Things turned out to go sloppy from the second quarter on to the fourth. The Bulldogs came in hobbled and looked as young as ever, but the young pups found a way to win and that is all that matters in the coaches and players' minds as they knocked off Bowling Green in a 21-20 scare.
It was the first meeting between the two teams and it looked like the first game of the season for some of the inexperienced players. The Bulldogs tried to seal the game away late in the fourth quarter when Dan Mullen took a chance with Dak Prescott on fourth and four from the eight yard line and his quarterback fell just short. The defense would answer the call as some young players stepped up and made plays with Tolando Cleveland and Will Redmond coming up with big plays late.
While it was a rough game, the Bulldogs won the game and now we want to look back at what I said State had to do to win. My three keys to victory were: Hit the Falcons in the mouth early, run the football and have big plays from the secondary.
Hit the Falcons in the mouth early: State did this pretty well but it turns out it didn't matter much. The Bulldogs marched right down the field on their opening drive going 75 yards in nine plays dominating through the air and on the ground as Tyler Russell was a perfect 5-5 to five different receivers. Ladarius Perkins tacked on the one yard touchdown for his first score of the year and MSU was quickly on top 7-0. They led 14-3 after the first but would only score one more touchdown the rest of the way.
The problem for the Bulldogs is not early starts, it is finishing ball games. Mullen said his team finally finished a game, which they did, but not putting the Falcons away is what worried many watching. With a depleted roster and young players being forced into action, State had to learn how to win a close game and that did.
Run the Football : State did this the same way they have most of the season. The Bulldogs had a career-high out of Prescott as he rushed for over 100 yards for the third time this season and the second time in the last two games. His 143 yards led the way for MSU but they also got 16 carries, 83 yards and a touchdown out of Perkins which was big as he gets closer to full health.
State rushed for 245 yards which was the fifth-consecutive 200-yard game this season as the Bulldogs become more balanced. Adding in the running threat of Prescott and the ability to throw the football from Russell, I think the two-quarterback set will work for MSU moving forward if they get the linemen healthy.
Get big plays in the secondary: Well at times the secondary looked like they did last week having receivers wide open in the middle of the field for good first down. In deep coverage, however, MSU gave up very little and had solid coverage on man-on-man. The secondary surrendered 224 yards with Jamerson Love out for this game and Justin Cox bounced back with a couple of nice pass breakups while he was also beat on several plays.
I think State had enough big plays back there to win the game and had solid ball games from youngsters Redmond and Cleveland as they each got plays late that helped seal the game. Redmond had a pass broken up on fourth down that gave MSU the ball back late in the fourth and Cleveland totaled three tackles, 0.5 tackles for loss and a sack on a third down. Two of those tackles came on the final possession and won the game for MSU. State broke up a total of eight passes on their way to the win.
Getting Love back will be huge and the Bulldogs all of a sudden will have much more depth than any other time this year. Before it's all said and done, this secondary will be a veteran group as they've been thrown into the fire this season with several freshmen and sophomores.
As Mullen mentioned, he was just happy to get out of the game with the win. There were numerous things that MSU can look at that went wrong but the final score was all that mattered. State now has a great opportunity to get back players from injury with their next game coming a week from Thursday. The stretch run is about to be here for the Bulldogs as they search for just three more wins in the next six games to try to get to a bowl for the fourth-consecutive season.
How about my prediction? I was WAYYYY off. I had a feeling that the Bulldogs would come out firing on all cylinders after a bad loss to LSU but it turned out to be too much to overcome on the injury front.